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Displaying items by tag: Ann Kirwan

This week, Ann Kirwan of the National Yacht Club became the 25th Commodore of Dublin Bay Sailing Club at the club's 136th Annual General Meeting, in succession to Jonathan Nicholson of the Royal St George YC. This harmonious change of the watch comes at the conclusion of a truncated season in which, despite the adverse effects of the pandemic, DBSC managed to put through a very complete yet still fully COVID-compliant AIB-sponsored racing programme.

In order to understand how this was possible, we need to look at the origins of the club, and how it comes to be in the unique position it fills today. For if there's another sailing body in the world which can be reasonably ranked with Dublin Bay Sailing Club, then we'd be interested to hear about it for purposes of comparison.

The extraordinary Dun Laoghaire organisation is at the core of a seemingly unique sailing structure which is based on the competitive waterborne needs of a notably affluent, cohesive and compact maritime population in South Dublin, a population which gets to the sea via the one harbour of Dun Laoghaire through four different waterfront clubs in combination with the largest marina in Ireland.

A possibly unique setup. Virtually all of South Dublin's recreational boating activity on Dublin Bay has to be funneled through the entrance to Dun Laoghaire Harbour, and thus the development of the overall co-ordinating body of Dublin Bay Sailing Club became inevitable.  A possibly unique setup. Virtually all of South Dublin's recreational boating activity on Dublin Bay has to be funnelled through the entrance to Dun Laoghaire Harbour, and thus the development of the overall co-ordinating body of Dublin Bay Sailing Club became inevitable.

The only tangible evidence of the existence of Dublin Bay SC is in its Committee Boats and its extraordinary collection of historic annual prizesThe only tangible evidence of the existence of Dublin Bay SC is in its Committee Boats and its extraordinary collection of historic annual prizes. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'Brien

Yet the over-arching DBSC itself has neither a clubhouse nor even the most modest jetty, although it does have three Committee Boats. But the three more stately clubhouses were already in being when Dublin Bay SC was founded in 1884. Yet although those established clubs had substantial fleets – with the Royal St George YC supposedly rivalled only by the Royal Yacht Squadron in the combined tonnage of its affiliated yachts – the number of races which actually took place was surprisingly small.

Admittedly the racing programme was becoming more busy with the "homeless" Royal Alfred YC - founded 1870 in Dublin Bay - leading the way in codifying the rules in order to establish the Yacht Racing Association and put a fresh emphasis on amateur crewing. But the notion of a season-long regular weekly programme including evening events was still barely in its infancy.

ne hundred and thirty six years down the line, and the DBSC racing goes on – in 2020, Patrick Burke's First 40 Prima Forte was winner of the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Trophy for the best new DBSC yacht.  Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'BrienOne hundred and thirty-six years down the line, and the DBSC racing goes on – in 2020, Patrick Burke's First 40 Prima Forte was the winner of the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Trophy for the best new DBSC yacht. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'Brien

Indeed, it used to be thought quite an achievement to "cram" three races into the mad social whirl which was Cowes Week, something which had been underlined back in 1851 when the race round the Isle of Wight for what was to become the America's Cup was included almost as an after-thought on the Friday, when many liverish aristocratic Cowes Week participants were already thinking of heading home towards their stately piles.

But in 1884, Dublin Bay Sailing Club – nowadays the very heart of the Establishment – was set up to be The Disruptor. At variance with the large yachts which needed numerous crew, DBSC was avowedly in favour of small inexpensive craft sailed by their owners with a crew of amateur friends. Its purpose was to fit in as many races as could reasonably be accommodated during the course of the season, with any heavy social side being a very secondary consideration, if it figured at all.

The new club captured the mood of the moment, which was already being expressed in a lower key by the 1887-established Water Wag Class. But where the Wags were a one-boat-type setup, the new DBSC had a broader outlook. It went well with the new spirit of the last two decades of the 19th century, and was to be perfectly in tune with the desire for sailing innovation and boat-improvement which set the tone of the Golden Age of Yachting from 1890 to 1914.

A new One-Design Class from the early days – the Dublin Bay 25s racing in 1901. Photo courtesy DBSCA new One-Design Class from the early days – the Dublin Bay 25s racing in 1901. Photo courtesy DBSC

21st Century One Design – the Beneteau First 21 is the most recent class to be adopted as a Dublin Bay One Design. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'Brien21st Century One Design – the Beneteau First 21 is the most recent class to be adopted as a Dublin Bay One Design. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'Brien

Thus within a decade of its establishment, even though it was set up seven years after the establishment of the world-pioneering Water Wag class, DBSC had become the "go to" organisation – and was often the originator - for any group of fellow-minded enthusiasts who had a new restricted or One-Design class in mind. Thus by the turn of the Century it was DBSC which was mustering Dublin Bay-based racing fleets of such numbers that it had become the de facto central body for organizing regular weekly racing in the bay, regardless of which shore-based clubs claimed the loyalties of the participants.

