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The recent Darkness Into Light event at Foynes Yacht Club on the Shannon Estuary proved to be a tremendous success, raising an impressive €3,000 in donations. The event, which took place in May, saw the participation of several skippers and their crews from boats such as Alpara, Battle, Big Deal, Elantic, Excalibur, Kilteery, Luisa, Marengo, and Poitin. Their involvement, along with the support of family, friends, and visitors, contributed to the event's overwhelming success.

The event began with a beautiful morning as participants gathered to watch the sunrise over the river Shannon, with the added delight of dolphins joining in on the experience. Following the river trip, walkers from Foynes joined the event at the club grounds. Master chef Tadgh O’Shea fired up the BBQ, serving plenty of hot food, freshly baked scones, and other delicious treats to warm up the participants.

Published in Shannon Estuary

Irish J24 competitors gathered at Foynes Yacht Club this past weekend for the Western Championships on the Shannon Estuary.

Saturday's races saw challenging conditions, with four races completed in 10 to 12 knots of breeze. Anticipating calm conditions on Sunday, participants were greeted with beautiful sunshine and a steady 6 to 9 knots of breeze, setting the stage for an exciting day of competition.

Derek Bothwell, the Race Officer, was praised for setting a perfect course of three laps of windward-leeward and efficiently finishing the race by shortening the course, allowing for a total of five races for the Westerns.

Headcase once again showcased an outstanding performance, securing first place and earning best wishes as they prepare for the J24 European Championships in Sardinia.

Racing downwind on the Shannon Estuary at Foynes Yacht Club for 2024 J24 Western honours Racing downwind on the Shannon Estuary at Foynes Yacht Club for 2024 J24 Western honours 

The Silver Fleet also celebrated as Hung Jury emerged victorious. The high standard of sailing displayed by all competitors was a joy to watch and drew accolades from spectators.

J24 Western Championships Race Officers Derek and Gaye Bothwell J24 Western Championships Race Officers Derek and Gaye Bothwell 

Acknowledgements were made to those who contributed to the event's success, including Derek and Gaye Bothwell for their exceptional Race Management, Mark Usher, President of the J24 Association, the FYC members for their assistance throughout the weekend, and Commodore Bev for organising a fantastic event. Special recognition was given to Pat Lawless for crafting the beautiful trophies, BCS Crane Hire for their exceptional service, and Shannon Foynes Port Company for their regular updates on Shipping.

As the weekend came to a close, sailors eagerly looked forward to the next event in Wicklow at the end of July.

Published in J24
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Clare County Council has been granted planning approval to develop new visitor facilities at Loop Head Lighthouse Visitor Experience at the mouth of the Shannon Estuary in County Clare.

This proposed development will feature new visitor centre facilities, a Looped Walking Trail network, a new visitors’ carpark, the conservation of two Keeper’s Cottages, the installation of wayfinding signage, and the upgrade of the existing wastewater system.

Loop Head Lighthouse is one of two “Signature Discovery Points” in County Clare along the route of the Wild Atlantic Way, and is a landmark location on the Loop Head Heritage Trail. It is also one of 12 Great Lighthouses of Ireland. The lighthouse was converted to automatic operation in 1991 and was first opened to the public by Clare County Council and the Commissioner of Irish Lights in 2011.

Councillor Gabriel Keating, Leas Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council said the proposed development, which is subject to the necessary funding being secured, will generate “significant, positive dividends” for surrounding communities on Loop Head peninsula in terms of profile and the local economy.

“The focus on building a visitor attraction that is both sustainable and in keeping with the ethos of slow tourism is key,” added the Leas Cathaoirleach. “I am happy to see that sustainability is at the heart of the future plans for the site. I want to acknowledge the contribution of Loop Head Tourism, local landowners and the wider community as well as my own Council colleagues, particularly my fellow members of West Clare Municipal District (MD).”

