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Dublin’s Liffey and London’s Thames Celebrate Classic Irish Boats

7th May 2022
The ketch Ilen adds something exotic to the already complex London skyline
The ketch Ilen adds something exotic to the already complex London skyline Credit: Claire Frew

These past few days have been purest serendipity for historic Irish boatbuilders. Just two days after the 1926-vintage West Cork-built Limerick ketch Ilen was celebrated beside the River Thames in London on Wednesday, the 1937 Tyrrell of Arklow 43ft ketch Maybird was being honoured last night beside the River Liffey in Dublin Port. In fact, the legendary Arklow boat-builder Jack Tyrrell was up in lights twice over, as last night’s (Friday) gala Awards Ceremony of the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association in the Poolbeg Yacht & Boat Club also saw the inauguration of a new trophy, celebrating the memory of a former owner of the 1963 Tyrrell-built vintage Bermudan sloop Tjaldur.

We’d best take things chronologically. As Ilen’s date with destiny beside Tower Bridge for a first London cultural-exchange visit came up the agenda on Wednesday, not all the ducks were staying neatly in a row. Award-winning actor Dominic West of Glin Castle on the Shannon Estuary was finding serious diary problems in taking up his role as MC.

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But not to worry. Ilen Marine School Director Gary Mac Mahon has a contacts book worth much more than its weight in gold. So you’ve a problem? You can’t get a BAFTA-winning thesp from a castle on the Shannon for your long-planned big event in London? No problem. Get an Oscar-winning superstar from a castle in West Cork instead, and the show is even more firmly on the road.

Dr Mick Brogan, Gary Mac Mahon, Sinead Cusack and Jeremy Irons at the Ilen London ReceptionDr Mick Brogan, Gary Mac Mahon, Sinead Cusack and Jeremy Irons at the Ilen London Reception. Photo: Claire Frew

In fact, as Jeremy Irons – who would call over betimes from nearby Kilcoe Castle to see Ilen while she was being restored by Liam Hegarty in the boatyard at Oldcourt – also brought his wife Sinead Cusack with him to the Ilenfest at St Katharine Docks on Wednesday, it was a stardust event, with the marine element including the distinguished Chairman of Crunnui na mBad in Kinvara on Galway Bay, Dr Mick Brogan, while the exchanges of goodwill were headed by speeches from Alison Gowman, Sheriff of the City of London, and Councillor Daniel Butler, the Mayor of Limerick.

Ilen well-wishers starting to gather in the ultimate urban setting. Photo: Alistair CraigIlen well-wishers starting to gather in the ultimate urban setting. Photo: Alistair Craig

BUSY NIGHT IN DUBLIN PORT

With the main event safely logged, Ilen’s Thames Estuary calendar is filling up over the next few days. But meanwhile, last night in Dublin Port saw an impressive number of boxes being ticked as the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers moved into post-pandemic overdrive, with minds well-focused by the presence of Old Gaffers Association overall President Patrick Vyvyan-Robinson.

Patrick Vyvyan-Robinson from Wales, President of the Old Gaffers AssociationPatrick Vyvyan-Robinson from Wales, President of the Old Gaffers Association

He’s a dyed-in-the-wool four-sided mainsail man who cruises the traditional-style Heard 28 Capraia out of the Bristol Channel and southwest England. But in coming to Poolbeg he was able to savour the essence of Irish Old Gafferry, for although the traditional boats of Galway Bay and Connemara continue in their own magnificent solitary splendour, in the rest of the island the Old Gaffers have rationalised themselves into the one setup, the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association. Its widespread reality is reflected in the fact that the current President is northerner Adrian “Stu” Spence with the ketch-rigged Vagabond 47 El Paradiso, while the Honorary Secretary is Crosshaven-based Darryl Hughes with the 43ft 1937 Tyrrell ketch Maybird.

OGA President Vyvyan-Robinson was there to personally present one of the main association’s top trophies - the Jolie Brise Cup - to Paul Keogh of Dublin for his tireless work over 25 years and more in keeping the Clondalkin community-built Galway Hooker Naomh Cronan in good order and busy afloat throughout the Irish Sea and beyond.

SIXTY YEAR CELEBRATIONS ON HORIZON

And as well the President was there to remind everyone that 2023 will be the OGA’s 60th anniversary. The Golden Jubilee in 2013 saw the Dublin Port stopover being one of highlights of the celebratory Cruise-in-Company, so the building blocks are being put in place to make sure that 2023 can provide the same or even better for the 60th.

The Tyrrell ketch Maybird has had several rigs and re-rigs in her 85 years, and as she is also the oldest boat ever to have completed the Round Ireland Race, Darryl Hughes reckoned that a bit of one of her discarded masts could be usefully re-purposed as a prize for future holders of the “Oldest Boat to Complete” in Round Ireland Races, and for that the “Maybird Mast” trophy was entrusted to Round Ireland organizer Hal Fitzpatrick of Wicklow Sailing Club.

The 1937 Tyrrell of Arklow-built ketch Maybird is owned and sailed by DBOGA Honorary Secretary Darryl HughesThe 1937 Tyrrell of Arklow-built ketch Maybird is owned and sailed by DBOGA Honorary Secretary Darryl Hughes

DBOGA President Stu Spence sailed many thousand of coastal and offshore miles in the 1874-vintage gaff-rigged pilot cutter Madcap, but now he has relaxed into the furling Bermuda comforts of the Vagabond 47 El Paradiso. However, the word is that he and fellow Arctic veteran Paddy Barry will have Paradiso up beyond Svalbard in the high Arctic this summer, but meanwhile in acknowledgement of the fact that classic Bermudan-rigged boats play a significant role in today’s OGA, he introduced the Tjaldur Trophy in honour of the late and much-missed Sean Whiston, who sailed the 1963 Peter Brett-designed Tyrrell-built 13-tonner Tjaldur for many happy years, the new trophy in his memory to go to the top-place Bermudan-rigged boat in the annual DBOGA Regatta.

DBOGA President Adrian Spence’s Vagabond 47 El Paradiso. His previous boat for very many years was the 1874-built Pilot Cutter Madcap. Photo: W M NixonDBOGA President Adrian Spence’s Vagabond 47 El Paradiso. His previous boat for very many years was the 1874-built Pilot Cutter Madcap. Photo: W M Nixon

The DBOGA has been exemplary in keeping things going through the lockdowns with a series of Zoom sessions on a wide variety of nautical topics, and in keeping with their traditions, they introduced the electronic equivalent of donating to the yellow welly for the Howth lifeboat, and Howth lifeboat fund-raiser Rose Michael – who will be marking forty years of raising the wind for the lifeboats next year – was there to receive the large ceremonial cheque as another highlight of the DBOGA’s many and various activities.

The late Sean Whiston sailing his 13-ton Tyrrell-built sloop Tjaldur.The late Sean Whiston sailing his 13-ton Tyrrell-built sloop Tjaldur

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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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.

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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

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