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Owen McNally 1954-2018

9th January 2019
The “Founding Fathers” of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta in 20005 were (left to right) the late Owen McNally, (Rear Commodore Royal St George YC), Tim Goodbody (Rear Commodore, Royal Irish YC), and Ronan Beirne (Rear Commodore, National YC) The “Founding Fathers” of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta in 20005 were (left to right) the late Owen McNally, (Rear Commodore Royal St George YC), Tim Goodbody (Rear Commodore, Royal Irish YC), and Ronan Beirne (Rear Commodore, National YC)

The sad death of Owen McNally a few days before Christmas deprived the Dun Laoghaire sailing community of one of its most active and devoted participants, an enthusiast who put even more into our sport than he took from it with his own brand of continuing enjoyment and strategic vision.

His friend of forty years and more, former Royal St George Yacht Club Commodore Aongus O'Brolchain, delivered the eulogy to a large congregation of mourners at Owen’s funeral, and with his kind permission we quote his thoughts (with several additions) here:

“Two weeks before he died, Owen invited me to his home and during a conversation, he began to talk about a mutual friend, and having said some very positive things about him, concluded by saying: “You know, he was a true Renaissance Man”.

He could well have spoken the words for his own epitaph. Owen was the quintessential Renaissance Man. He excelled in so many areas, with the most obvious being sailing management, music, photography and business. But most importantly of all, he was at his best in his natural devotion to home and family life.

water wags2One of Owen McNally’s many talents was photography, and this is his take on the historic Water Wags exiting Dun Laoghaire Harbour. Photo: Owen McNally

I first met Owen when his girlfriend Catriona introduced Owen to sailing in the late 1970’s. He was instantly and fully enthusiastic about sailing, which seemed at first to be unusual for someone reared in Rathgar, and educated ‘inland’ - initially in Gonzaga, and then later even further inland at Clongowes Wood College in Co. Kildare.

I did not know then that Owen had spent a year at sea after he finished school, but as I got to know him better and enjoy his company, it was fascinating to prize from him the occasional snippet of information about this unexpected aspect of his busy and varied life.

Early in his sailing career, he became involved in event management. His first major event was the Tag-Heuer Round Europe Race for giant multi-hulls that came to Dun Laoghaire with hosting by the Royal St George in 1987. (Ed. Note: The 30th Anniversary of this top-level series was celebrated in on December 9th 2017 here)

cotedorIII tabarly3The maxi trimaran Cote d’Or III, skippered by the legendary Eric Tabarly, racing to Dun Laoghaire in 1987

It was at this event that his indefatigable on-water organisational skills became apparent, and he became known by his personal call sign for Owen McNally, Oscar Mike. He was Oscar Mike for his many close sailing friends for the rest of his life.

He then ran the European Championship of the International 470 Olympic Class dinghies, which was staged by the Royal St. George Yacht Club in 2001. This was a huge success, and deservedly received worldwide acclamation.

Owen was elected the Rear Commodore (Sailing) of ‘The George’ in 2003, and in 2004 - together with Tim Goodbody of the Royal Irish Yacht Club, and Ronan Beirne of the National Yacht Club, this visionary trio prepared a presentation to be put before the four Dun Laoghaire Yacht Clubs for a joint Regatta to be held in Dublin Bay every alternate year to the Royal Cork Yacht Club’s Cork Week.

volvo dlr4Keen racing in the biennial Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, now firmly established as one of the major pillar events in sailing. Photo VDLR

All of the Dun Laoghaire Yacht Clubs accepted the proposal, and in 2005 the first Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta was held, chaired by Brian Craig and jointly hosted by the four Dun Laoghaire clubs. To say that this Regatta has become a major and successful event in the international yachting calendar is an understatement – it is far and away the biggest sailing event in Ireland, it surpasses the top regattas of many other countries, and it was a special satisfaction to Owen in his final days that the entries were already pouring in for 2019’s Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta.

Were he still involved, we can be quite sure that Owen would have been quietly giving substantial help behind the scenes even if he was not listed as part of the administrative structure, for that’s the way it was with Owen – if he saw a job that needed doing, he just got on and did it. 

sods breezy day5“Sunlight and shadow, wing on wing” – a classic Owen McNally image of Shannon One Designs on his home-from-home of Lough Derg. Photo: Owen McNally

autumn grand canal6The McNally photographic talent deployed in a different style – Autumn on the Grand Canal in Dublin. Photo: Owen McNally

But he was also a competitive sailor. On the Shannon, he sailed with William Prentice, with whom he shared a Shannon One Design, while in Dun Laoghaire he crewed with Frank Guy in the Water Wags. Anyone who thinks these two distinguished and classic classes provide an easy-going version of our sport would be much mistaken.

While this was happening in daylight hours, his music also started to come to the fore. His interest in music started in Clongowes Wood where he developed this interest with his lifelong friend Billy Crosbie of the renowned Cork family. In 1991, the Mick Walsh Band was formed which included Michael Walsh, Donal O’Connor, Billy Gleeson, Conor O’Hanlon, Kieran Fleck and Owen on drums as the ‘heartbeat’ of the Band.

water wags on lake7Another of Owen McNally’s award-winning photos, this time of the Dublin Bay Water Wags giving fresh water a try on the Shannon Lakes. Photo: Owen McNally

The Band performed in Barrettstown for Paul Newman, who was very complimentary of their performance, and they also performed in Poland and in Germany. They played at over 60 events including the Regattas in Dun Laoghaire. Indeed, Owen had hoped to play in the 2019 Regatta.

His interest in photography goes back to his school days in Clongowes Wood. Apart from winning many photographic prizes over the years, Facebook recently invited him to allow them to prepare Albums of some of the photographs posted by him on Facebook. These were a huge success and he was rightly proud of his photographic record of many and varied events in his life.

His interest in the Shannon and its boating and sailing opportunities resulted in his acquiring the motor cruiser The Lady Ann. This was a mixed blessing for Catriona who liked to turn right at the end of Cross Avenue to the airport, whereas Owen tended to want to turn left to the Shannon. However, it worked, and he and Catriona recently bought a second home on the shores of Lough Derg at Dromineer.

sods closeup8Shannon One Designs get close up and personal – another special Owen McNally image. Photo: Owen McNally

His obvious success in business matters was something which was kept separate from the other compartments in his very active life, for although he had an affable and popular public presence, Owen was involved in so many interests that he could be a very private person when the situation merited it.

And it was at home that he truly excelled. From the time of their marriage in 1983, Owen and Catriona were inseparable. He was immensely proud of their son Ian’s achievements over the years, and was delighted to welcome Laura into the family, while the recent arrival of his grandson Alexander was a huge event in Owen’s life.

I have only touched the surface of this remarkable and generous life, which has been so sadly ended way before its time. For instance, his mysterious Gap Year at sea. It was rarely mentioned, but on occasion while playing the board game Risk, he might refer to having been in Irkutsk, acquiring his renowned Russian winter headgear.

And there were other hobbies, followed with the usual total Owen McNally enthusiasm - sketching, hill walking and particularly his model train set, which he had recently expanded hugely. It was almost ready for proper inspection by fellow enthusiasts and by friends from other interests who could only marvel that he brought the same standard of professional-level involvement to what was yet another totally-absorbing hobby.

It has been a rollercoaster of a life captured in film, for the most part by Owen himself. It has been a privilege for me and for many others to have shared in many of these adventures and exploits.

May we say a fond farewell to you, Owen, a true and gentle friend.”

evening sods9Evening return – Shannon One Designs flock home to their base at Lough Derg YC in Dromineer. Photo: Owen McNally

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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