Loop Head Lighthouse in County Clare. Photo: AirSwing MediaLoop Head Lighthouse in County Clare. Photo: AirSwing Media

The Chief Executive of Clare County Council, Pat Dowling, stated that “Loop Head Lighthouse is one of Clare’s best known heritage attractions and has been the subject of considerable investment by the Department of Rural Community Development through RRDF funding as well as from Clare County Council in recent years. The proposed new development is subject to additional funding being secured and if successful, we are committed to delivering a project that will encourage the public to experience the rich heritage and history that stems from the lighthouse and the communities of the surrounding Peninsula.”

The approved development includes the construction of a single storey building extension providing additional and enhanced visitor facilities, including a reception area, entrance lobby, café with seating area, public toilets and a covered walkway leading to the Loop Head Looped Walking Trail. Featuring six designated viewing points, the trail network will guide visitors around the headland via four looped walking trails ranging from 0.9 kilometres to 4.5 kilometres in length.

A new visitor car park along the R487 Regional Road will provide new public car parking spaces, and bicycle and EV charging spaces. The new car park also will feature an access control kiosk building comprising a reception, entrance lobby, public toilets, and visitor information signage and orientation. The existing car parking area will be reconfigured to provide staff car parking spaces and bicycle spaces.

Clare County Council says vehicular, pedestrian and cyclist access to the site will be maintained via the R487 and will be enhanced by associated traffic calming measures and designated pedestrian and cycling priority zones.

The Visitor Centre at Loop Head has reopened for the 2024 tourist season. In addition, Loop Head Lighthouse Visitor Centre plans to open the newly refurbished Lighthouse Keepers Cottage as a self-catering accommodation offering for the Summer Season 2024. 

This development is expected to bring in more tourists to County Clare, which will not only help the local economy but also strengthen the profile of the region. The focus on sustainability is commendable, and the commitment of Clare County Council to deliver a tourism product that the local community can be proud of is impressive. 

Published in Lighthouses

Carrigaholt on the south-facing shore of the Outer Shannon Estuary is one of the sweetest places in all Clare, a refreshingly leisurely contrast to the over-busy northwest of the county, where the once tiny port of Doolin finds itself swamped with tourists expecting to do a one-day box-ticking exercise on the Cliffs of Moher, the shortest boat-hop out to the Aran islands, and the marvellous mystery of The Burren.

CARRIGAHOLT GIVES PEACE OF MIND

But Carrigaholt is what passes for the capital of the remote-feeling Loop Head peninsula, which is as much an attitude as a place. It has a strong sense of community that manifests itself in many ways, not least in the people of Querrin along the south shore getting together a decade and more ago to build the Sally O’Keeffe, the gaff-cutter-rigged Myles Stapleton-designed interpretation of the classic Shannon Estuary Hooker. These were traditional boats that used to carry passengers and cargo from Limerick the length and breadth of this magnificent 60-mile waterway.

Seol Sionna’s multi-purpose gaff cutter Sally O’Keeffe was built at Querrin in a community project under the guidance of Steve MorrisSeol Sionna’s multi-purpose gaff cutter Sally O’Keeffe was built at Querrin in a community project under the guidance of Steve Morris

The Querrin boatbuilders created the Sally O’Keeffe under the guidance of master boat-builder Steve Morris, the New Zealander who was enticed to Ireland by his wife, a Kilrush girl, and has been an asset to that developing port and its larger community ever since. His work in the boatyard is of such a high quality that he was the natural choice to re-build the Dublin Bay 21s for Hal Sisk and Fionan de Barra, and there are always other fascinating projects under way in the busy sheds.

The boat-building man…..the enthusiasm of Steve Morris seems to be boundlessThe boat-building man…..the enthusiasm of Steve Morris seems to be boundless

Yet despite high quality boat-building being the day job, his enthusiasm is such that he gave over his evenings to guide Seol Sionna in their building of the Sally O’Keeffe, and more recently he did the same to help them build an Ian Oughtred-designed St Ayles skiff, that handy team-rowing boat which is of a more manageable size for shore transport than the hefty traditional Irish coastal rowing skiff.