All this may have been taking place more than a century ago. But the special spirit of the club has endured. It has developed and become reinforced ever since to such an extent that to be part of the large group of volunteers which keeps DBSC running smoothly – a group who sail all sorts of boats and are drawn from all four waterfront clubs – is to share an active vocation.

In this, the new Commodore sees herself as being representative of a large like-minded grouping of equals. Yet the fact is that being Commodore of Dublin Bay Sailing Club means that you're in one of Irish sailing's most significant individual roles. And while DBSC is run in such a way that the changing of personnel in the key administrative positions is phased to keep the overall machinery functioning smoothly, being Commodore is where the buck stops.

The numerically largest One-Design keelboat class currently racing on the bay is the Flying Fifteen, with former NYC Commodore Ronan Beirne seen here crewing for David Mulvin. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'Brien   The numerically largest One-Design keelboat class currently racing on the bay is the Flying Fifteen, with former NYC Commodore Ronan Beirne seen here crewing for David Mulvin. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'Brien

Time was when the Commodore was more of a figurehead role, and thus it is only relatively recently in DBSC history that the position has been rationed to just two years in office. But this means that while the longer-serving role of Honorary Secretary (currently filled in succession to the wonderfully long-serving Donal O'Sullivan by Chris Moore, himself a former DBSC Commodore) is the conduit through which club communications, directives and notices flow, the Commodore can now have a much more hands-on role.

And when you get an active sailing enthusiast and ideas-person like Ann Kirwan in the top position, their sailing background and their approach to the problems which sailing – like all sports – faces in these pandemic times will directly affect how life afloat develops for Dun Laoghaire's large sailing population in 2021 and 2022.

In Commodore Kirwan, the racing sailors of Dun Laoghaire have a leader who shares their enthusiasm for the best of sport afloat with an energetic capacity for working effectively with other volunteers for the good of their shared interest, and at the same time having professional experience of functioning in a large working organization, while bringing an inspirational zest to everything she does.

Ann Kirwan in action in the crewing department, quite prepared to believe that Dublin Bay can match the RORC Caribbean 600 for a heady mixture of sunshine and strong winds.Ann Kirwan in action in the crewing department, quite prepared to believe that Dublin Bay can match the RORC Caribbean 600 for a heady mixture of sunshine and strong winds.

Although not quite a cradle sailor, among her earliest memories are being afloat aged around seven in the vintage Howth 17 Mimosa which her parents Paddy and Barbara co-owned with Jim and Sheila Higginbotham. Paddy Kirwan was originally from Cork, but service in the Air Corps brought him to Dublin and flying from Baldonnell, while the new family home was south side Dublin, in Mount Merrion.

But a transfer to Aer Lingus where he was to become a Boeing 747 Captain saw connections with the Howth-based Aer Lingus group and their sailing. Yet while his Dublin sailing began in Howth with the Seventeens, the relative proximity of Dun Laoghaire soon saw the family's sailing focus transfer to the National YC, where Ann's mother Barbara's links to the Mermaid Class reinforced a commitment to sailing which was soon manifesting itself in many ways.

Along with Carmel Winkelmann, Johnny Hooper and others in the club, Paddy Kirwan was instrumental in introducing the first Optimist dinghies in Ireland at the National Yacht Club in 1966-67, so much so that the Kirwan children were very much involved in this game-changing addition to the Irish junior sailing scene. Thus in 2017 Ann Kirwan – in her best quietly effective style – was at the heart of organising the Golden Jubilee celebrations of this with special reference to Carmel Winkelann's contribution

For DBSC's future Commodore, the Optimist sailing was soon succeeded by further busy learning experience in Herons, Mirrors, 420s and Lasers, but when Paddy Kirwan – who was later to go on to become a very active President of the Irish Sailing Association – acquired the Ron Holland-designed Club Shamrock Boomerang, cruiser-racer sailing of all kinds became a significant part of family life.

And at a later stage when the focus had moved upwards again to the Sigma 38 Errislannan, Ann's experience was further broadened by extensive cruiser-racing which included two Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Races in addition to dedication to the regular DBSC programme.

