Menu
Allianz and Afloat - Supporting Irish Boating

Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Battle Royal & Bloodshed in Dublin Bay Yacht Racing

27th March 2021
History is made. The first Dublin Regatta of 1828, with the non-racing Pearl at left, the second-placed Ganymede (Col. John Madden) at centre, and the winner Liberty on right.
History is made. The first Dublin Regatta of 1828, with the non-racing Pearl at left, the second-placed Ganymede (Col. John Madden) at centre, and the winner Liberty on right.

The impression conveyed in the image above of good-humoured sport afloat at the first regatta from the new harbour of Kingstown on July 22nd 1828 is so lively that today we easily forgive the relatively unskilled work of the artist, and instead celebrate the significance of what he was trying to convey.

The congenial nautical sport in Dublin Bay and the new harbour marked such an advance in the history of sailing on Ireland's East Coast that when the Kingstown Harbour Bicentenary was being celebrated as part of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta of 2017 (it was the Bicentenary of the formal laying of the foundation stone in 1817), each class winner received the presentation of a framed version of this print which shows that, just eleven years on from the start of construction, the massive new harbour was sufficiently advanced to host an inaugural regatta of international standard.

You might well think that in such an atmosphere, all was sweetness and light afloat and ashore as the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 approached final approval. But some research around the yacht which finished second, the 69-tonner Ganymede owned by Colonel John Madden of Hilton Park in County Monaghan, has cast another light on the mood of the time, and given us extra insight into the febrile and occasionally violent atmosphere which prevailed.

To set the scene, at the centre of power in Dublin Castle, the top men seemed to be playing footsie with the role of Lord-Lieutenant. This position was officially but briefly filled at the time of the 1828 Regatta by a keen sailing pioneer, the Marquess of Anglesey, who will forever be known as the dashing cavalry leader who was on his horse beside the Duke of Wellington observing the final stages of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 when a whiff of shot came past so lethally close that Anglesey exclaimed:

"By God sir, I've lost my leg"

"By God sir" responded the Iron Duke, briefly glancing down before resuming his critical scanning of the battle scene, "so you have".

Despite this injury, Anglesey lived to 85, and thanks to a very ingenious early 19th Century prosthetics maker, the loss of his leg above the knee didn't seem to hamper his style at all – he remained a superb horseman, and some of his abundant peacetime energies went into advancing the sport of sailing.

At the time, the builder of the fastest cutters was one Philip Sainty of Wivenhoe in Essex. But he happened to be in gaol for persisting in building and sailing smuggling cutters which regularly out-performed the finest revenue vessels. For someone like Anglesey, that incarceration was a minor inconvenience to be overcome, and Sainty's Get Out Of Gaol Card was the commission to build Anglesey's 113-tonner Pearl.

Ace smuggler Philip Sainty's "Get-Out-Of-Gaol" Card – the extra-fast cutter PearlAce smuggler Philip Sainty's "Get-Out-Of-Gaol" Card – the extra-fast cutter Pearl

She was a cutter of legendary performance which the thoughtful owner seldom if ever raced, instead enhancing his vessel's reputation by doing a horizon job on any comparable vessel he happened to meet at sea. But when he served his first brief term as Ireland's Lord Lieutenant from 27th February 1828 until December of the same year, he reckoned a regatta with proper racing from the new harbour at what was already re-named Kingstown would be just the ticket, even if he would only be observing from Pearl, rather than indulge in the cut and thrust of racing.

As we know from the 1828 picture, the racing went well with the Earl of Errol with his 42-tonner Liberty winning from Colonel John Madden with his 69-tonner Ganymede, while a muscular Christian, the Rev D. George, came third with the 37-ton Thetis.

But Anglesey's days in the top job at the Castle were already numbered, as he'd sent an "injudicious" pro-Emancipation letter to a top Catholic cleric which his enemies were already leaking like nobody's business. So by the time of the Dublin Regatta of 1829 at Kingstown, the Duke of Northumberland – of the opposing faction – was top dog, but the fates didn't seem to approve.

Colonel John Madden (1782-1844) of Hilton Park, Co Monaghan, owner of the 69-ton cutter Ganymede. Courtesy Madden family.Colonel John Madden (1782-1844) of Hilton Park, Co Monaghan, owner of the 69-ton cutter Ganymede. Courtesy Madden family.

