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When the multi-talented John B Kearney (1879-1967) retired from a distinguished career in Dublin Port in 1944, he re-focused most of his attention on his parallel interest as a yacht designer and builder. It was an enduring passion that went right back to his first own-designed sailing boat, which he’d built in his father’s boatyard in Ringsend in 1897. Yet by the time of his retirement, he was living in Monkstown on the south shore of Dublin Bay, where one of the rooms in his house was re-purposed to be his design office. And above its door, he affixed a small but conspicuous brass plate, inscribed on which it clearly said: “God Chooses Our Relatives. Thank God We Can Choose Our Friends”.

For as Cormac Lowth so clearly reveals in his recent very comprehensive and copiously-illustrated book Ringsend Sailing Trawlers – published by Hal Sisk’s Peggy Bawn Press, with the support of Dublin Port Company – not only was Ringsend for a hundred years and more a hotbed of trawler development and technological innovations in fishing, but its increasingly vigorous maritime community – enlivened by positive interaction between the established Dublin fishermen and the incoming Brixham fleet from Devon – was producing remarkable sea-minded families such as the Murphys, the Bissetts, the Scallans and the Kearneys.

The Dodder “waterfront” at the back of Ringsend’s Thorncastle Street in the 1920s as captured by Harry Kernoff RHA, when the boatyards of families like the Murphys and Kearneys were cheek-by-jowl with rowing cubs The Dodder “waterfront” at the back of Ringsend’s Thorncastle Street in the 1920s as captured by Harry Kernoff RHA, when the boatyards of families like the Murphys and Kearneys were cheek-by-jowl with rowing cubs 

The Kearneys in particular seemed to specialise in strong characters who might have been sent directly from Central Casting to become the Awkward Squad on both sides of the seaward city reaches of the River Liffey. Playwright Brendan Behan was a cousin. Another cousin, Peadar Kearney, was the propagandist and poet who wrote the National Anthem, “The Soldier’s Song”. And John B Kearney himself could be a prickly individual, for in 1923-25 when he and his brother Tom were beavering away together each evening after work at the day job to build one of John’s design masterpieces - the 39ft yawl Mavis - in a corner of Murphy’s Boatyard in Ringsend, they discovered one night that there was no sugar for their ritual 9.30 pm mug of strong tea. Neither would accept the blame. And thereafter each brought his own sugar. But the building of the Mavis was successfully completed without the two Kearney brothers exchanging a further single word.

Despite the expansion of the Ringsend fishing fleet in the late 1800s, their waterfront facilities remained very primitive, and they usually had to lie to moorings off what is now the location of PY&BC Marina. In a time of loosely-defined channels, it was not unknown for fishing boats moored like this to be run down at night by steamships.Despite the expansion of the Ringsend fishing fleet in the late 1800s, their waterfront facilities remained very primitive, and they usually had to lie to moorings off what is now the location of PY&BC Marina. In a time of loosely-defined channels, it was not unknown for fishing boats moored like this to be run down at night by steamships.

Another brother – Jem – was likewise a very talented shipwright, but he sought to build a miniature conglomerate of marine-related businesses, in which profitable night-time salmon fishing in the Liffey was regarded as a Kearney birth-right, regardless of what the regulatory authorities might think. Thus he was known in some circles as “Bad” Kearney, with stories of how he and his team were regularly apprehended in the dark at Islandbridge and Chapelizod - supposedly in search of a stolen net - becoming a staple of the District Court. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that John B Kearney in retirement wanted to put some physical distance between himself and the many Kearneys and the other colourful clans who dominated community life on both sides of the Liffey.

YOU MAY TAKE THE MAN OUT OF RINGSEND, BUT…..

But while you may take the man out of Ringsend, you can never take Ringsend out of the man. And though the houses backing onto the Dodder waterfront in Thorncastle Street in Ringsend, where Kearneys and Murphys and others had first seen the light of day, were all to disappear in the redevelopments of the early 1950s, many of the families stayed on in the new houses and apartments, with the community remaining largely intact and quietly aware of its special maritime heritage. And as for John B Kearney, he remained so closely in contact with his birthplace that it was he who designed the last sailing yacht to be built in Ringsend, the 35ft Gannet for the Somerville-Large family in 1954.

 John B Kearney at work on his drawing board, aged 83 in 1962. Photo: Tom Hutson John B Kearney at work on his drawing board, aged 83 in 1962. Photo: Tom Hutson

By this time he’d a quiet but definite national reputation as a yacht designer of some international note, and was still happily beavering away at his chosen course in life at the age of 75, with many productive years of yacht design still ahead of him. This was despite having “retired” ten years earlier as Dublin Port’s Superintendent of Engineering.

THE “REAL” HARBOUR ENGINEER

He had started with the port authorities in 1886 as an apprentice shipwright in their highly-regarded boat-building workshop, before going on to fill many key roles in the port’s development. But the fact that he had no university degree meant that he could never be officially acknowledged as the Harbour Engineer. So the position of Superintendent of Engineering may well have been created specifically for him in order to acknowledge his enormous contribution to Dublin Port’s innovation and development.

