Following on from the success of last year’s event, the annual St. Michael’s Head of the River will take place in Limerick City on Saturday next, March 16, starting at 1.30pm. The race begins five-and-a-half kilometres down river by the Cement Factory bend and the first crews will be racing under Shannon Bridge and passing the finish line in the centre of town at Howley’s Quay some 15 minutes later at 1.45pm.
Attracting crews from all corners of the country, the event will be sure to provide some fiercely competitive racing as well as fantastic views for spectators from St.Michaels’s Rowing Club, Barrington’s Pier, Shannon Bridge and O’Callaghan Strand.
Usually held in O’Brien’s Bridge, County Clare, the Head of the River was moved into the city for the first time last year due to severe flooding owing to O’Brien’s Bridge’s close proximity to the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric power station. However, the event was a resounding success attracting some of the finest junior, university and club crews eager to test themselves on a five-and-a-half kilometre tidal stretch of the Shannon which presented its own unique challenges such as the effects of strong flows and winds, which can help and hinder in equal measure depending on a boat’s position on the river.
This year, the event has 80 crews, comprising over 480 competitors entered to go up against the clock vying for pennants awarded to the fastest crews in this long-distance time trial style event. Some notable crews include a UCD Men’s Senior Eight fresh off the back of a victory in the Gannon Cup from the previous weekend. UCD are also fielding a Men’s Intermediate Eight, also victorious in their recent Colours fixture with Trinity, but they will have strong competition from Cork in the form of a Shandon Boat Club crew, as well as a UCC crew who competed in challenging conditions abroad at the Heineken Roeivierkamp in Amsterdam last weekend, meaning they’ll be ready for whatever surprises the Shannon might offer. The Men’s Senior Four sees a local derby between hosts St. Michael’s and University of Limerick, both eager to lay down a marker at what would be familiar water for most of these oarsmen.
The Men’s Masters Eights sees six crews entered. Among them are a St. Michael’s crew as well as a Castleconnell boat and a Castleconnell/Shannon composite ensuring plenty of local representation in the Master’s category. They will be joined by a host of composite crews formed from a multitude of clubs, many of whom will be familiar with this stretch having competed on it at the St. Michael’s Masters’ Regatta last August. The Men’s Junior Eights will see St. Michael’s and Shannon aim to fend off strong competition from Galway in the form of Coláiste Iognáid and St. Joseph’s.
The Women’s Master’s Eights sees crews from Gráinne Mhaol, the alumni club of N.U.I Galway, their local rivals Tribesmen RC as well as a Castleconnell boat and even a crew from Portora BC making a journey from Enniskillen to show their worth in this event. The Women’s Junior Eight sees St. Michael’s and Bann go head-to-head in order to stake a claim for the fastest junior women’s crew, these two crews having recently faced each other at Erne Head of the River in Fermanagh only two weeks previous.
Pennants aren’t the only prizes up for grabs, however, three special trophies are to be awarded based on either a points based system and the fastest overall crew. The Jim “Monty” Ahern Cup will be awarded to the most successful club across the men’s categories, while the most successful club in the women’s category will receive the Ailish Sheehan Cup. The fastest overall crew will be presented with the Pat Brinn Memorial Trophy, each of these a fitting tribute to members the club sadly lost in the recent years.
However, the event isn’t all about the racing. With generous sponsorship from the Treaty City Brewery and The Commerical Bar, everyone is welcome to St.Michael’s clubhouse on O’Callaghan Strand. There will be some well-deserved drinks and food available in the club during and after the racing, as well as a big screen viewing of the Ireland v Wales rugby match. With a bit of help from weather, the event is sure to set the scene for a busy St. Patrick’s Festival taking place in the city.