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Clifden Boat Club on Ireland’s Atlantic Seaboard Succeeds in Multi-Purpose Roles

22nd July 2020
The new and the traditional – Clifden Boat Club is saluted by classic Galway Hookers The new and the traditional – Clifden Boat Club is saluted by classic Galway Hookers

Clifden Boat Club is the primary sailing and boat sports access point for the picturesque town of Clifden, the natural capital of Connemara, the “Land of the Sea” on Ireland’s far west Atlantic coast. While the club’s history goes much further back, this year it celebrated thirty years of being in its “new” clubhouse with a reassembly of many of those who were there for the grand opening back in 1990.

The building – designed by CBC member Liam Clark, who is in both photos – has matured well, looking very much of our time while successfully blending into the hillside which sweeps upwards to the famous Sky Road. The architectural concept was for both gables to look like a yacht under sail, whether you are coming in from the sea or from the town along the shore of the drying Clifden Harbour.

The Capital of Connemara – Clifden with the sea on its doorstep, and the Twelve Bens beyondThe Capital of Connemara – Clifden with the sea on its doorstep, and the Twelve Bens beyond

Designed by CBC member Liam Clarke, the 30-year-old clubhouse fulfills its many functions while fitting well with the attractive locationDesigned by CBC member Liam Clarke, the 30-year-old clubhouse fulfils its many functions while fitting well with the attractive location

The space within is such that the small but keen membership are able to let part of their premises for a popular eaterie, The Boardwalk Café which – as the delayed 2020 season gets under way – is now being run by Lukasz Langowski, who served with previous chef Simon Trezise for many years.

The CBC’s main social area doubles as The Boardwalk Café The CBC’s main social area doubles as The Boardwalk Café

With the Clifden Lifeboat station nearby, CBC is the centre of an active maritime focal point, and while its moorings will not all be filled until August owing to the COVID-19 delays, the club already has training programmes underway, and all the other activities are working through the pipeline.

Opening day for the new Clifden Boat Clubhouse in 1990 Back Row: (left to right) Saul Joyce, Catriona Vine. Peter Vine, John Stanley, the late Paddy McDonagh, Doric Lindemann, Julia Awcock, Liam Clarke (architect) and Barry Ward Middle Row: Susie Ward, Emer Joyce and Jean LeDorvan Front row: Donal O’Scannail, Padraic McCormack, the late Talbot O’Farrell, Jackie Ward, and Adrian O’Connell. Inset Damian WardOpening day for the new Clubhouse in 1990 Back Row: (left to right) Saul Joyce, Catriona Vine. Peter Vine, John Stanley, the late Paddy McDonagh, Doric Lindemann, Julia Awcock, Liam Clarke (architect) and Barry Ward Middle Row: Susie Ward, Emer Joyce and Jean LeDorvan Front row: Donal O’Scannail, Padraic McCormack, the late Talbot O’Farrell, Jackie Ward, and Adrian O’Connell. Inset Damian Ward, photo courtesy Damian Ward

Clifden Boat Club members gather in July 2020 to celebrate thirty years of their successful clubhouse: Back row (left to right) Catriona Vine, Peter Vine, Susie Ward, John Stanley, P J McDonagh, Conor McDonagh, Morvan LeDorvan, Liam Clarke and Barry Ward, Front row: Donal O’Scannaill, Padraic McCormack, Sean O’Farrell, Jackie Ward, Adrian O’Connell and Damian Ward. Insets: Francie Mannion, Saul Joyce, Emer Joyce, Doris Lindemann and Julia AwcockCbc_opening_thirty_years_on5.jpg CBC members gather in July 2020 to celebrate thirty years of their successful clubhouse: Back row (left to right) Catriona Vine, Peter Vine, Susie Ward, John Stanley, P J McDonagh, Conor McDonagh, Morvan LeDorvan, Liam Clarke and Barry Ward, Front row: Donal O’Scannaill, Padraic McCormack, Sean O’Farrell, Jackie Ward, Adrian O’Connell and Damian Ward. Insets: Francie Mannion, Saul Joyce, Emer Joyce, Doris Lindemann and Julia Awcock. Photo courtesy Damian Ward

While this year’s celebrations are for the opening of the 1990 clubhouse, the club itself may have its origins as far back as 1907, as a silver cup trophy for “Clifden Bay Regatta 1907” was discovered – neatly in time for its Centenary – in 2007. Then two clubs were in existence later in the 1900s – the Clifden Bay Deep Sea Angling Club, and the Clifden Bay Dinghy Sailing Club – but in 1973 they got their act together, and in time had an organisation of sufficient strength – the Clifden Boat Club – to gather the resources and take on the construction of a multi-purpose clubhouse in 1989, its opening in 1990 being a real breakthrough.

Intervarsity Fireflies in Clifden for international team racing at CBCWaiting for the breeze – Intervarsity Fireflies in Clifden for international team racing at CBC

Since then, in addition to its many local activities with the emphasis on junior and adult training, Clifden has hosted events as various as the West of Ireland Offshore Racing Association Annual Championship, which it has staged twice with good turnouts, and the Irish Intervarsities International Championship, the latter – a major dinghy happening – being an event which is noted for choosing out-of-the-way venues of special attraction, so Clifden fitted the bill to perfection.

The club has produced its own top teams, the most successful crew being Jackie Ward with his sons Damian and Barry and their friends who have campaigned the Ron Holland-designed Parker 27 Hallmark to victory all along the western seaboard, with their most noted achievements being class wins in WIORA at Tralee Bay and overall victory in the Dubarry West Coast Superleague.

Jackie Ward’s successful Clifden-based Ron Holland-designed Parker 27 Hallmark West coast stars – Jackie Ward’s successful Clifden-based Ron Holland-designed Parker 27 Hallmark racing in her home waters.

Clifden being at the heart of a special area which has attracted international visitors who then put down summer roots in the region, Clifden BC also has a significant international membership, and the best-known local connection in cruising is American Nick Kats, who has twice voyaged with his 39-ft ketch Teddy to East Greenland from Clifden.

In top-level offshore racing, another international link is the Gouy family from France, famed father Bernard and his son Laurent, whose determined campaigning of the complete RORC programme with their Ker 39 Inis Mor saw them become RORC Yacht of the Year 2013, while their Irish interest was reflected by Inis Mor listing Clifden Boat Club as her home base for the Round Ireland race from Wicklow, which she contested twice, and won overall in 2012.

France’s Gouy family with their Ker 39 Inis Mor, the RORC Yacht of the Year in 2013International star – France’s Gouy family with their Ker 39 Inis Mor, the RORC Yacht of the Year in 2013. They nominated Clifden Boat Club as their home base when winning the Round Ireland Race of 2012

Like every other sailing and boatsports club in Ireland, Clifden Boat Club is gradually working its way back to a level of activity which is compliant with the changing regulations, while at the same time providing a programme attractive enough for seasoned members and beginner alike to get people back afloat again. The club is in good spirits, and 30 years down the line, the brave move to build a clubhouse carefully designed for Clifden requirements continues to be a matter of justifiable pride.

In this strange summer with its mixed weather, CBC member Damian Ward’s recent drone footage of the club on a sunny morning with a sailing introduction class getting under way reminds us of what Ireland can be like when all the encouraging factors are in place.

Published in News Update
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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