Yet apart from his boatbuilding tradesman’s accreditations, he did have an official qualification of sorts. Ever since childhood, his core ambition had been to achieve recognition as a yacht designer, and while still very young he had taken and passed a correspondence course in yacht design, with a certificate – duly framed and displayed– to accompany it. This gave him an added perspective to the experience he gained by working in his family’s boatyard on the banks of the River Dodder where it flowed into the River Liffey in the heart of Dublin port.

He also worked while very young in Murphy’s Boatyard nearby on that crazy little waterfront where aspirational rowing clubs rubbed shoulders with make-do-and-mend boatyards out the back of the houses of Thorncastle Street, where John Kearney and many others had been born into a community where maritime awareness and seamanlike instincts were absorbed with your mother’s milk.

This meant that although John B Kearney’s growing selection of yacht designs gradually demonstrated his own signature style, the basis of the hull shapes were still rooted in the Brixham-Ringsend trawler types, vessels so seamanlike in concept and practical in rig that they could continue trawling in heavy weather when other types had long since headed for port.

 The “classic Kearney type” of the 1920s: his 39ft yawl Mavis – built in 1923-1925 and now restored in Maine - seen here winning Skerries Regatta 1928. Yet if specifically asked……… The “classic Kearney type” of the 1920s: his 39ft yawl Mavis – built in 1923-1925 and now restored in Maine - seen here winning Skerries Regatta 1928. Yet if specifically asked………

….John Kearney could create a yacht based directly on the Brixham-Ringsend trawler type, as seen here in the 1924-built Dolphin.….John Kearney could create a yacht based directly on the Brixham-Ringsend trawler type, as seen here in the 1924-built Dolphin.

So although he had already produced several yacht designs of an evolving “Kearney type” by 1924, when a Ringsend sailing enthusiast asked him that year to create a yacht of miniature trawler type, he produced the 28ft clinker-built Dolphin, which exactly fitted the bill.

And this linking of the hard-working seaworthy trawlers of Ringsend with the recreational sailing scene was reinforced by the Ringsend boats frequently using Dun Laoghaire as a harbour of refuge, while they also were keen competitors in regattas specially staged for them by what was then Kingstown Royal Harbour.

RINGSEND/BRIXHAM TRAWLER YACHT AND THE ASGARD GUN-RUNNING

One noted yachtsman who was particularly taken by the trawler type was the Dublin surgeon Sir Thomas Myles, who for several years owned the Chotah, a 48-ton 60ft cutter-rigged Brixham trawler type yacht built in Devon in 1891 by Dewdney. In 1913, Myles followed growing trawler practice by having Chotah fitted with an auxiliary engine – in this case a 4 cyl. Bergius Paraffin Motor made in Glasgow - and thus equipped, he was better suited, in the 1914 Erskine Childers-led gun-running, to transfer Conor O’Brien’s consignment of Mausers from O’Brien’s own engineless Kelpie to the Chotah, and then onwards to their planned landing place at Kilcoole on the Wicklow coast.

“The Sailing Surgeon and Gun-Runner”. Sir Thomas Myles’ 60ft Chotah was a trawler-style cutter-rigged cruising yacht built 1891, and fitted with an auxiliary engine in 1913. This helped significantly in her landing of the Mauser rifles in the 1914 gun-running at the beach in Kilcoole in County Wicklow“The Sailing Surgeon and Gun-Runner”. Sir Thomas Myles’ 60ft Chotah was a trawler-style cutter-rigged cruising yacht built 1891, and fitted with an auxiliary engine in 1913. This helped significantly in her landing of the Mauser rifles in the 1914 gun-running at the beach in Kilcoole in County Wicklow

RINGSEND’S PEAK BOAT-BUILDING YEARS

In his endlessly-fascinating book, Cormac Lowth reckons the peak period of trawler-building in Ringsend itself was from 1860 to 1880, even if the greatest of them all, the mighty St Patrick, was not built by the Murphy family in their yard for their own operation until 1887. But from 1860 to 1880, the pace-setter was Michael Scallan, who somehow found the time to be a master shipwright, trawler operator, active yachtsman, and publican with the ownership of the still-extent Ferryman Inn.

As Cormac drily observes, it was surprising how many of the Ringsend boatbuilders also ran busy taverns. We couldn’t possibly comment on that. But one of the joys of the new book is the insight it gives into the characters who were drawn to the commercial possibilities of the expanding Ringsend fishing industry. And for sheer exoticism, few could match John Robert Barklie, who seems to have been one of those Scotsmen who rose without trace and arrived in 19th Century Dublin as fully-fledged entepreneurs.

“He rose without trace and was identified by his bright spats”. John Barklie (right) was one of several businessmen who tried – with varying levels of success – to cash in on the Ringsend trawler boom. Photo: Courtesy Cormac Lowth“He rose without trace and was identified by his bright spats”. John Barklie (right) was one of several businessmen who tried – with varying levels of success – to cash in on the Ringsend trawler boom. Photo: Courtesy Cormac Lowth

Barklie’s primary notion was literally a dead cert. He quickly grasped that, in an era of high mortality even among the wealthiest and healthiest families, death and mourning made for big business. And nowhere was it bigger than in Dublin in the Victorian era, a time when rich yacht-owners ordered that all the varnished brightwork of their elegant craft be painted matt black for a period of three months when a member of the immediate family passed away.