When you sail in Dublin Bay as often as Ann Kirwan, you're bound to find sunshine…When you sail in Dublin Bay as often as Ann Kirwan, you're bound to find sunshine…

But that was only what happened in the summer. Her winter sport was hockey, where she rose through the ranks and found an additional talent as a coach to such an extent that in time she became President of her hockey club. As for professional life, she made a career in the commercial side of Aer Lingus, retiring as recently as March this year, while at a personal level she married within the maritime community to hydrographic surveyor Brendan Briscoe, and they made their home in Sandymount, that remarkable corner of south Dublin which somehow manages to be a secluded village within walking distance of both open sea and city centre.

While all this was going on, her sailing continued apace, and around twenty years ago in the Ruffian 23 class she found like-minded folk who shared her dedication to One-Design racing, the Dublin Bay programme, and the spirit of Dun Laoghaire sailing. She went into partnership with Brian Cullen and Ciara Brown, at first in the basic boat Ruff'n Reddy. But having an outboard motor as the auxiliary proved tiresome, and when the fully-equipped inboard-engined Bandit came attractively on the market, they snapped her up, and the trio on Bandit have been happily and successfully sailing together ever since.

Dublin Bay SC may have long-established routines - some of which go back to 1884 - but when a window of opportunity for sailing emerged in the pandemic-plagued summer of 2020, the club immediately produced a virtual yearbook in conjunction with sponsors AIB and Afloat.ieDublin Bay SC may have long-established routines - some of which go back to 1884 - but when a window of opportunity for sailing emerged in the pandemic-plagued summer of 2020, the club immediately produced a virtual yearbook in conjunction with sponsors AIB and Afloat.ie

This is typical of the long-lived boat partnerships which the DBSC ambience seems to encourage. In many other places, there's a notion that One-Design classes and boat-owning partnerships have only a limited – sometimes a very limited – time span of successful functioning. But in Dun Laoghaire, they're civilised, they're in for the long haul, and there's a feeling that all the right and proper things for the greater good will come to pass in the long run.

Thus anyone who knew Ann Kirwan will have reckoned that it was only a matter of time - once her hockey club duties had been fulfilled – before she was drawn into a deeper role in sailing administration, where she was already known as a willing volunteer when one was needed.

Certainly, it would have been a real waste if someone so instinctively immersed in the best of Dun Laoghaire sailing administrative traditions and their development was not able to make her contribution in the most effective style. So it was reassuring when she was drawn into the DBSC Committee, and in time succeeded Mermaid and Water Wag ace, Jonathan O'Rourke, as Rear Commodore in 2015.

In her time in the DBSC's officer lineup, the Commodores she has worked with were Pat Shannon (RIYC), Chris Moore (NYC) and Jonathan Nicholson (RStGYC). Her own particular interests and instincts incline her to looking after the needs of the large DBSC volunteer race administration group, and while the Bandit partnership are no strangers to the trophy list at the end of each season, she reckons that maybe the most important trophy the club has is The Viking Award for the volunteer who has contributed most.

Former Irish sailing President Jack Roy – seen here racing the family Squib – is one of many volunteers who have contributed to DBSC's success over the years. Former Irish sailing President Jack Roy – seen here racing the family Squib – is one of many volunteers who have contributed to DBSC's success over the years.

But in 2020 with the demands of COVID-compliance, the extra effort from all volunteers afloat and ashore was such that the Committee reckoned that the right and proper thing to do was to give them all The Viking Award jointly in honouring and celebrating a group effort, and when Ann Kirwan name-checks the senior volunteers, it gives us some idea of the calibre of the people attracted to giving freely of their time to this venerable yet ever-young organization. She writes: 

"The Volunteers: The Viking Award, for a notable contribution to sailing, one of DBSC's premier trophies, was awarded to the DBSC volunteers who truly deserved to be honoured in recognition of their efforts in the 2020 season. The volunteer group includes committee boat drivers, the race management teams, patrol crew organisers, patrol crews, and mark layers. They are a fantastic group of people who give freely of their time to ensure we get great racing

The Race Officers: We are very lucky to have a team of very experienced Race Officers - those who ran our racing in 2020 were: PRO Jack Roy; Ed Totterdell, Suzanne McGarry, Barry O'Neill, Con Murphy, Harry Gallagher, Barbara Conroy, Brian Mathews, Tim Costello, Ian Mathews, Neil Murphy, Jonathan O'Rourke, Ben Mulligan, Mairead Ni Cheallachain, and Michael Tyrrell. I look forward to their continued support in 2021, along with our other regulars who for various reasons were not available this season.

The DBSC Committee members: I am really looking forward to working with fellow DBSC officers Vice Commodore Ed Totterdell, Rear Commodore Jacqueline McStay, Honorary Secretary Chris Moore, Treasurer Peter Fleming, as well as our hard-working, great team of committee members Brian Mathews, Declan Traynor, Philip Ferguson, Gerry Jones, Debbie Horan, Ian Bowring, Suzi Roy, and Louise McKenna."

