Picture if you can the river at Castleconnell, before the advent of the Shannon Scheme and before the footbridge was erected there. The Shannon had an expanse of water 300 yards wide and reached depths of 40-60 feet in some places. Its beauty and majesty held a dark side. It was a dangerous stretch of water that not only commanded respect from those who used it but skill, courage and strength to navigate it in its many moods, in darkness and in storm, in flood and in fog. This is where the expertise of the Castleconnell boatmen was invaluable.
From the early 18th century right through to the construction of the footbridge, Castleconnell had a ferry service on the River Shannon. This service was operated by many local families including the Enrights and the Bourkes. The most famous of these boatmen was the legendary Tom Enright (known as Tom Pots) who lived at Chapel Hill. Born in 1818 into a family of ferrymen Tom learned the boatman’s craft at a young age. He was a skilled expert at manoeuvring his boat by the time he was well into adult life, and was much sought after by locals and visitors alike. Despite the fact that he went blind in his middle years, he could still pilot his boat and passengers across Castle Lough with a skill that confounded many a visitor. The locals, however, never gave his affliction a second thought and trusted his ability and uncanny sense of direction completely. He was never short of passengers and he never had the slightest mishap nor lost control of his boat, nor indeed missed his landing stage, thus justifying their faith in him.
He could navigate the crossing expertly whether in darkness, fog or in broad daylight. He could also recognise people by the sound of their voices even if he only met them once. A visitor to Castleconnell who had used the
ferry and got to know Tom Pots, made a return visit many years later. The visitor asked Tom if he remembered him. “Indeed, I do Mr. Williams, you’re welcome back”, he said. Tom Enright continued to ferry people to and from the Castleconnell and Clare sides of the river until well into his 70’s and when he retired it was not because of sightlessness but of failing general health. Tom Pots Enright died in October 1895 at the age of 77. He was truly one of the Shannon’s most extraordinary and gifted boatmen.
From Village by Shannon
Joe Carroll (RIP) & Paddy Tuohy