“THE MOURNING WAREHOUSE”

At a more prosaic level, Barklie made mourning wholesale in Dublin. He either had a wicked sense of humour, or else had no sense of the absurd at all, as he was an undertaker whose most prominent outlet was “Barklie’s Family and General Mourning Warehouse”. Despite being called a warehouse, it was in a prime retail site at 99 Grafton Street in the heart of fashionable Dublin city, and claimed to be “Established for the Exclusive Sale of Every Article Suitable for Family Mourning”.

For those seeking some level of privacy and dignity, he also provided what would now be called a Funeral Home down past a few shop-fronts further along Grafton Street. But as he himself favoured day wear which featured spectacular spats, and hats which verged on the frivolous, the entire enterprise seemed to lack a certain solemnity and seriousness, and thus he may have turned to trawler ownership as an additional enterprise to give him more credibility in the commercial world, and maybe with it some access to the world of Dublin Bay yachting.

When “watching the yachting at Kingstown” was quite the done thing – John Barklie and his wife (left foreground) on a regatta day in Dun Laoghaire. In the days before cosmetic dentistry, very few smiled for the camera. Photo courtesy Cormac LowthWhen “watching the yachting at Kingstown” was quite the done thing – John Barklie and his wife (left foreground) on a regatta day in Dun Laoghaire. In the days before cosmetic dentistry, very few smiled for the camera. Photo courtesy Cormac Lowth

But the only photo we have of John Robert Barklie in anything approaching a yachting setting is of himself in that unmistakable hat sitting with his wife on the East Pier summer crowd watching the yachts go out at some regatta or other. And as for becoming a trawler-owning magnate, the Ringsend fishermen quietly put paid to that in their own way, but you’ll have to read Cormac’s book to find out how.

JOYCEAN SITUATIONS

In reading about the adventures of Barklie and others who came to Dublin on the make in that interesting era, we end up with leading figures who find themselves in situations which could have come straight out of the writings of James Joyce.

And Bryan Dobson of RTE – whose family’s connections with the area give him a direct personal interest in the story – rightly remarked, in his lively and enthusiastic launching of the book in Ringsend’s Poolbeg Yacht & Boat Club, that if you could re-build the Dublin of 1904 from Joyce’s Ulysses, then you could re-build the Ringsend of 1885 from Cormac’s book.

At the launching of Cormac Lowth’s “Ringsend Sailing Trawlers” in the Poolbeg Y&BC were (left to right) Lar Joye (Port Heritage Director of Dublin Port Company), Bryan Dobson of RTE, Cormac Lowth, and Hal Sisk (Chairman of the Association of Yachting Historians and Director of Peggy Bawn Press).At the launching of Cormac Lowth’s “Ringsend Sailing Trawlers” in the Poolbeg Y&BC were (left to right) Lar Joye (Port Heritage Director of Dublin Port Company), Bryan Dobson of RTE, Cormac Lowth, and Hal Sisk (Chairman of the Association of Yachting Historians and Director of Peggy Bawn Press).

But in the end, while the people and their social and working situations are fascinating and at times heart-breaking, the true stars of the book are the wonderful fishing boats, the people who sailed them, and the versatility of both.

THE DUBLIN BAY PILOT BOATS

For instance, there’s the matter of the Dublin Bay Pilot Boats. As the port’s trade increased, and the size of the ships serving it grew rapidly, it had been generally reckoned by historians that all the guidance needs of the incoming larger ships could not have been met by the crews of hobblers rowing out in their relatively small skiffs to meet the pilot-seeking vessels.

Yet why are we not aware of the Dublin Bay Pilot Cutters as we are aware of the distinctive Bristol Channel Pilot Cutters, or the even more splendid Le Havre Pilot Cutters as represented by the sublime Jolie Brise? The answer is simple. The best Dublin Bay Pilot Cutters were re-purposed cutter-rigged Ringsend Sailing Trawlers, or new trawler-style cutters built to be Pilot Boats in the first place.

The Dublin Bay Pilot Boat Sophia in Dun Laoghaire Harbiur. As the demand grew for all-weather pilot boats for Dublin Bay and Port, it was soon found that the Ringsend trawler type could be readily adapted for the role. Photo courtesy Hal Sisk/Cormac LowthThe Dublin Bay Pilot Boat Sophia in Dun Laoghaire Harbiur. As the demand grew for all-weather pilot boats for Dublin Bay and Port, it was soon found that the Ringsend trawler type could be readily adapted for the role. Photo courtesy Hal Sisk/Cormac Lowth

They were fast, they could keep the sea in almost all weathers, and in order to make them a pilot cutter even if they had been used as a fishing boat, all you had to do was clean the fish hold, put in rudimentary accommodation for pilots, and add a distinctive number or name on the mainsail, which would be kept white instead of the usual tan bark of the fishing boats.

Another question is that surely, with the expansionary nature of recreational sailing in the Golden Era of yachting from 1880 to 1914, the demands of racing big boats at close quarters would have sought to draw on the highly-regarded sailing skills of the Ringsend trawler men?

OWEN BISSETT, RINGSEND’S TOP YACHT RACING ACE

The answer is of course yes. But as they were regarded as paid hands in the very stratified social world of the time, only the top skippers achieved general name recognition. And of Ringsend’s galaxy of successful racing stars, the superstar was Owen Bissett.

