Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

The Legacy of Glenans and Egalitarian Sail Training in Ireland

16th April 2024
Glenans sailing from Baltimore Harbour in West Cork
Glenans sailing from Baltimore Harbour in West Cork

Glenans arrived in West Cork in 1969 with a vision to offer sailing and water activities to all in an egalitarian way. For 25 years, they trained thousands of Irish people in sailing instruction, boat building, and the marine environment. However, their closure in 2010 left a void in the Irish maritime industry. In this article, former President of Glenans Irish Sector Leslie O'Hora explores the impact of Glenans' closure on the Irish maritime industry and its legacy in promoting egalitarian sail training in Ireland.

When the Glenans operations closed in Ireland in 2010 by the “accountants”, they failed to “join the dots” and see the consequences of their actions after a successful era of egalitarian sail training of 25 years.

Glenans' (ex-French Resistance) arrival in West Cork in 1969 was seen as a potential game changer in affording sailing and water activities for all in an egalitarian way. As soon as it came to pass, the Glenans' formula of voluntary instructors, base volunteers, and chefs imbued a spirit of freedom.

In addition, their way of life was very focused on the environment and eco-living before climate change appeared in the media.

Previously, the scene militated against water sports for all. A small group of civil servants in Bord Failte saw the opportunity to create new visions, break down barriers (including North South), and attract new types of visitors locally and from France.

An aerial view of the Glenans sailing base in Clew Bay in County Mayo(Above and below) Two aerial views of the Glenans sailing base in Clew Bay in County Mayo

 Glenans sailing at Collanmore in County Mayo

They backed the Glenans' vision. Soon, the base in Baltimore was joined by Bere Island and, latterly, Clew Bay in Mayo. The base in Clew Bay was the first custom-built base in these islands and followed in the success of the West Cork bases.

Throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, thousands of Irish people had a maritime experience thanks to Glenans. Local people were trained in sailing instruction, boat building, the marine environment, and marine craft in general.

Glenans sailing at Collanmore in County MayoGlenans sailing at Collanmore in County Mayo

Aer Lingus changed their flight times to Cork, local shops, chandlery and grocers in local economies thrived.

Then Ryanair arrived. They offered low-cost alternatives to the Glenans demographic, who at the time had not discovered Irish maritime nature. Combined with the spread of the internet, young people had other options before them.

The “accountants” panicked; the French did not understand the local trends, and the doors were closed.

Since then, the wheel has turned again; Covid introduced us all to Ireland's rich seaboard attractions and the dry suit generation was born.

But Glenans was gone though still training 14,000 people in France.

A 1990s Glenans advertisement from Afloat magazine A 1990s Glenans advertisement from Afloat magazine 

Now we have a number of small sailing training activities (working flat out) plus summer courses in clubs that are pitifully supported by the Government.

We still have no National sail training vessel, and no conduit for young people interested in pursuing a maritime career; despite a number of government initiatives, they have still failed to deliver on our maritime potential 

Appallingly, with a maritime area the size of France, we are so underdeveloped.

Glenans is more than a sailing school; it is a way of living in tune with nature and a philosophy for sharing all that is good in the world.

Perhaps it is time for the children and the grandchildren of those Glenans pioneers to pick up the baton and secure a “Sailing for All” future for this Ireland Nation.

Leslie O'Hora is a Green Party member and Seanad Election candidate He is a Yachtmaster and member of the Atlantic Youth Trust

Published in Your Say Team

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