All this may seem distinctly complicated, but it's thank to Johnny Madden of Hilton Park in Monaghan – whose great-great-grandfather owned the Ganymede – that we're getting near the reality, as that noted specialist historian George Gossip of Connacht – let's have no inane comments about nominative determinism, please – has been delving into the details on behalf of the Madden story, and he has come up with something of pure gold from the Dublin Morning Register of Friday 3rd July 1829. We'll let it speak for itself:

KINGSTOWN REGATTA OF 1829

Dublin Morning Register 3rd July 1829

KINGSTOWN REGATTA: The favourable state of the weather in the early part of yesterday allured an immense number to repair to the Regatta, and so numerous were the arrivals during the morning, that before eleven o'clock, the Forty-Foot road and the beach adjoining the harbour were densely crowded by carriages and other vehicles, belonging principally to the nobility and gentry.

There was, however, a larger attendance of the middling class than on the first day. At half-past eleven o'clock, his Excellency the Lord Lieutenant with the Duchess of Northumberland, and suite, arrived, and proceeded on board the Royal Charlotte. At this time the following vessels, entered for the Northumberland Prize of Sixty Guineas, were ready to slip their cables, and the usual signals having been given, they started:

Dolphin, 58 tons, Gower, Esq., R.Y.C., yellow and red horizontal.

Rob Roy, 50 tons, J. Meiklam, Esq., R Y.C., blue peter.

Ganymede, 69 tons, Colonel Madden, N.Y.C., red, white and red, horizontal.

Campora, of Liverpool, 148 tons, R. J. F. Williamson, Esq., white and red ball.

Vampire, 44 tons, Rev. D. George, R.Y.C., red.

Druid, of Cowes, 44 tons, R. Fox, Esq., R.Y.C., blue.

Young Paddy, of Cork, 42 tons, J. C. Beamish, Esq, C.Y.C., white and blue vertical.

Black Dwarf, of 62 tons, P. O'Kelly, Esq., N.Y.C., blue, white and blue, vertical.

Turk, Captain Kean, R.N., C.Y.C., union jack, red border.

The Ariel, which had been entered, did not start, but in her place, the Emerald Isle, belonging Mr. G. Gregg, swelled the number of the combatants.

Whilst the yachts were on their way through the harbour, the Campedora and the Black Dwarf came in contact, and intercepted the Ganymede which struck, with much force, against the Campedora.

The crews of the two last-named vessels, whilst they were in such disagreeable proximity, gave vent to their disappointment by attacking each other, and whilst the jolly tars of the Ganymede employed themselves in cutting the rigging of their opponent, the cook of the Campedora, armed with huge carving knife, presented himself before the master of the Ganymede, and fatal consequences might have resulted, if the hostile vessels had not speedily separated.

The Campedora, the largest yacht that has appeared at the Regatta, grounded near the pier, and the Ganymede, although she succeeded in passing into the bay, soon returned, as there was no chance, on account of the long delay, of getting up with the other vessels.

In consequence of this accident, the three largest vessels entered for the prize were prevented from proceeding; and the contest was between the Dolphin, Rob Roy, Vampire, Druid, Young Paddy of Cork, Emerald Isle, and Turk. The match was won by the Rob Roy, the Vampire being second, and the Druid third.

A few minutes before two o'clock, and whilst the yachts in the first match were out in the Bay, the following vessels sailed for the Twenty Guinea Prize:

Betsey, 18 tons, Hon. Col. Ward, N.Y.C., blue and red cross.

Gipsey, 19 tons, John Cooper, Esq. white and blue ball.

Fenella of Cork, 15 tons, Captain Berkeley, R.N., blue, white and red, horizontal.

Duke of Clarence 15 tons, Sir Edward Lees, union jack, white border.

Amelia of Milford, 10 tons, Captain B. Robertson, R.N., red pierced white.

This match was won easily by the Betsey, belonging to the Hon. Colonel Ward, who was on board, and actively engaged in steering his vessel.

Whilst the sailing matches were proceeding, there was a sharply contested boat race, for two cups of ten guineas value each, by gentlemen's six oared gigs. Two Liverpool boats were the only competitors —the name of the winner is the Harlequin.

WEATHER DETERIORATES

The weather was very favourable until about two o'clock, and up to that hour the immense concourse of spectators on the beach appeared to receive much enjoyment from the gay scene before them; but suddenly there was a very heavy fall of rain, and in a few minutes the beach was quite deserted.

The rain continued to pour, with scarcely any intermission, during the remainder of the day, and totally put a stop to the sports on the land side. Crowds of pedestrians, in most pitiable plight, were to be seen in all directions, seeking for shelter; every tent was occupied, and high prices were offered for covered cars to town.

Many a bitter imprecation was uttered against the Regatta, as if the rain had not been the cause of all the calamity; and many a solemn vow was made, by the staid and sober heads of families who suffered under the pitiless element, that no "sea show" should ever again seduce them from their dry and comfortable homes.