The trawler Greyhound was owned and worked in winter by Owen Bissett of Ringsend, but often in summer he was away in the more lucrative position as a leading big yacht racing skipper, and it may well be that because of this, Greyhound is settimg a high quality white jib instead of the usual tanned sail. Photo: Courtesy Cormac LowthThe trawler Greyhound was owned and worked in winter by Owen Bissett of Ringsend, but often in summer he was away in the more lucrative position as a leading big yacht racing skipper, and it may well be that because of this, Greyhound is settimg a high quality white jib instead of the usual tanned sail. Photo: Courtesy Cormac Lowth

In the summer, he was the man to have on board if you wished to win in your big yacht. And in the winter he was owner-skipper of the handsome trawler ketch Greyhound, which in Cormac’s book is shown – unusually – as setting a white jib while all the other sails are tanned. The likely explanation is that the quality jib came off one of the yachts that Bissett raced, where the sails would be changed annually, an extravagant approach which would definitely not be replicated in the tightly-financed trawler business.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The hugely-significant Ringsend sailing trawler industry declined very quickly after 1914. Its demise was speeded by World War I, the rapid expansion of steam trawler fleets at larger purpose-built fishing ports, and the weakening of commercial cross-channel links with the establishment of the Irish Free State.

Thus we all owe a debt of gratitude to Cormac Lowth for his comprehensive book – in truth, there’s the makings of three books here – and to Peggy Bawn Press who, with the talents of Gary Mac Mahon of Copper Reed Studio in Limerick to draw on for the production challenge, and the support of Dublin Port to keep the show on the road, have given us all something attractively tangible to study. It helps us to grasp why it is so important to encourage Ringsend’s continuing sense of its maritime self, a cherished part of the greater project of maintaining Dublin’s role as a living, breathing, working city-port, with all the natural dignity which that brings with it.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

The great sailing trawlers may have gone as working boats, but some – such as the Leader in Carlingford Lough - live on as sail training ships. And meanwhile, the talents of the best sailing families come down through the generations.

Ross McDonald of Howth, for instance, current Champion of Champions in the International 1720s and other classes, is a direct descendant of Owen Bissett. The apple does not fall far from the tree.

International 1720 European Champions (and Boat of the Week) with Atara at Cork Week are (left to right) Aoife English, Paddy Good, Killian Collins, Robbie English and Ross McDonald. Ross McDonald is a direct descendant of Ringsend sailing superstar Oen Bissett. Photo: Rick TomlinsonInternational 1720 European Champions (and Boat of the Week) with Atara at Cork Week are (left to right) Aoife English, Paddy Good, Killian Collins, Robbie English and Ross McDonald. Ross McDonald is a direct descendant of Ringsend sailing superstar Oen Bissett. Photo: Rick Tomlinson

As for the great Ringsend maritime names of Murphy and Kearney, they did not go gently into the night of anonymity. The great days of fishing may have been over, but as Dublin port’s ship berthing development progressed, the innovative Joe Murphy – who somehow still managed to look like a film star even when jammed into the brutal confines of a heavy diving suit – was there in the front line of development. And when the famous Diving Bell was threatened with scrapping, he played a key role in ensuring it was preserved as something of exceptional interest.

It takes real style to continue to look like a matinee idol when jammed into a traditional diving outfit, but Joe Murphy of the famous Ringsend boatbuilding and fishing family could carry it off. He was also instrumental in preserving Dublin Port’s historic Diving Bell, and he drew the lines and construction plans for the Clondalkin-built Galway Hooker Naomh Cronan.It takes real style to continue to look like a matinee idol when jammed into a traditional diving outfit, but Joe Murphy of the famous Ringsend boatbuilding and fishing family could carry it off. He was also instrumental in preserving Dublin Port’s historic Diving Bell, and he drew the lines and construction plans for the Clondalkin-built Galway Hooker Naomh Cronan.

And Joe Murphy’s boat-creation talents stayed with him to the end. When it was decided by the Clondalkin Community Group more than twenty years to build the big Galway Hooker Naomh Cronan as an Irish language project, it was to Joe Murphy that they turned for line and constructional drawings, and the skill and success of his efforts can be seen in the authenticity of the Naomh Cronan, now based in Galway City.

As for the Kearneys, well, boat-builder Jem Kearney – now with his yard at the East Wall - continued on his merry way as someone who availed of every opportunity for enjoyment, his way and style of life totally at variance with the popular conception of the 1950s as a drab time of economic gloom and inevitable emigration.

A family thing. Playboy boatbuilder and salmon fisherman Jem Kearney testing the limits of the bona fide traveller regulations at the Boot Inn with Cormac Lowth’s Granny Nora (left) and Great Aunt Eileen (right). Photo: Courtesy Cormac LowthA family thing. Playboy boatbuilder and salmon fisherman Jem Kearney testing the limits of the bona fide traveller regulations at the Boot Inn with Cormac Lowth’s Granny Nora (left) and Great Aunt Eileen (right). Photo: Courtesy Cormac Lowth

And his brother John quietly got on with designing, with his yachts now built in Malahide Shipyard, while the 17ft Mermaid - which he’d originally designed in 1932 – became the largest class in Ireland in the 1950s and early ’60s.