In addition to the large volunteer corps, for years Dublin Bay computer genius Colin McMullen has been developing his internationally-recognised systems for the electronic analysis of yacht racing through the numerous and varied fleets and extensive data which DBSC provides. Although this is a professional operation to facilitate the smooth running of Dublin Bay's numerous classes and handicap systems, the McMullen readiness to provide info at all hours is a reflection of the DBSC spirit.

That is a notably special spirit for which Ann Kirwan will be providing the very visible leadership – leadership by personal example – during the next two years. While Dublin Bay Sailing Club may have come into being with all the characteristics of a Disruptor, it now has to accept its important position as a major role model not just for sailing, but for Irish society as a whole.

For sure, the Club has to provide just as much sailing as is possible in whatever circumstances we find as the usual time for the 2021 main season gets under way in April. But in what will probably still be a state of national emergency, a measured approach by an organisation of such eminence is essential.

Certainly during 2020 before the full enormity of the pandemic was apparent, we wrote here about the possibilities of pushing the sailing envelope to the limit despite coronavirus boundaries, and there were certainly some exceptional pop-up events which kept the sailing spirit alive while being on the edge of possibilities.

But a prominent, highly respected and centrally-located organisation like DBSC simply cannot include "guerilla sailing" in its activities. As it is, its members are in a naturally healthier position in terms of lifestyle than the vast majority of the population, and a keen mind like Ann Kirwan's is well aware of the responsibilities this carries as she outlines her hope for the next two years, with improved communication with members a priority in what will continue to be a fluid situation, albeit with useful input from the many lessons learned in 2020.

Looking at the broader picture, she was particularly encouraged by the increase in dinghy numbers during 2020's season, and while recognizing that to some extent this may have been a lockdown effect, she's getting enough feedback to suggest that it could be a more permanent trend.

Lasers shaping up for a DBSC start. Dinghy numbers were up in 2020, despite the racing being confined to the harbourLasers shaping up for a DBSC start. Dinghy numbers were up in 2020, despite the racing being confined to the harbour. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'Brien

Equally, she's aware that while she and her fellow sailors of Bandit enjoy the cut-and-thrust of a starting sequence, for many more senior crews just one start sequence per day can be quite enough, so she and her committee are looking at the possibility of including longer coastal races as an option when some sort of normality returns.

And with a keen eye to the remarkable history of the organisation she now heads, the new Commodore is keenly anticipating the return of at least three of the restored Dublin Bay 21s under the regeneration project headed by Hal Sisk and Fionan de Barra, for it was in 1903 that Dublin Bay SC first introduced the DB21s, and their re-appearance in 2021 has a symbolic rightness about it.

The restored 1905 Dun Laoghaire-built Dublin Bay 21 Naneen is expected back in her birthplace in 2021The restored 1905 Dun Laoghaire-built Dublin Bay 21 Naneen is expected back in her birthplace in 2021

Then too, with the lifestyle changes becoming evident before the pandemic, she realises that location commitment is being replaced - for some people at least – by double-focused lives, and therefore a Super League within the annual DBSC programme will free those no longer available to be on Dublin Bay week after week.

Certainly, in her case, she and Brendan have always expected to spend the August fortnight in Schull, where they now have a second home and a spare Ruffian 23 which has yet to be commissioned for local cruising purposes. But so devoted is she to Dublin Bay racing that she'll readily interrupt her time in West Cork to get to that Dun Laoghaire starting line in mid-holiday.

Her energy and buzz of ideas is prodigious. Some time ago in Schull, she was particularly struck by the wastefulness of the variety of torn oldish sails being dumped in the harbour skip. So Schull being Schull, she was able to buy a classic sewing machine in the village, and set at it to see if she could make a useful holdall cum super-large handbag from abandoned sails.

Ann Kirwan's reaction to discarded sails has been to make a range of bags and hold-alls out of the best of the surviving cloth. This is the useful and cherished AK Sail Bag of Sandra Moore, wife of DBSC Hon. Sec. and former Commodore Chris MooreLady Bracknell, eat your heart out……Ann Kirwan's reaction to discarded sails has been to make a range of bags and hold-alls out of the best of the surviving cloth. This is the useful and cherished AK Sail Bag of Sandra Moore, wife of DBSC Hon. Sec. and former Commodore Chris Moore. Photo: Chris Moore

The result is the AK Sailbag range, which has become quite the thing for those in the know. And it further demonstrates that Dublin Bay SC's new Commodore is a turbo-powered dynamo at whatever she turns her hand to. They say that if you want anything done, then ask a busy man to do it. But you can forget that. First choice should always be: Ask a busy woman.

Published in DBSC

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