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Dun Laoghaire Bookfest Stars Roddy Doyle & Jennifer Johnston - Irish Writers With an Unexpected Nautical Connection

19th March 2018
Lasers in Dun Laoghaire Harbour making speed for the Lexicon, one of the focal points for this week’s “Mountains to the Sea” dlr Book Festival Lasers in Dun Laoghaire Harbour making speed for the Lexicon, one of the focal points for this week’s “Mountains to the Sea” dlr Book Festival Credit: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

“Only connect” urged the novelist E M Forster writes W M Nixon. But his idealistic concepts of emotional connection would be at some remove from the curiously coincidental nautical connections between writers Roddy Doyle and Jennifer Johnston, who are in public conversation for an hour on the final day of this week’s “Mountains to the Sea” dlr Book Festival in Dun Laoghaire.

Roddy Doyle is married to a direct descendant of Erskine Childers. And Jennifer Johnston is in private life Mrs Gilliland, married into a noted Derry family long involved with boats. Erskine Childers was of course best known as author of the 1903-published maritime thriller The Riddle of the Sands before he acquired fame as skipper of the Asgard in the 1914 Howth gun-running. And at that time, the leading sailor in the Gilliland family was Frank Gilliland, who was a pioneer in producing sailing directions and small boat charts for the northwest of Ireland, particularly Donegal, and recently came up on the radar again with Robbie Mason of Milford Haven undertaking a restoration of his 1938 Scottish fishing boat-style motor cruiser Blue Hills.

roddy doyle2
Roddy Doyle has unexpected direct links to Erskine Childers. Photo Irish Times


jennifer johnston3
Jennifer Johnston – according to Roddy Doyle, “the best writer in Ireland”. Photo courtesy Mountains to the Sea

Both Childers and Gilliland were members of the oldest cruising organisation in the world, the 1880-founded Royal Cruising Club. But although both served in various sections of the Royal Naval Reserve through the 1914-18 War, by the time that war ended they had very different notions as to the future of Ireland in the post-war turbulence which eventually led to the War of Independence, the Partition which created Northern Ireland in 1921, and the Civil War in the new Irish Free State. Yet while they may have viewed some things very differently, in 1919 they combined on a small but significant project which was to have longterm effects on Irish sailing.

Both were acquainted with a sailor from Foynes called Conor O’Brien, Gilliland probably through the Naval Reserve connections, while Childers knew O’Brien from the time he had brought his ketch Kelpie along to assist in the 1914 gun-running. Whatever their origins, the connections were such that when the Foynes man sought to join the Royal Cruising Club in September 1919, he was proposed by Frank Gilliland and seconded by Erskine Childers, and duly got in.

Looked at across the series of events which occurred before and since, it was an extraordinary and unlikely combination of people and purposes. But it meant that Conor O’Brien now had access to a recognised channel for acknowledgement of his cruising achievements, which became serious when he departed Dun Laoghaire on June 20th 1923 for his voyage round the world south of the Great Capes with the new 42ft Baltimore-built Saoirse.

By this time, Erskine Childers had been executed by a firing squad of the Government of the new Irish Free State as an armed anti-Treaty rebel. And Frank Gilliland was on his way to becoming the Aide-de-Camp to the first Governor of Northern Ireland. But O’Brien sailed blithely along on his epic voyage, flying the tricolour ensign of the new Irish state whenever possible, yet submitting logs each year to the annual competition of the Royal Cruising Club.

Although many members of the RCC had severe doubts about having anything whatever to do with the new Ireland, the hugely-experienced adjudicator Claud Worth, RCC Vice Commodore, had little hesitation in awarding O’Brien the club’s premier trophy, the Challenge Cup, three years on the trot in recognition of his remarkable achievement.

conor obrien4
Conor O’Brien, as pictured by his artist wife Kitty Clausen. Courtesy Ilen Project

Not only that, but when O’Brien wrote his book Across Three Oceans about the voyage, Claud Worth willingly supplied a foreword which gave the entire venture an official status which it has held ever since. In it, he memorably commented:

“Mr O’Brien’s plain seamanlike account is so modestly written that a casual reader might miss its full significance” wrote Worth. “But anyone who knows anything of the sea, following the course of the vessel day by day on the chart, will realize the good seamanship, vigilance and endurance required to drive this little bluff-bowed vessel, with her foul uncoppered bottom, at speeds from 150 to 170 miles per day, as well as handling the weight of wind and sea which must sometimes have been encountered”.

saoirse departs5
History in the making. Conor O’Brien’s Saoirse gets under way from Dun Laoghaire on June 20th 1923, bound – eventually – for Cape Horn.