Yet it was after he’d turned 80 that the greatest challenge arrived on his design board in Monkstown. Perry Greer, an engineering polymath who headed up the large Unidare industrial conglomerate, had for several years been the owner of the successful 16-ton Kearney-designed yawl Ann Gail. But his dream was of something larger, and somehow in the early 1960s he brought together the special but highly individual and sometimes spiky talents of designer John Kearney of Ringsend and boatbuilder Jack Tyrrell of Arklow to create the 54ft 29-ton yawl Helen of Howth, which was launched in 1963 when John B Kearney was 84.

The sparks might fly – Jack Tyrrell and John Kearney at one of their weekly Saturday morning meetings in Arklow during the construction of Helen of Howth in 1962. Photo: Perry GreerThe sparks might fly – Jack Tyrrell and John Kearney at one of their weekly Saturday morning meetings in Arklow during the construction of Helen of Howth in 1962. Photo: Perry Greer

Helen of Howth – as created by a Ringsend boy at the age of 83. Not shown in these plans is a centreboard for improved windward performance, but she could make to windward without using it.Helen of Howth – as created by a Ringsend boy at the age of 83. Not shown in these plans is a centreboard for improved windward performance, but she could make to windward without using it.

The quality of the plans of Helen as drawn by this very focused octogenarian tell us much of the man. And with her sea kindliness and effortless yet comfortable speed, she had all the most attractive characteristics of the best Ringsend sailing trawlers. She was one of the most comfortable boats I’ve ever sailed on, though over the years her racing competitiveness was blunted by the fact that Perry Greer could never resist adding items – sometime heavy ones – which augmented this comfort, such that she became a home-from-home of so much welcoming warmth that on one round Ireland cruise with many stops, her owner-skipper never went ashore at all, as he could enjoy all the scenery from the comfort of his beloved boat, while the food was better than anything else available in the neighbourhood, as he was an ace cook.

Helen of Howth was renowned for her seakindliness and easy speed, but her racing competitiveness was blunted by owner Perry Greer’s tendency to add new creature comforts each year – so much so, in fact that the boot-top had to be raised every few years.Helen of Howth was renowned for her seakindliness and easy speed, but her racing competitiveness was blunted by owner Perry Greer’s tendency to add new creature comforts each year – so much so, in fact that the boot-top had to be raised every few years.

Yet while Helen of Howth is believed to be no longer with us, the spirit of Ringsend lives on with vigour. And Cormac Lowth’s Ringsend Sailing Trawlers gives us a new insight into a very special community, and an area which provides a living accessibility to times past, adding extra meaning to the widely-shared determination to make the very best of Dublin as a true city port.

Ringsend Sailing Trawlers

By Cormac Lowth
Published by Peggy Bawn Press
€27
[email protected]

Published in W M Nixon
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“Broken hoops on the shore; at the land a maze of dark cunning nets; farther away chalk scrawled backdoors and on the higher beach a drying line with two crucified shirts. Ringsend: wigwams of brown steersman and master mariners. Human shells...”

Stephen Daedalus’s observation as he walks along the shoreline towards Ringsend in Ulysses was not the first time that James Joyce wrote about the Dublin city coastal village.

The “wigwams”, in this case, were Ringsend sailing trawlers or “smacks”. The fleet, which fished for most of the 19th century and into the early 20th century off the Irish east coast, is the subject of a new book by Cormac F Lowth, entitled Ringsend Sailing Trawlers – With Some History of Boatbuilding in Ringsend.

Ringsend sailing trawler 'Sea King' entering Kingstown Harbour (Cormac Lowth)Ringsend sailing trawler 'Sea King' entering Kingstown Harbour (painting by Cormac Lowth)

Lowth, a retired builder, has held a lifelong interest in the sea and maritime history. He served as a merchant seaman on cargo ships, he has been a scuba diver for much of his life, and was a member of the crew of the Galway hooker, Naomh Crónán, when it was based at Poolbeg Yacht Club in Ringsend.

Cormac Lowth, author of Ringsend Sailing TrawlersCormac Lowth, author of Ringsend Sailing Trawlers

He is a member of the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association, the Maritime Institute of Ireland and the Dun Laoghaire Borough Historical Society. He has written extensively on maritime history, on diving and marine-related subjects, and he is also an artist. The book’s cover, which he painted, is of the Kincora, the last sailing trawler to be built in Ringsend.

'Kincora', the last sailing trawler to be built in Ringsend (Cormac Lowth).JPG'Kincora', the last sailing trawler to be built in Ringsend (painting by Cormac Lowth)

Lowth spoke to Wavelengths about his new book, which has a foreword by Afloat's Winkie Nixon and was launched in Poolbeg Yacht Club. You can listen below.

