Menu
Allianz and Afloat - Supporting Irish Boating

Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Have We Irish Become The Mugs Of 'The Auld Mug's' Game?

18th September 2021
The cause of much joy – and grief. The schooner America wins the race around the Isle of Wight 170 years ago
The cause of much joy – and grief. The schooner America wins the race around the Isle of Wight 170 years ago

Let's face it, Ireland bidding to host the 37th America's Cup in 2024 – or more accurately, Cork's campaigning to stage it – has all the makings of a handy TV drama. As it has to be a national investment, yet with its focus at a tightly regional level, it bears out the old cliché that all politics is ultimately local, and local in Ireland always has its own special dynamic. Other requirements for consideration for streaming success include:

  • Seemingly unimaginable sums of money involved? You got it.
  • An ultra-advanced and highly specialized version of a sport developing technically in such as way that, like Formula 1, it is already light years away from the sport as enjoyed by most of its adherents? Check.
  • Confusion of national identity in that we may be "providing the use of the hall", but there probably won't be an Irish team involved? Almost certainly true.
  • Continuing battle between comfortably settled residents who quite like the harbour as it is, versus brash incomers with plans for CHANGE, CHANGE, CHANGE in the name of progress? Right on target.
  • Larger-than-life characters who could easily be imagined wearing an oversize stetson if they're not doing so already? For sure. Organise those exclusive luxury suites immediately.

All that is of course only one angle. A very valid case can be made with equal or even greater strength for the investment of between €150 and €200 million in the necessary waterfront infrastructure. For let's face it, we may have referred to "unimaginable sums of money" above, but two hundred million snots is only a blip by comparison with the billions of euros the nation had to pour down the pipe from 2009 onwards to keep the banks afloat.

But on the other hand, if the money goes into giving the Rushbrooke shipyard an attractive recreational, marine services and hospitality aspect, it will still have other applications available to it after the America's Cup fandango has moved on.

A sail-training tall ship heads seaward past the Verolme Cork dockyard at Rushbrooke west of Cobh in the yard's final year of operation. Photo: Robert BatemanA sail-training tall ship heads seaward past the Verolme Cork dockyard at Rushbrooke west of Cobh in the yard's final year of operation. Photo: Robert Bateman

Admittedly at mid-week the prospects looked utterly dead. But Thursday night's announcement that Kiwi petro-magnate Mark Dunphy had hurled himself into the boiling pot with an offer to organise the funding to keep the show in Auckland has now brought up to four the number of supposedly interested parties that are considering the hosting in an ongoing drama in which our friends in Cork find themselves being pushed towards being the Preferred Bidder, with the alleged "lifeline" of an extra six weeks being provided to prolong the negotiating agony.

The Irish diaspora is at it again…..New Zealand business magnate Mark Dunphy reckons he can raise the funds to keep the America's Cup racing in Auckland. At one stage in his career, he worked with Michael Fay, another "Kiwi-Irish" business whizz who was much involved in America's Cup campaigning.The Irish diaspora is at it again…..New Zealand business magnate Mark Dunphy reckons he can raise the funds to keep the America's Cup racing in Auckland. At one stage in his career, he worked with Michael Fay, another "Kiwi-Irish" business whizz who was much involved in America's Cup campaigning.

Yet up above in Dublin, the powers-that-be (or at least the powers that would like to be, but sometimes you'd wonder) are indicating the need for a six month assessment period, and a marked reluctance to get involved at all in a glitter show for which the political optics are seriously foggy in every constituency in the country except perhaps South Cork, and we can't even be too sure about that.

For the man in the street in Carrigaline might have different views from those on the marinas downriver at Crosshaven. But regardless of their location, each one has a vote when an election comes around. And as those advocating a sail training ship for Ireland ever since Noah decommissioned The Ark have very painfully discovered in trying to persuade local coastal politicians round to their point of view, there are few if any votes in sail training, even in port towns. Thus we only acquired the brigantine Asgard II because there were two decidedly colourful pro-sailing autocrats – Paddy Donegan and Charlie Haughey – in power during the time of her building.

So in the current febrile political mood (is it ever anything else?), most TDs will be looking over their shoulders and wondering how many votes might be found in an America's Cup spectacle in and off Cork Harbour. It won't take the latest product from one of those Cork computer factories to come up with the answer, for the occasional think-pieces on the subject in national newspapers have revealed such a total ignorance of the America's Cup among the Irish general public, and the opinion makers who serve them, that it might do no harm to do a little scene setting.

A-yachting we will go…..it was serial challenger Thomas Lipton who coined the phrase "The Auld Mug" for the America's Cup as he developed its commercial attraction.A-yachting we will go…..it was serial challenger Thomas Lipton who coined the phrase "The Auld Mug" for the America's Cup as he developed its commercial attraction.

First raced for on the Friday of Cowes Week 1851 in a challenge round the Isle of Wight - a race which was something of an afterthought to the two main sailing events of the week - the trophy is a quintessentially Victorian silver ewer worth a relatively modest £100 at the time. The additional race for this new trophy was laid on to provide a fleet contest for the New York schooner America, which had sailed across the Atlantic as a sort of associate item for the Great Exhibition in London that year, but was then found to be ineligible under various club rules for the main races of Cowes Week.

But that one race - unfashionably sailed on the Friday when the cream of English society would already have departed Cowes to be on one of their vast estates for the weekend - was enough for the stylish America to prove her worth, and the silver ewer returned to New York, becoming in time the America's Cup, the world's oldest international sporting trophy.