ST AYLES SKIFFS GET ABOUT

One of the attractions of the St Ayles skiff is the opportunity for international competition, as they have now spread worldwide. But more importantly for Steve Morris and his friends, whose boat Ealu went to last year’s Morbihan Festival in South Brittany as well as doing the Sea to the City fleet row in Cork Harbour, they are now spreading westward into the Loop Head peninsula.

Seol Sionna’s Kilrush-built St Ayles skiff Ealu has proudly carried the colours of Ukraine to the Morbihan Festival in south Brittany and the Sea to City parade in Cork Harbur.Seol Sionna’s Kilrush-built St Ayles skiff Ealu has proudly carried the colours of Ukraine to the Morbihan Festival in south Brittany and the Sea to City parade in Cork Harbur.

Last Saturday – Storm Isha’s approach notwithstanding – building work was started on another St Ayles skiff - with support from Limerick & Clare Education Board - by Loop Head Rowing Club in a handy shed at Kilrush’s Outer Pier, right beside the ancient stronghold of the Mac Mahons.

CARRIGAHOLT AND THE ILEN

Its eloquent presence ensured that in the days when Gary Mac Mahon was running the Conor O’Brien trading ketch Ilen in the years immediately after her restoration under his inspiration, there were several memorable occasions when Ilen was anchored in stately style below the castle. And though all sorts of chicanery resulted in the Mac Mahons not being the occupants of the 15th Century castle in its final residential days, it’s right and proper that the newly-formed skiff-build team of 16 Loopers not only includes six female boat enthusiasts, but as well Marcus McMahon and two of his children are involved.

Last Saturday’s first gathering at Carrigaholt of the Loop Head Rowing Club’s build team include (left to right) Con Minihan, James Devane, Michael Griffin, Fintan Ryan, Jill Leonard, Emma Clark, Paul Daly and Marcus McMahon with his two children, Photo: Steve MorrisLast Saturday’s first gathering at Carrigaholt of the Loop Head Rowing Club’s build team include (left to right) Con Minihan, James Devane, Michael Griffin, Fintan Ryan, Jill Leonard, Emma Clark, Paul Daly and Marcus McMahon with his two children, Photo: Steve Morris

Saturday visitors are welcome at the Loop Head Rowing project, and with several notably hospitable establishments in the main part of the village beside the inner harbour known to Shannon sailors as the Long Dock, with the Long Dock pub itself being renowned for it excellent food, there are now even more reasons for visiting Carrigaholt by sea or land.

The main part of Carrigagholt, where the notably hospitable Long Dock food pub takes its title from the Shannon sailors’ name for the inner harbourThe main part of Carrigagholt, where the notably hospitable Long Dock food pub takes its title from the Shannon sailors’ name for the inner harbour

Published in Shannon Estuary
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The Cruising Group can often emerge as the backbone of any sailing club, particularly in the winter. Back in the day when the new Howth Yacht Club premises opened in March 1987, fresh concepts were needed to ensure that the large building was well used on a year-round basis. Gary McGuire was the founding-convenor for this then-novel concept (in Howth anyway) of a weekly winter gathering of cruising folk, supported in turn by rallies and cruises-in-company of all lengths in summer.

Today, it continues to thrive, the largest single grouping in the club, and an active user of all aspects of its clubhouse/marina complex. So when you get a request to introduce a speaker to Cruising Group people with this level of enthusiasm and dedication, it merits some thought and more. Certainly this was the case recently when I got the call, from HYC’s current convenor Susan Kavanagh and her predecessor Gerry O’Neill, to give the word on Limerick’s lone sailor Pat Lawless.

The son of a world sailor, Pat Lawless of Limerick is part of a remarkably innovative area’s unrivalled sailing heritageThe son of a world sailor, Pat Lawless of Limerick is part of a remarkably innovative area’s unrivalled sailing heritage

He was coming to provide what proved to be a packed house with the full insight to himself, and his family’s multi-generational interaction with the sea and particularly its oceans. Almost immediately it was clear that, as everyone already knows a bit - while some know a lot - about Pat, and his involvement with the Golden Globe sailing the Saga 36 Green Rebel, there might be more point on the night to introduce him by giving some attention to his home area and the Limerick sailing scene which shaped his devotion to the oceans.