Lowth spoke to Wavelengths about his new book, which has a foreword by Afloat's Winkie Nixon and was launched in Poolbeg Yacht Club

Ringsend Sailing Trawlers: With Some History of Boatbuilding in Ringsend by Cormac F Lowth is published by Peggy Bawn Press, with support from the Dublin Port Company, at €27Ringsend Sailing Trawlers: With Some History of Boatbuilding in Ringsend by Cormac F Lowth is published by Peggy Bawn Press, with support from the Dublin Port Company, at €27

The limited edition of 500 will be available in bookshops and online or by contacting Cormac Lowth at email address [email protected]

Published in Wavelength Podcast
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Cormac Lowth of Dublin is a one-man Irish maritime history institute, the first and last port of call for anyone seeking the facts about some aspect of our seagoing history, whether it's obscure or supposedly well-known. Quite how he carries so much information - and with continuing enthusiasm at that - is beyond most people's imagination, but the logic is that every so often, he should collate at least one strand of detailed research into a book, and he has done that with his knowledgeable fascination with the way that the Ringsend fishery in Dublin developed between the ending of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, and the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

This was thanks to a mutuually-beneficial dynamic interaction between the hotbed of fishing development which was to be found at the small but hyper-busy port of Brixham in southwest England, and the almost-autonomous maritime community of Ringsend in Dublin. It's both a simple and a complex story, and apart from the great maritime interest, it's a human story too, with the inevitable exceptional people involved in order to move things forward.

Cormac's book has been brought to publication by Hal Sisk's Peggy Bawn Press, and the official come-all-ye launching is at the Poolbeg Yacht & Boat Club on Wednesday, October 12th at 8 pm. It's surely the most-appropriate venue possible, as the type-defining St Patrick was built nearby - just a few hundred yards away - 135 years ago, and the photo shows her in what are now the PY&BC moorings.

Cormac's book has been brought to publication by Hal Sisk's Peggy Bawn PressCormac's book has been brought to publication by Hal Sisk's Peggy Bawn Press

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The 36ft yawl Ainmara, designed and built in 1912 by the talented self-taught naval architect John B Kearney in Murphy’s Boatyard beside his family’s home in Ringsend, played a key role in Irish sailing north and south until 2018. She celebrated her Centenary in 2012-2013 with a special cruise to the Outer Hebrides followed by overall victory in the first race for the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association Leinster Plate in Dublin Bay, and then in 2016 she was awarded the “Boat of the Regatta” trophy in the Royal Ulster YC 150th Anniversary Regatta on Belfast Lough.

Her final owner in Ireland, - from 1966 until 2018 - was multi-talented skipper Dickie Gomes of Strangford Lough. But when he put her up for sale after more than fifty years of ownership, he found there was even more interest internationally than there was at home, and she was sold to a Swiss couple, Nicco Macchi and Marie Vuilleumier, who made Ainmara’s new home port in Dunkerque.

Happy live-aboards – Niccho Macchi and Marie Vuilleumier in Ainmara’s decidedly compact saloon. The photo on the bulkhead is of Ainmara racing from Inverness to Bergen fifty years ago in 1972 under Dickie Gomes’ command. Photo: W M NixonHappy live-aboards – Niccho Macchi and Marie Vuilleumier in Ainmara’s decidedly compact saloon. The photo on the bulkhead is of Ainmara racing from Inverness to Bergen fifty years ago in 1972 under Dickie Gomes’ command. Photo: W M Nixon

This provided a handy base to cruise to classic and traditional events in The Netherlands, Belgium, France and southern England while continuing to work in Switzerland. But they enjoyed the cruising so much that after a major refit including a new deck in Ostende in Belgium, they cut their shore ties for the time being, and moved aboard to make Ainmara their floating home.

The new deck is a very neat piece of work. John B Kearney disliked heavily-cambered decks, and Ainmara and other boats to his design - such as the famous Mavis of 1925 - were renowned for decks with the right amount of camber for constructional strength, while providing easy on-deck movement. Photo: W M NixonThe new deck is a very neat piece of work. John B Kearney disliked heavily-cambered decks, and Ainmara and other boats to his design - such as the famous Mavis of 1925 - were renowned for decks with the right amount of camber for constructional strength, while providing easy on-deck movement. Photo: W M Nixon

The plan for 2022 was to sail north into the Baltic and then along the west coast of Norway to Bergen, where Ainmara had been in 1972 at the conclusion of the stormy Clyde Cruising Club’s Inverness-Bergen Race. From Norway it was across to Scotland and through the North Channel to the Down Cruising Club’s converted lightship HQ in Strangford Lough and a reunion with Dickie Gomes, and then it was on to Howth – where she won the Lambay Race in 1921 – before making her call to Ringsend. 

Niccho and Marie with the “non-folding sprayhood”. Long before folding sprayhoods were thought of, a 1950s owner fitted Ainmara with this useful item of comfort. Inevitably during the course of cruises, the handy space under it tended to become the stowage repository for all sorts of essential little items, but with Swiss ownership it’s now a notably neat and tidy area. Photo: W M NixonNiccho and Marie with the “non-folding sprayhood”. Long before folding sprayhoods were thought of, a 1950s owner fitted Ainmara with this useful item of comfort. Inevitably during the course of cruises, the handy space under it tended to become the stowage repository for all sorts of essential little items, but with Swiss ownership it’s now a notably neat and tidy area. Photo: W M Nixon

When people become liveaboards, they usually become subtly different – or sometimes very different - to the rest of us. But even though Nicco and Marie have to go with the tides and the weather independently of land-bound routines, when you meet them you wouldn’t think for a moment that their home is aboard a small and ancient sailing boat. It must be because they’re Swiss, yet that’s something they wear lightly. But whatever the reason, they and Ainmara are as neat and organised as can be.