The Regatta Committee had made most excellent arrangements. They had abundance of funds, plenty of yachts—splendid prizes—and there was in the metropolis a growing taste for nautical sports; but the Committee could not control the weather, and the Regatta for the present year has, therefore, been in a great measure a failure.

However disagreeable the day may ultimately have been for everyone else, there's no doubt the lowly journo reporting it for the Register was having the time of his life. And in the ups and downs of Irish life, the twists and turns continued in 1830, when we're told that there was no Dublin Regatta in 1830 because of the death in London of King George IV, soon after he had finally but with the greatest reluctance signed the Act of Emancipation.

But with fashionable Dublin reportedly turned off "sea shows" by 1829's atrocious weather and the brawls in the harbour, it will have done no harm to take a year's break, for by 1831 the new head of state was William IV, the Sailor King, and yachting development was able to come back into fashion.

So too was the Marquess of Anglesey, restored in Dublin and serving his second term as Lord Lieutenant from 4th December 1830 to 12th September 1833. As George Gossip drily comments, he put the time to good use on the domestic front, as he married three of his daughters off to Irish Peers. Politically, however, things weren't so happy for him, for although he'd been strongly in favour of Catholic Emancipation, he was out of tune with The Liberator Daniel O'Connell's next stage in Ireland's national revival, the repeal of the Act of Union.

The Marquess of Anglesey, first Commodore of the Royal Irish Yacht Club in 1831The Marquess of Anglesey, first Commodore of the Royal Irish Yacht Club in 1831

But in the new enthusiastically nautical mood of the time, he was able to be ahead of the curve in the formalisation of yacht clubs. In that entry list for the Regatta of 1829, it will be noted that only three clubs feature – the RYC, the NYC, and the CYC. The RYC was the Royal Yacht Club, founded in London in 1815, Cowes-based soon afterwards, and transformed by the Sailor King William IV into the Royal Yacht Squadron in 1833.

The NYC was the Northern Yacht Club, formed in Belfast in the Autumn of 1824 by an eclectic group, including brothers and former friends of Henry Joy McCracken, the executed leader of the 1798 United Irishmen uprising. A Scottish branch of the NYC was formed on the Clyde at Rothesay in the summer of 1825, and went from strength to strength such that in 1834 it became the Royal Northern YC.

The Belfast branch was to be wound up in 1838 partly because of the increasing dominance of Kingstown's new harbour in Irish sailing, but in the 1820s and early '30s it was still very active, and as it was the only club of significance on the East Coast of Ireland, its burgee was flown by such noted Dublin Bay sailors as John Madden and Pentony O'Kelly.

The CYC – notably represented in 1829's regatta by Caulfield Beamish with his own-designed Young Paddy (also known as Little Paddy) which won the still-extant Cork Harbour Regatta Cup of 1829 – was the Cork Yacht Club, re-constituted in 1801 from what remained of the Water Club of 1720, and soon to become the Royal Cork YC in 1831 as the Marquess of Anglesey set about giving Irish yachting a boost.

The Cork Harbour Regatta Cup of 1829, won by Caulfield Beamish in the same year as he competed in the Dublin Regatta, is now displayed in the RCYC Trophy Cabinet in Crosshaven. Photo courtesy RCYCThe Cork Harbour Regatta Cup of 1829, won by Caulfield Beamish in the same year as he competed in the Dublin Regatta, is now displayed in the RCYC Trophy Cabinet in Crosshaven. Photo courtesy RCYC

MYSTERY OF EARLY ROUND IRELAND RACE

Although the Royal Irish Yacht Club didn't begin to formally come into being until September 1831 with meetings at the Gresham hotel (making it at heart a Northside club, don't y'know) it had a first season of sorts in Kingstown in 1831, and it's from around this time that a mystery arises.

It circulates around Colonel John Madden (1782-1844) and his yacht the Ganymede. Since 1734 the family home had been the decidedly stately pile of Hilton Park in west County Monaghan, but by the time our Colonel Madden inherited it in 1814, it was in a ruinous state and encumbered with debt, as his father seems to have run it as an unsuccessful private casino.

Hilton Park in County Monaghan, classic style in the heat of high summerHilton Park in County Monaghan, classic style in the heat of high summer

But the younger Madden was something else altogether, and with sheer hard work in running the huge farm – he became a leading expert in breeding Shorthorn cattle – while being boosted by helpful legacies from appreciative relatives keen to salvage the family name, he turned the fortunes of the massive estate around, such that by 1820 he could relax sufficiently to think of putting more energy into another interest – sailing.

