The death of Galway’s Bobby Molloy at the age of 80 yesterday has resulted in a mixture of sadness at his passing coupled with a sense of celebration of all that he achieved in his many areas of interest in a well-lived life.
He is of course best-known as an active Galway politician for 37 years, outstanding for his integrity and his active devotion to the interests of his hugely varied and scenically magnificent constituency of Galway West. Any TD who within one constituency represented the ancient port of Galway, the fabulous coast of Connemara – “The Land of the Sea” – and the Aran Islands would include maritime affair in his interests as a sensible career move.
But in Bobby’s case, genuine involvement with the sea came long before he began to rise up the political ladder, and his interest extended beyond boats and sailing to all water sports, while in his younger days he was actively into rugby and Gaelic.
He was Connacht through and through. His father, who developed a business in Galway city, had originally come from Mayo, while his mother was from Clifden. But when young Bobby Molloy took his first tentative steps afloat with his newly-acquired 22ft clinker-built sloop sloop Cloonisle, it was the late Christy Dooley of Galway Harbour, together with Larry Swan, who helped him learn the ropes.
In time, while his political career was a-building, Bobby Molloy moved up to the Limerick-built Shipman 28 Sinead. His time was now under pressure, and the late Larry Swan – whose son Mike is currently RNLI Galway – was a tower of strength in seeing that when the weekend break from the Dail arrived, Sinead was ready and waiting for the arrival of the skipper and a precious free day or two when they’d take part in Galway Bay events like the Round Aran Race.
Thus Bobby Molloy was involved in the early days of West of Ireland Offshore Racing Association, and to further his level of participation, he moved on the Ron Holland-designed 30ft Club Shamrock, also called Sinead but this time built in Cork. As well, he was a very active and supportive member of Galway Bay SC in its crucial developmental years, and served two terms as Commodore.
Despite his high-profile in national politics in Dublin, he was by no means a figurehead as GBSC Commodore. On the contrary, he was very hands-on, and many members still remember how, when the WIORA Championship was held in the newly-extended GBSC in 1979 and Bobby Molly was Commodore, the Commodore and his wife Phyllis were to be found working together in the club kitchen making sure that plenty of good hot food was ready and available for hungry crews coming ashore after a day’s racing.
At the same time. he was much interested in preserving, assisting and promoting the traditional boat of the west, and was a good friend of Martin Connolly of the Claddagh whose work in this field has left a wonderful legacy.
All these Galway-based maritime activities would have been enough for most busy politicians, but Bobby Molloy had risen swiftly up the ladder of power in Dublin, and from 1977 to 1979 he was Minister for Defence. Today, we tend to remember that the much-lamented 84ft Sail Training Brigantine Asgard II first became a distinct possibility in 1973 when the flamboyant Paddy Donegan became Minister for Defence and promptly offered to bring Sail Training under his Department’s remit, with the building of this new brigantine, as proposed by Jack Tyrrell of Arklow, to become a primary purpose.
Equally, we remember that another colourful politician, Charlie Haughey, was the Taoiseach who saw to it that Asgard II was finally commissioned in 1981. But what is often forgotten is that it all became genuinely possible only when the Minister for Defence from 1977 to 1979, the decidedly unflamboyant Bobby Molloy, insisted that the resources for the new ship finally be properly included in his department’s budget. And in doing this he copper-bottomed the whole business by making sure he had the active support of his friend George Colley, the Minister for Finance, another of those solid people to be found on the non-nonsense wing of Irish politics.
Just as he’d been introduced to sailing by helpful older friends, so Bobby Molly was keen to bring the new generations into boats, and on Sinead his crews included fresh talent such as Brian and Thomas Lynch, and a busy young sailing hopeful called Enda O Coineen. The wheel came full circle in 2009 when the Molloy household hosted one of the great parties of the Enda O Coineen-inspired Volvo World Race stopover in Galway. It was ostensibly to fete Ian Walker the skipper of the Irish boat, but it grew beyond that to celebrate everything that Galway has achieved as a sailing city despite its relative remoteness on Europe’s most westerly coast.
That it has achieved this eminence is due in no small part to the quiet work behind the scenes by the late Bobby Molloy in both Galway and Dublin, and in Brussels too. He will be sadly missed. Our heartfelt condolences got to his wife Phyllis and family, and his very many friends.
PP & WMN