And while their life is largely freeform, as a result of a successful visit to the Dartmouth Classics in south Devon they were very committed to being there again on July 12th this year – next Tuesday – and a recent position check showed Ainmara was already in Cornish waters, on time with quiet efficiency. She’s an ever-young Irish boat which happens to be 110 years old. And clearly this latest chapter in her remarkable story is as interesting as everything that has gone before.

“Where next?” Ainmara’s proud bowsprit always seemed like an encouraging invitation to go cruising to interesting places, and under Swiss ownership with a home port in Basel, she is regularly heading “for other places beyond the seas”. Photo: W M Nixon“Where next?” Ainmara’s proud bowsprit always seemed like an encouraging invitation to go cruising to interesting places, and under Swiss ownership with a home port in Basel, she is regularly heading “for other places beyond the seas”. Photo: W M Nixon

Published in Historic Boats
Tagged under

The possibility that stellar jockey Rachael Blackmore, the winner of the Grand National in 2021 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup this year, might just be descended from a noted Dublin nautical family has emerged from traditional boat enthusiast and maritime historian Cormac Lowth’s research into the development of the Ringsend fishing community. He reveals these intriguing insights from time to time to several organisations, including fellow members of the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association at their gatherings in the hospitable Poolbeg Yacht & Boat Club, one of the focal points of modern Ringsend’s friendly interaction with Dublin Port.

Two hundred years and more ago, with the ending of the Napoleonic Wars, the seas of western Europe were becoming safer for fishing fleets to go about their trade. And the port of Brixham in southwest England was the Silicon Valley of fishing development in its day, leading the way in the speedy improvement of boats and equipment to enable a rapid expansion of its fishing areas from 1818 onwards.

Brixham today is mainly for tourists, but 200 years ago it was a developmental powerhouse of the fishing industryBrixham today is mainly for tourists, but 200 years ago it was a developmental powerhouse of the fishing industry

This soon brought the new state-of-the-art Brixham trawlers into the Irish Sea, where they needed a base, and it was Ringsend at the rivermouth of Dublin’s River Liffey that proved most hospitable. So much so, in fact, that many of the Brixham fisherman – the all-powerful skippers and ordinary crewmen alike – married into Ringsend families to add new surnames and fresh vitality to the community. 

INTERACTION BETWEEN DEVON AND DUBLIN

This interaction and regular connection between Ringsend and Brixham lasted for around a hundred years, ended by World War I in 1914 and the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922. But by then, those distinctive Devon surnames like Biddulph, Ebbs, Upham and Blackmore were very much thought of as pure Ringsend, even if in the bigger picture - with Ringsend developing its own fishing industry with boat-building attached – the Murphy family had become dominant, with their mighty Ringsend-built fishing cutter St Patrick of the 1887 being possibly the largest vessel of the Brixham type ever built.

The Murphy family’s St Patrick at Ringsend in 1889. Possibly the largest vessel ever built of the Brixham type, she was constructed by the Murphy family and successfully fished by them for many years.The Murphy family’s St Patrick at Ringsend in 1889. Possibly the largest vessel ever built of the Brixham type, she was constructed by the Murphy family and successfully fished by them for many years.

But while Murphy is Ireland’s most frequent surname, Blackmore ranks something like 3,500th, which makes anyone thus named very special indeed. Nevertheless, there seems to have been a small but strong strain of Blackmores in Tipperary for some time, so Rachael Blackmore’s people may have got there by some means other than the Brixham-Ringsend route.

OPEN HOUSE AT POOLBEG

Either way, it is exactly the kind of topic for discussion enjoyed by traditional boat enthusiasts when they get together to talk of this and that, and on the evening of Friday, May 6th it’s going to be open house at Poolbeg Y&BC as the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association and their friends gather for the public presentation to Paul Keogh (an Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month” in January) of the international Jolie Brise Trophy for his 25 years of selfless devotion to keeping the community-owned Clondalkin-built Galway Hooker Naomh Cronan in good order and in full action afloat.

This return to normal life (after a remarkable two years-plus period in which the DBOGA have been Zoom-meeting pathfinders) will continue in the June Bank Holiday Weekend, with the three day DBOGA Regatta (aka The Liffey Regatta) at Poolbeg from June 3rd-5th, a remarkable festival in a working port.

The “City Haven” – Poolbeg YC & BC in Ringsend with its marina contrasting with the modern curves o the Aviva StadiumThe “City Haven” – Poolbeg YC & BC in Ringsend with its marina contrasting with the modern curves o the Aviva Stadium

Published in River Liffey

Wastewater overflows from Ringsend’s over-capacity treatment plant have made algal blooms in Dublin Bay much more likely, says one marine expert.

Speaking to The Green News, Karin Dubsky of Coastwatch Ireland said overflows from Ringsend which have occurred after heavy rainfalls provide the right nutrient-rich environment for algae to prosper.

Afloat.ie readers will remember the ‘orange slick’ seen on south Dublin beaches this past summer — and this past week the Shelly Banks adjacent to the Ringsend plant was blanketed in rotting seaweed many mistook for raw sewage.