Shrewdly realising that the new harbour on Dublin Bay would boost the locality's sailing activity, in 1820 he set in train the construction of a "seaside lodge" which became Ballygihan House in Sandycove. Quite when he acquired the 69-ton cutter Ganymede we don't know, but his summer residences in Ballygihan House and sailing and match-racing in the Bay and the Irish Sea became an important part of his life, as the new harbour provided the ideal summer base for his yacht, and in winter she could be safely berthed in the 1796-opened Grand Canal Basin in Dublin.

John Madden built Ballygihan House (left) in Sandycove around 1820 to be a handy "summer cottage" when sailing from the new harbour at Kingstown. It wasn't finally demolished until 1984.John Madden built Ballygihan House (left) in Sandycove around 1820 to be a handy "summer cottage" when sailing from the new harbour at Kingstown. It wasn't finally demolished until 1984

He and his crews developed their skills such that by 1831, as the soon-to-be-born Royal Irish Yacht Club was already making itself felt on Dublin Bay, they were reckoned one of the crack boats. And it's from that period that Johnny Madden can remember a top quality Irish silver soup tureen which suggests that in 1830, 1831 or 1832, Ganymede won a race around Ireland. He writes:

"Sadly, the superb lidded silver tureen, that was the centrepiece of the dining table in my youth, was sold by my father in the 1970s. It was sold through Alain Chawner auctioneers, and was allegedly bought by Dublin silver dealer Louis Wine. The tureen was oval, with dolphin handles on either end and a seahorse handle on the lid. On one side was a yacht in relief, which may have been Ganymede, on the other an inscription stating that it was awarded to Col. Madden for winning a race right around Ireland in Ganymede".

It would be a huge change in our perceptions of Irish sailing history if it could be proven that there was a first race around Ireland in 1831 or thereabouts, and it's frustrating to think that somewhere, hidden away in a collection of that legendary Dublin silverware of the period, there may still be a handsome soup tureen which gives credence to the idea.

That said, delivery voyages halfway around Ireland must have featured before the Famine of 1845 closed down sailing on the west coast, as the Royal Western of Ireland Yacht Club, founded at Kilrush in 1828, was mentioned as having a fleet of 18 substantial yachts based mainly in the Shannon Estuary by 1838, and as they figured in regatta results of the time at other venues, the "Regatta Progression" will have seen it making sense for them to head out round one half of Ireland to join the sport, and return to Kilrush at season's end via the other half.

Thus the concept of a round Ireland race will not have seemed entirely out of the question in 1830, for by 1860, when the first Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race was sailed, there was no debate about whether or not it could be done. On the contrary, the challenge was to get enough of the assertive and argumentative sportsmen of the time to agree to take part at one and the same time.

Lines of the 80-ton Corsair, designed and built for John Madden by Michae Ratsey of Cowes in 1832Lines of the 80-ton Corsair, designed and built for John Madden by Michae Ratsey of Cowes in 1832

Be that as it may, things were moving quickly in the sailing and social career of Colonel Madden of the Monaghan Regiment, and he became decidedly friendly with both the RIYC's first Commodore, the Marquess of Anglesey, and the Vice Commodore, the Marquess of Donegall, both of whom were also leading figures in the Royal Yacht Club in Cowes. Thus by the time the RYC became the Royal Yacht Squadron in 1833, John Madden was well established as a member, and he was sailing his new yacht, the 80-ton cutter Corsair designed and built for him by Michael Ratsey of Cowes in 1832.

Corsair as she was rigged when cruised to Italy in 1833-1835Corsair as she was rigged when cruised to Italy in 1833-1835

As it happened, not every part of Corsair was designed by Michael Ratsey. It seems that the carving-knife-armed intervention of the presumably Liverpudlian ship's cook of the big schooner Campedora from Merseyside, in the in-harbour battle with the crew of Ganymede in 1829, may have made a special impression on John Madden. For he personally designed the complete galley on Corsair, while further evidence of his serious voyaging intentions is still to be seen at Hilton Park in a Dublin silver "seagoing teapot", hall-marked 1833, with a broad base and handle on the side.

The broad-based seagoing teapot, hallmarked Dublin silver from 1833, is believed to have been carried aboard Corsair on her Italian cruiseThe broad-based seagoing teapot, hallmarked Dublin silver from 1833, is believed to have been carried aboard Corsair on her Italian cruise

But then he knew a galley and utensils which worked well at sea would be important for his plans, for despite racing success with the new cutter, his intention was to take a cruise with Corsair to the Mediterranean as soon as possible, while he was still a bachelor. The cruise took place between 1833 and 1835, and when Corsair returned after more than a few adventures, she brought back with her a complete and very elegant Italian marble fireplace, as one does.

