2020 is the 150th anniversary year of Limerick Regatta. Currently on display at The People’s Museum of Limerick is the striking Limerick Regatta Committee and Limerick Boat Club trophy collection, dating from 1870 to 1970. The 1879 ‘Ladies Plate’ forms part of the collection. First presented by Limerick Boat Club, the trophy was manufactured in Limerick City. Its recent refurbishment was sponsored by the Cuddy family.
The Ladies Plate was made by a Mr Henry Stirling, member of the Limerick Boat Club, a watchmaker, jeweller, and silversmith. Stirling ran his business from 115 George’s Street (now O’Connell Street). Like Stirling, most silversmiths in Limerick’s Victorian era practiced in the Georgian Newtown Pery, due to favourable taxes there. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Irish silversmith business was primarily practiced in Dublin. Due to this, Limerick silver is deemed valuable and precious today by specialist collectors and antique dealers for its rarity.
The Ladies Plate is constructed from a series of concentric circles and ovals. The dark outer ring presents a total of thirty-seven circles. Thirty-five of these are inscribed with record club winners of the Regatta, up to 1980. The centre of the plate is dominated by a panorama of Sarsfield bridge, with the top of St Mary’s Cathedral visible in the background. In this scene, Stirling depicts two rowing shells with four active rowers in the River Shannon. This panorama is flanked on its left and right by two additional, smaller river scenes. The section on the left is a view of St Michaels Rowing Club and Cleeve’s Condensed Milk Factory on the banks. The right depicts the Treaty Stone, Limerick’s historical landmark that faces the River Shannon and King John’s Castle.
One thin and one thicker ring of silver frames the centre of the plate. The ornamented, oriental style flowering on this section hints at competitive rowing’s beginnings as an activity available for the elite of Victorian society only. The decoration is called chinoiserie, defined as a European rendition of East Asian artistic traditions. This aesthetic was famously favoured by King George IV, until his death in 1830. Further detail of chinoiserie is found at the bottom centre of the plate, where two large fish with curved, koi-like scaled tails are placed. These fish stand in contrast to two cherubs depicted at the top centre of the plate, who hold up the Limerick coat of arms. Below the cherub’s feet is inscribed Limerick’s motto, urbs antiqua fuit studisque asperrima belli (an ancient city well studied in the arts of war.)
In 1879, the regatta was a highly popular and well-attended two-day event, with all classes of Limerick society gathering along the river Shannon to spectate. Until 1970, the Ladies Plate acted as a perpetual trophy held by the winning club and returned to the Boat Club after a year. Reports from the 1950s claim that a victorious rowing team rolled The Ladies Plate all the way down O’Connell Street, following their merry celebrations at the Stella Ballroom on Shannon Street.
For more reading on Limerick Regatta, Limerick’s second oldest sporting event, see Kieran Kerr, Limerick Regatta: A century and a half of boat racing on the Shannon (Limerick, 2019).
Thanks to team member Aisling for researching and writing this piece.