This level of support from a man regarded as God-like in his wisdom by the world of cruising was the ultimate level of recognition, and O’Brien’s reputation was secure, regardless of the fact that some found him at personal level to be a leading member of the Awkward Squad. It’s possible that his achievements were such that he would have so impressed Claud Worth regardless of his RCC membership. But the fact that he’d become a member in 1919 – albeit with the most unlikely combination of supporters – had greatly smoothed the way.

And as next Sunday’s exchange of ideas between Jennifer Johnston and Roddy Doyle is taking place beside the harbour where Saoirse’s great voyage began and ended over the space of exactly two years between 1923 and 1925, the coincidences are complete. Their conversation is on Sunday March 25th at noon in dlr Lexicon Level 4, booking recommended.

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Dun Laoghaire Harbour Information

Dun Laoghaire Harbour is the second port for Dublin and is located on the south shore of Dublin Bay. Marine uses for this 200-year-old man-made harbour have changed over its lifetime. Originally built as a port of refuge for sailing ships entering the narrow channel at Dublin Port, the harbour has had a continuous ferry link with Wales and this was the principal activity of the harbour until the service stopped in 2015. In all this time, however, one thing has remained constant and that is the popularity for sailing and boating from the port, making it Ireland's marine leisure capital with a harbour fleet of over 1,200-1.600 pleasure craft.

Dun Laoghaire Harbour Bye-Laws

Download the bye-laws on this link here

FAQs

A live stream Dublin Bay webcam showing Dun Laoghaire Harbour entrance and East Pier is here

Dun Laoghaire is a Dublin suburb situated on the south side of Dublin Bay, approximately, 15km from Dublin city centre.

The east and west piers of the harbour are each of 1 kilometre (0.62 miles) long.

The harbour entrance is 232 metres (761 ft) across from East to West Pier.

  • Public Boatyard
  • Public slipway
  • Public Marina

23 clubs, 14 activity providers and eight state-related organisations operate from Dun Laoghaire Harbour that facilitates a full range of sports - Sailing, Rowing, Diving, Windsurfing, Angling, Canoeing, Swimming, Triathlon, Powerboating, Kayaking and Paddleboarding. Participants include members of the public, club members, tourists, disabled, disadvantaged, event competitors, schools, youth groups and college students.

  • Commissioners of Irish Lights
  • Dun Laoghaire Marina
  • MGM Boats & Boatyard
  • Coastguard
  • Naval Service Reserve
  • Royal National Lifeboat Institution
  • Marine Activity Centre
  • Rowing clubs
  • Yachting and Sailing Clubs
  • Sailing Schools
  • Irish Olympic Sailing Team
  • Chandlery & Boat Supply Stores

The east and west granite-built piers of Dun Laoghaire harbour are each of one kilometre (0.62 mi) long and enclose an area of 250 acres (1.0 km2) with the harbour entrance being 232 metres (761 ft) in width.

In 2018, the ownership of the great granite was transferred in its entirety to Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council who now operate and manage the harbour. Prior to that, the harbour was operated by The Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company, a state company, dissolved in 2018 under the Ports Act.

  • 1817 - Construction of the East Pier to a design by John Rennie began in 1817 with Earl Whitworth Lord Lieutenant of Ireland laying the first stone.
  • 1820 - Rennie had concerns a single pier would be subject to silting, and by 1820 gained support for the construction of the West pier to begin shortly afterwards. When King George IV left Ireland from the harbour in 1820, Dunleary was renamed Kingstown, a name that was to remain in use for nearly 100 years. The harbour was named the Royal Harbour of George the Fourth which seems not to have remained for so long.
  • 1824 - saw over 3,000 boats shelter in the partially completed harbour, but it also saw the beginning of operations off the North Wall which alleviated many of the issues ships were having accessing Dublin Port.
  • 1826 - Kingstown harbour gained the important mail packet service which at the time was under the stewardship of the Admiralty with a wharf completed on the East Pier in the following year. The service was transferred from Howth whose harbour had suffered from silting and the need for frequent dredging.
  • 1831 - Royal Irish Yacht Club founded
  • 1837 - saw the creation of Victoria Wharf, since renamed St. Michael's Wharf with the D&KR extended and a new terminus created convenient to the wharf.[8] The extended line had cut a chord across the old harbour with the landward pool so created later filled in.
  • 1838 - Royal St George Yacht Club founded
  • 1842 - By this time the largest man-made harbour in Western Europe had been completed with the construction of the East Pier lighthouse.
  • 1855 - The harbour was further enhanced by the completion of Traders Wharf in 1855 and Carlisle Pier in 1856. The mid-1850s also saw the completion of the West Pier lighthouse. The railway was connected to Bray in 1856
  • 1871 - National Yacht Club founded
  • 1884 - Dublin Bay Sailing Club founded
  • 1918 - The Mailboat, “The RMS Leinster” sailed out of Dún Laoghaire with 685 people on board. 22 were post office workers sorting the mail; 70 were crew and the vast majority of the passengers were soldiers returning to the battlefields of World War I. The ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat near the Kish lighthouse killing many of those onboard.
  • 1920 - Kingstown reverted to the name Dún Laoghaire in 1920 and in 1924 the harbour was officially renamed "Dun Laoghaire Harbour"
  • 1944 - a diaphone fog signal was installed at the East Pier
  • 1965 - Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club founded
  • 1968 - The East Pier lighthouse station switched from vapourised paraffin to electricity, and became unmanned. The new candle-power was 226,000
  • 1977- A flying boat landed in Dun Laoghaire Harbour, one of the most unusual visitors
  • 1978 - Irish National Sailing School founded
  • 1934 - saw the Dublin and Kingstown Railway begin operations from their terminus at Westland Row to a terminus at the West Pier which began at the old harbour
  • 2001 - Dun Laoghaire Marina opens with 500 berths
  • 2015 - Ferry services cease bringing to an end a 200-year continuous link with Wales.
  • 2017- Bicentenary celebrations and time capsule laid.
  • 2018 - Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company dissolved, the harbour is transferred into the hands of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council