The marble fireplace in the drawing-room at Hilton Park was sailed home from Italy aboard Corsair in 1835.The marble fireplace in the drawing-room at Hilton Park was sailed home from Italy aboard Corsair in 1835

It's still there in the drawing-room at Hilton Park, where Johnny and Lucy Madden's son Fred and his wife Joanna – the ninth generation of Maddens in this most hospitable place – will soon be opening the post-pandemic doors for discerning guests. For as you'll have gathered, the free-as-a-bird Colonel Madden who jaunted off for his sailing Grand Tour in Italy in 1833 was soon to have his wings clipped with marriage to the daughter of Admiral Wolseley in 1835. And the new Mrs Madden was soon ominously saying that his yachting habit was costing him at least £1,000 a year (the equivalent of millions today), whereas her daddy was getting his sailing for nothing - if you can imagine such blunt language translated into a polite Jane Austen-style exchange of views.

The upshot was that very rapidly the Colonel down-sized to a new handy little cutter called Dandy, and future sailing was confined to modest ventures from Kingstown, and frugal use of Ballygihan House as a summer base, while the income of the Hilton estate was optimized with careful management.

Perhaps it's overstating the case to say that the days of wine and roses were over, but from being a man in his prime strutting his stuff at Cowes with his friends from the Squadron, while his new Ratsey cutter Corsair lay elegantly at anchor in the Roads prior to departing for the Mediterranean, the Colonel's horizons were now reduced to the small hills of Monaghan, and the views of Howth Head across Dublin Bay.

Quite when the latter was taken out of the equation is not certain – it's thought to have been in the early 1840s that Ballygihan and Dandy were sold, and everything removable was brought home to Hilton Park.

The Colonel died young at the age of 62 in 1844, but he would have known that under the ownership of John Congreve of the Waterford family, his beloved 80-ton Corsair had been written into the racing records of sailing in a big way in August 1842. This was with a 130-mile match race with the 84-ton Talisman from the Solent to the Eddystone Lighthouse off Plymouth and back, sailed in a near-gale from the east, which meant all the pain was in the return leg.

"Closely-matched" is scarcely adequate for the outcome, for on a boat-for-boat basis the marginally smaller Corsair won by just one minute and 30 seconds. Far away in the high summer somnolence of deepest Monaghan, it will have been a result savoured with mixed feelings by Corsair's original owner.

Corsair – with her rig altered to a yawl – narrowly leading Talisman in the outward leg of the August 1842 Solent-Eddystone-Solent Match Race. After a very rugged beat back to the finish, Corsair won by one minute and 30 seconds. From the painting by Nicholas Condy of PlymouthCorsair – with her rig altered to a yawl – narrowly leading Talisman in the outward leg of the August 1842 Solent-Eddystone-Solent Match Race. After a very rugged beat back to the finish, Corsair won by one minute and 30 seconds. From the painting by Nicholas Condy of Plymouth

But in such a place and a house like this, you take a long and different view. As Johnny Madden has observed, going into some of this history, with the possibility that there may have been a Round Ireland Race a clear 150 years before Wicklow Sailing Club inaugurated the modern event in 1980, has given him fresh insight into some other items in the Hilton Park inventory.

"For instance" he says, "we have this dining table with a complete set of matching chairs which I'd reckon to be dated from very closely around 1820. I'd sometimes wondered how we've something so new about the place. Now I realise it must have been brought back from the holiday cottage at Sandycove when the Colonel finally pulled in his sailing horns".

When "something so new" refers to 1820, you're definitely set in a different perspective.

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

Email The Author

William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading Afloat.ie than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open.

Afloat.ie is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

Featured Sailing School

INSS sidebutton

Featured Clubs

dbsc mainbutton
Howth Yacht Club
Kinsale Yacht Club
National Yacht Club
Royal Cork Yacht Club
Royal Irish Yacht club
Royal Saint George Yacht Club

Featured Brokers

leinster sidebutton

Featured Associations

ICRA
isora sidebutton

Featured Webcams

Featured Events 2021

vdlr21 sidebutton

Featured Sailmakers

northsails sidebutton
uksails sidebutton
quantum sidebutton
watson sidebutton

Featured Chandleries

CHMarine Afloat logo
osm sidebutton
https://afloat.ie/resources/marine-industry-news/viking-marine

Featured Marinas

dlmarina sidebutton

Featured Blogs

W M Nixon - Sailing on Saturday
podcast sidebutton
mansfield sidebutton
BSB sidebutton
wavelengths sidebutton
 

Please show your support for Afloat by donating