It didn't take too long for its publicity value to become clear in an era when popular stadium and arena sports were still at an early stage of development, and this was most evident in the attitude of a serial challenger, mega-grocer Thomas Lipton of Glasgow, who proudly displayed his Irish ancestry from Monaghan by using the name Shamrock for his five challengers through the Royal Ulster Yacht Club between 1899 and 1930.

All of his challenges against the Americans with Shamrock I, II, III, IV and V were unsuccessful. But Lipton found that provided he could be a sporting and gallant loser, it generated friendly publicity to boost the growth of his business empire's American offshoot, so he became the very embodiment of geniality, and made millions.

That said, another aspect of Lipton was revealed in 1908, when he had his own private racing yacht, the 23 Metre known just as plain Shamrock, and built for racing in British regattas during a hiatus in America's Cup challenges. It's said that if this private Shamrock performed conspicuously badly in a race, the persona of the genial Glasgow grocer was quickly replaced – albeit briefly – by one very grumpy owner.

America's Cup contenders come to Dublin Bay in 1901? This is a mystery photo, origins unknown. According to a note with it, this is Lipton's Fife-designed Shamrock I – his challenger of 1899 – on left, being used as training-horse for his Watson-designed Shamrock II (challenger in 1901) at a regatta in Dublin Bay. Informed comments welcome……America's Cup contenders come to Dublin Bay in 1901? This is a mystery photo, origins unknown. According to a note with it, this is Lipton's Fife-designed Shamrock I – his challenger of 1899 – on left, being used as training-horse for his Watson-designed Shamrock II (challenger in 1901) at a regatta in Dublin Bay. Informed comments welcome……

But when the America's Cup campaigning was resumed in 1914 with the advanced-design Shamrock IV, but then postponed to 1920 because of World War I delaying yet another ultimately unsuccessful campaign, the sporting loser persona reasserted its profitable self, though Lipton was also heard sadly wondering if he would ever win "The Auld Mug".

For many, it has been The Auld Mug ever since. But in the present kerfuffle over whether or not Ireland should continue to go hammer and tongs in pursuit of an opportunity to host the modern America's Cup racing spectacle in Cork in 2024, it's difficult to resist thinking that in some ways we have been making Auld Mugs of ourselves over the whole business for the last six months or so.

Personally, I don't remotely agree with the assertion that this is the third biggest sporting event on the planet, but it's a pretty big deal nevertheless. And as a country with a longer sailing history than most – including direct connections with eight America's Cup challenges out of the 36 made it surely behoved us to be interested as the contest was floated as a business proposition on the more-or-less open market by a New Zealand entity.

But the America's Cup in the 21st Century has become one very potentially explosive combination involving - so we're told - at least €200 million in initial Government investment in infrastructure in the greater Cork Harbour area, though it might be all for an anticipated return of maybe €500 million if the promised four teams (and preferably more) turn up and the world then watches.

In doing so we'd be trying to follow an impressive New Zealand organisational performance which transformed parts of the Auckland waterfront. But then the Auckland area is one of the greatest sailing locations in the world, and while Cork Harbour is impressive by European standards, it doesn't offer the multiple sailing options which can be found in Auckland.

It took the staging of the America's Cup at Auckland to make the world fully aware the unrivalled range of sailing options available at The City of SailsIt took the staging of the America's Cup at Auckland to make the world fully aware the unrivalled range of sailing options available at The City of Sails

Then too, as a new city, Auckland presents an impressive high rise front to the sea – or at least it's impressive if high rise and acres of glass is your thing. But Cork is just so very much older than Auckland, and its main 19th-century harbour waterfront at Cobh is so deeply ingrained in the national consciousness – and indeed, in the global consciousness thanks to its links with the Titanic– that any attempt to update it would be regarded as sacrilege, while a modern waterfront mini-city of glass towers just around the corner at the proposed America's Cup centre in the former Verolme Cork dockyard might be a very challenging proposition to get past local opinion.

However, the modern America's Cup series is a much more complex affair than the straightforward match racing which Lipton's crews would have experienced. By the time the best series of all took place in 1987 off Perth in Western Australia, with Dennis Conner in his prime taking the trophy back from the Australians in truly magnificent sport in 12 Metres as glimpsed below (***k your foils, THIS is yacht racing) 

the "associated events" aspect was developing, and if Cork do secure it, just one staging of the series might be as much as a two-year largely Cork-based project for the teams involved.

History lives – Cobh's characterful waterfrontHistory lives – Cobh's characterful waterfront.

With a time-span like that, there'll be all sorts of junior and open-to-the-public happenings, and doubtless that beloved phrase "Fun For All The Family" will get one of its many airings. But with this new involvement of Mark Dunphy (Irish of course, will the diaspora ever leave us alone?) the paranoid might well think that the Irish are just the auld mugs being used to up the ante in a higher-stakes game.

We shall see. And were it any sport other than our beloved sailing, it would be hugely entertaining. But either way, when it's a game of big business, national and international politics, huge sums of money, and utterly ruthless "sporting" competition, not everyone can hope to be a winner in whatever capacity they may be involved. So all those putting their heads above the parapet would do well to remember the cynics' version of the great sportswriter Grantland Rice's originally idealistic bit of verse:

For when the one Great Scorer comes,
To write against your name;
He writes not that you won or lost.
But how you spread the blame.

Published in W M Nixon
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