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The man from Derrynane

18th April 2008
The man from Derrynane

It is a place of enchantment, and best visited in a cruising boat. Derrynane in southwest Kerry sets its own style – and its own agenda. It has been the favourite place of some remarkable people over the centuries. A place where the spirit can be renewed. A place which provides much in the way of natural resources afloat and ashore. But you need to be in tune with nature, and with strong inner resources, if you’re thinking of making a home there.

A rock-girt anchorage set among islands and beaches below hills and mountains on the edge of the Atlantic, Derrynane is a place of the sea. It may be small – and for sailing folk arriving for the first time, the entrance is small and then some – yet this is a place for heroes.


But whether or not it’s a place to live on a permanent basis is maybe another matter. Perhaps it’s too perfect. And those everyday vistas of the ocean’s shining horizon, the sea in majestic mood, the purple mountains, and the spectacular and ever-changing skies of Kerry – in someone of true spirit, they’d provoke thoughts of greater things.

Certainly the sailing folk who have cherished Derrynane over the centuries made their names on a larger stage. The O’Connells are pre-eminent among them. Daniel O’Connell the Liberator had his home at Derrynane, and though his political achievements have long been woven into the tapestry of Irish history, it is only in recent years that the active involvement of the O’Connell family in sailing development has become recognised.

The leading families of the Shannon Estuary were summer folk at Derrynane. Lord Dunraven of America’s Cup notoriety – a Quin of Adare, a family which had done very well for itself – had a lodge beside the anchorage, and pursued his nautical experiments, and enthusiasm for the  Skelligs and antiquities generally, while down there. He was an engineer and inventor of note, and such an interesting man generally that you begin to think that maybe the Americans might have been just slightly to blame in his notorious row while campaigning Valkyrie II for the Auld Mug in 1896.

The O’Briens of Ardagh in North Limerick also had a Derrynane summer base, and their most famous sailor, Conor of Saoirse, spent his boyhood summers learning to sail that challenging yet endlessly fascinating coast.

And now Damian Foxall takes on the role as Derrynane’s top sailor. His family became Derrynane people in the 1960s, and his father Roger – a sailing architect as, interestingly enough, Conor O’Brien had been too – is best known for having voyaged in 1987 from Derrynane to St Petersburg in his Nicholson 32 Canna. His book of the cruise – Sailing to Leningrad – reminds us of how much has changed since, for the Berlin Wall came down just two years after the little sloop from Derrynane arrived in the Neva. Leningrad quickly reverted to being St Petersburg in the new mood of glasnost.

There’s just one tantalising glimpse of the young Damian Foxall in the Canna book. Aged 19, he arrived on board in the latter difficult stages to help get the boat home to Derrynane though autumn gales. Already he was his own man, and he has always been so though his achievements on the world’s oceans. But during his recent success in the Barcelona World Race, he became all Ireland’s sailor.

We followed him every inch of the way. And Paprec Virbac 2 rewarded her faithful followers with a flawless victory. Naturally Damian became the ‘Sailor of the Month’ in February. But in best Derrynane style, it was on a larger stage that the national spirit was best expressed, with a reception in Aras an Uachtarain by President McAleese for Damian and his wife Suzy-Anne and their seven-month son Oisin, and co-skipper Jean-Pierre Dick. It all happened within a week of the finish. As ever, Mary McAleese spoke for all of us. It was a good day for Derrynane.
Published in Editors Blog Team

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