But capacity issues at Ringsend are only one facet of the the problem, according to Dubsky.

“It’s not just one big Ringsend discharge as the treatment plant is struggling, it’s all those smaller stormwater overflows mixed with sewage water which are discharging right at high watermark onto the shore,” she said.

The Green News has more on the story HERE.

Published in Dublin Bay

Dublin City Council says a blanket of noxious material on a beach in Ringsend is rotting seaweed and not residue from the adjacent wastewater treatment plant.

As The Irish Times reports, the foul-smelling brown slick at Shelly Banks prompted numerous complaints from the public — but the council says it is actually a macro algae called ectocarpus siliculosis, which produces a smell similar to sewage when it decomposes.

Local authority inspection of the are found “no evidence of a sewage discharge” at the beach next to the controversial wastewater plant, which is estimated to be operating at 20% above capacity.

Overflow from the plant after heavy rains discoloured the River Liffey in February this year, though a more recent incident coincided with an algal bloom many mistook for untreated wastewater.

The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.

Published in Dublin Bay

The Irish National Sailing & Powerboat School (INSS) has expressed its frustration over the second discharge this month of wastewater into Dublin Bay, which has seen new bathing bans issued at several popular swimming spots in the capital.

While the latest notice does not apply to the waters inside Dun Laoghaire Harbour, the INSS says it has still had to activate its ‘unclean water procedure’ as Salthill beach, from where it usually operates, and other locations woke up to an ‘orange slick’ on the shoreline this morning (Tuesday 25 June). This slick has since been confirmed by the local authority as an algal bloom "not directly associated" with the wastewater overflow.

The procedure involves alterations to activities, use of small keelboats instead of dinghies if appropriate, and stringent instructor supervision to ensure people are on rather than in the water.

While afloat, all safety boats must carry hand-sanitising wipes, and children must regularly wash their hands. Shore side, extensive hand-washing, sanitising gels and a focus on good hygiene practises minimises the risk as much as possible.

“On this occasion, we have been relatively lucky to still be able to operate within the harbour,” said Glyn Williams, the school’s communications and marketing manager.

“However, it’s not good enough that we find out about this later in the day,” he added, referring to the initial reports of the latest bathing ban last night. “The treatment plant operator knew they were discharging. Why not tell everyone straight away?”

Chief instructor Kenneth Rumball also noted that the summer sailing season for children is only 12 weeks long, and with the current water notices lasting until at least this Thursday “we now have six days of a short summer lost to this”.

Responding to Irish Water’s claim that the latest overflow ‘happened as it should have happened’, the school said this cuts little ice with the parents of children attending the its courses.

“Parents are equally as exasperated as we are. While all those we spoke with earlier this morning are understanding, they equally feel that Irish Water/the treatment plant operator should get this solved more quickly than they are currently doing.”

Following similar calls by the likes of Green Party Councillor Ossian Smyth, the INSS is urging those with responsibility to immediately progress upgrades for the sewage system at Ringsend Treatment Plant to cope with heavy rainfall — something Irish Water says would require a “huge amount” of investment.

The school also calls for more transparent communication, in real time, if and when discharges are occurring, coupled with pre-emptive warnings and same-day water sampling results.

Commenting on how these water quality issues affect the development of Dun Laoghaire Harbour as a marine leisure destination, Glyn Williams said: “We have to make sure that we get the basics in place before we undertake large scale plans.

“There’s no point in expending time and money when the most basic requirement for water sports is not in place: safe water to operate in.”

Heavy rains in recent days have led to another wastewater overflow at the Ringsend treatment plant, as well as other pumping stations, that has prompted a new swimming ban at several Dublin Bay beaches.

It marks the second time this month that bathing has been prohibited at Dollymount Strand, Seapoint, Sandycove and the Forty Foot at Sandycove.

Both Dublin City and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown councils say their bans will remain in place pending test for water quality, the first results of which are due on Thursday — in a week where Met Éireann forecasts higher temperatures.

While the bans do not affect Dun Laoghaire Harbour or other beaches in either council area, organisers of water-based sporting events have been advised to take note, as The Irish Times reports.

Notices will be put up on beaches today, Tuesday 25 June, according to RTÉ News.

Update 4.30pm: Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council says tests on an ‘orange slick’ at Sandycove Beach confirm the presence of Noctiluca scintillans, a form of algae, and not raw sewage.

In a statement, the council said the non-toxic species is “a natural summer phenomenon in response to long day length, high nutrients and warm water” and is “not directly associated with the waste water overflows associated with the temporary bathing prohibition”.

 

Published in Dublin Bay

Dublin local authorities have issued bathing ban notices for a number of popular swimming spots after a sewage leak at the Ringsend wastewater treatment plant, as RTÉ News reports.

Swimming is currently prohibited along the coast between Dollymount in North Dublin and White Rock Beach in Killiney on the Southside, just beyond Dublin Bay.

The string of bathing spots includes the enduringly popular Forty Foot in Sandycove.

Moreover, Sandymount and Merrion just south of Ringsend — where the wastewater plant was in the news earlier this year over a discharge in the Liffey — have been landed with a swimming ban for the entire 2019 bathing season due to their overall poor water quality.

RTÉ News has more on the story HERE.

Published in Forty Foot Swimming
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