From East pier to West Pier the waterfront clubs are:

  • National Yacht Club. Read latest NYC news here
  • Royal St. George Yacht Club. Read latest RSTGYC news here
  • Royal Irish Yacht Club. Read latest RIYC news here
  • Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club. Read latest DMYC news here

 

The umbrella organisation that organises weekly racing in summer and winter on Dublin Bay for all the yacht clubs is Dublin Bay Sailing Club. It has no clubhouse of its own but operates through the clubs with two x Committee vessels and a starters hut on the West Pier. Read the latest DBSC news here.

The sailing community is a key stakeholder in Dún Laoghaire. The clubs attract many visitors from home and abroad and attract major international sailing events to the harbour.

 

Dun Laoghaire Regatta

Dun Laoghaire's biennial town regatta was started in 2005 as a joint cooperation by the town's major yacht clubs. It was an immediate success and is now in its eighth edition and has become Ireland's biggest sailing event. The combined club's regatta is held in the first week of July.

  • Attracts 500 boats and more from overseas and around the country
  • Four-day championship involving 2,500 sailors with supporting family and friends
  • Economic study carried out by the Irish Marine Federation estimated the economic value of the 2009 Regatta at €2.5 million

The dates for the 2021 edition of Ireland's biggest sailing event on Dublin Bay is: 8-11 July 2021. More details here

Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Offshore Race

The biennial Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race is a 320-miles race down the East coast of Ireland, across the south coast and into Dingle harbour in County Kerry. The latest news on the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race can be found by clicking on the link here. The race is organised by the National Yacht Club.

The 2021 Race will start from the National Yacht Club on Wednesday 9th, June 2021.

Round Ireland Yacht Race

This is a Wicklow Sailing Club race but in 2013 the Garden County Club made an arrangement that sees see entries berthed at the RIYC in Dun Laoghaire Harbour for scrutineering prior to the biennial 704–mile race start off Wicklow harbour. Larger boats have been unable to berth in the confines of Wicklow harbour, a factor WSC believes has restricted the growth of the Round Ireland fleet. 'It means we can now encourage larger boats that have shown an interest in competing but we have been unable to cater for in Wicklow' harbour, WSC Commodore Peter Shearer told Afloat.ie here. The race also holds a pre-ace launch party at the Royal Irish Yacht Club.

Laser Masters World Championship 2018

  • 301 boats from 25 nations

Laser Radial World Championship 2016

  • 436 competitors from 48 nations

ISAF Youth Worlds 2012

  • The Youth Olympics of Sailing run on behalf of World Sailing in 2012.
  • Two-week event attracting 61 nations, 255 boats, 450 volunteers.
  • Generated 9,000 bed nights and valued at €9 million to the local economy.

The Harbour Police are authorised by the company to police the harbour and to enforce and implement bye-laws within the harbour, and all regulations made by the company in relation to the harbour.

There are four ship/ferry berths in Dun Laoghaire:

  • No 1 berth (East Pier)
  • No 2 berth (east side of Carlisle Pier)
  • No 3 berth (west side of Carlisle Pier)
  • No 4 berth  (St, Michaels Wharf)

Berthing facilities for smaller craft exist in the town's 800-berth marina and on swinging moorings.

© Afloat 2020

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