Although Shandon Boat Club was founded in May 1877 the lineage of the club stretches back to the beginning of organised competitive amateur rowing in Cork twenty years earlier. In 1858 Cork Harbour Rowing Club, was founded. Ten years later, in 1868, Queens College Rowing Club was founded by a number of members who left CHRC after a dispute and nine years later that club changed its name to Shandon Boat Club, due to the lack of "college men" rowing with the club by that time.
In 1871 the Cork City Council granted land to Queens College Rowing Club to build a boathouse on the Navigation Wall of the Marina and this boathouse was subsequently knocked and replaced in 1896 by the building still in use today. The new building was designed by the well known Cork architect, James McMullen, who also designed the Honan Chapel in University College Cork.
In 1899 Shandon was one of the eight founding clubs of the Irish Amateur Rowing Union.
In 1902 "The International Cup Races" were held at Cork marking the climax of the great Cork Exhibition of that summer. The regatta was the greatest rowing carnival ever held in Ireland and the final day was attended by an estimated 80,000 spectators. Shandon was one of 13 clubs to enter a crew in the race for senior eights in which Leander of London beat Berlin Rowing Club in the final.
In appreciation of the hospitality shown by the rowing fraternity of Cork to the Leander members the Leander Trophy was donated by the Leander Club to the Cork City Regatta Committee and was first raced for at the Cork Regatta in 1904. It is reported that Leander Club committed that if any crew outside the United Kingdom ever entered for the trophy, they would send over a crew to defend it. Unfortunately, Leander seem to regard this as more legend than reality. In 1909 this famous trophy was won by Shandon for the first time a success which was repeated in 1914.
The club was also at the fore-front of rowing development in Ireland at this time and in 1907 introduced the first center-seated boat into Ireland. Previously rowers seated alternately one on each side of the boat.
Rowing in Ireland ceased during the "Great War" and was not fully re-established until the early 1920's. However, although Shandon continued to achieve success at local regattas the days of being a major competitor to the big University and Dublin clubs were apparently over. The driver of this early success had been the club's most famed member, TC (Tacky) Butterfield who as well as being Captain for a record 27 years was also three times Lord Mayor of Cork and President of the Irish Amateur Rowing Union.
In 1917 the Ford motor assembly plant was established in Cork beside the club. The subsequent closing off of the Marina from the city centre resulted in Shandon losing its advantage of being the nearest rowing club to the city - an important recruiting strength in those largely non-motorised years.
In spite of these challenges, the Leander was won again at Cork Regatta in 1926.
Shandon continued as an active club through the 1930s and 1940s without ever scaling the heights achieved during its first 50 years of existence. In the early 1950's an excellent men's eight was formed under the direction of the then Captain, Tom Gregory and in 1953 this crew won the Leander trophy for the 4th and, so far, final time. Even more significantly the crew won the club's first National Championship - the Men's Junior (now Intermediate) Eights.
Although the club remained active due to the tireless efforts of some key individuals particularly Mick Collins and Tom Gregory, the next 40 years were generally lean years in competitive terms. A strong Senior Men's crew did develop in the 1970s but found themselves up against Garda who were then in their unbeatable heyday. This crew, however, produced a group of men who were to provide the foundation for the club's recovery a generation later in the 1990s. A notable success during this period was the winning of a men's intermediate double sculling championship in 1983 by Tony Corcoran (partnered by G Wiley of Dungarvan Rowing Club)
By 1990 the club was at a low ebb when a group came together under the direction of long-time members Tom Rose, Mick O'Callaghan, George Costello and Mick Looney with a view to getting the club back on its feet again. Results came quickly with a 3rd National Championship won in 1993 by the club's Men's Novice Eight crew. The most significant development however was in junior rowing and particularly in junior women's rowing. Following the recruitment of an outstanding group of young girls the club had a string of national and international successes in the mid 1990s resulting in seven National Championships. Twelve of these young ladies represented Ireland in international championships between 1996 and 1998 winning two Coupe de Jeunesse (European Junior Championships) gold medals and a 7th place in the Junior World Rowing Championships.
During these years a significant development was the building of a large new boathouse under the direction of another long-time member John Rose. This freed up the original clubhouse for further development and gave Shandon space for accommodating other rowing clubs on site - in particular University College Cork Rowing Club, Presentation College Rowing Club and Naomhoga Chorchaí (Cork Currach Club).
This burst of activity and success was followed by a difficult period caused by the departure of some of the most active senior members of the club. As a result the club effectively ceased to operate for a number of years. In 2004 a successful attempt was made to encourage new members, particularly a group of experienced young oarsmen, to join. This has resulted in a resurgence of activity in the club to such an extent that the numbers rowing have never been stronger, the rowing facilities and equipment have been significantly developed and the future for this grand old club has never looked brighter. The club's twelfth championship was won in 2009 by David Heffernan in the Men's Lightweight Sculls and a 13th was added three years later when Andy Harrington and Jack Casey won the Junior Men's Doubles Championship in 2012.