Pat Lawless solo-sailing his Saga 36 Green RebelPat Lawless solo-sailing his Saga 36 Green Rebel

It was a real light-bulb moment. For the slightest bit of thought suggests that Limerick, combined with the Shannon Estuary below it and Lough Derg above, make up Ireland’s Number 1 sailing area in terms of significant individual achievement, and in pioneering and innovation, both in sailing itself, and in its organisation.

GREATEST IRISH SAILING ACHIEVEMENT OF 21st CENTURY

And this Limerick Roll of Honour is not just history – it’s the here and now. For I’d argue that the greatest single achievement in Irish sailing in the 21st Century at both national and international level is still the clear overall victory by Ger O’Rourke - of Limerick and the Royal Western YC of Ireland at Kilrush – in the 2007 Rolex Fastnet Race, for this was very much an individual super-success by a notably determined, “failure is not an option” owner-skipper.

It rounded out his achievement record with his Cookson 50 Chieftain, which was extensively family cruised – oceanic and coastal - between bouts of racing which included a class win in the Sydney-Hobart race, and a second overall in the Transatlantic Race.

“Limerick, You’re A Lady” – Ger O’Rourke’s Chieftain approaching the finish line for total victory in the 2007 Fastnet Race“Limerick, You’re A Lady” – Ger O’Rourke’s Chieftain approaching the finish line for total victory in the 2007 Fastnet Race

It’s all enhanced by knowing that Ger was introduced to sailing in a very Limerick way. He was chatting with Gary McMahon as they and a group of similar free-thinking spirits gently eased themselves into the weekend with a couple of Thursday night pints in one of those very special pubs which are a Limerick speciality. When everyone dutifully headed for home at a responsible hour, Ger asked Gary if he’d see him again the following night.

But Gary said not, as he’d be taking his boat down the Estuary to her summer berth. So Ger said he’d like to have a go at this sailing game, and could he come too? And that was that – the Limerick man who so totally dominated the 2007 Fastnet Race was introduced to sailing by the sea-experienced Limerick acquaintance who - four years after Chieftain’s mighty Fastnet win - was finally to see the launching at Oldcourt above Baltimore of the fully-restored 56ft ketch Ilen of 1926 vintage, and Conor O’Brien and Shannon Estuary fame.

The restored trading ketch Ilen in Greenland in July 2019 under Gary Mac Mahon’s command. Photo: Gary Mac MahonThe restored trading ketch Ilen in Greenland in July 2019 under Gary Mac Mahon’s command. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

LIMERICK INPUT INTO CORK’S PIONEERING OF SAILING

But of course, any discussion of the long history of recreational sailing in Ireland will inevitably attribute its origins partly to the fleet of pleasure boats kept by The Maguire – “Hugh the Hospitable” – on Lough Erne in the 16th and early 17th Century, and then come on very strongly with the clearly recorded foundation of the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork in 1720, and agree it was Cork that did it.

But it was a Limerick and Shannonside man who brought it to Cork. Murrough O’Brien (1614-1673), 1st Earl of Inchiquin, was an O’Brien of Dromoland who somehow emerged from a trail of destruction on the winning side during each phase of the Munster wars in the 1640s. But when his luck finally ran out, he went to France and served with such distinction in the French army that after a successful campaign of conquest into Spain, he was made Governor of Catalonia.

Soldier of fortune – and misfortune. Limerick’s Murrough O’Brien brought recreational sailing to Cork Harbour in the 1660s.Soldier of fortune – and misfortune. Limerick’s Murrough O’Brien brought recreational sailing to Cork Harbour in the 1660s

When the run of luck ran out on that too, he threw in his lot with the exiled Court of England’s King Charles II in the Netherlands, where they were passing the time until Cromwell popped his clogs in England with several activities, including the novel Dutch sport of recreational sailing. O’Brien took a special fancy to this, and when Charles II was restored in 1660 and returned to London, O’Brien re-collared much of the O’Brien land in Ireland and went back there, bringing his sailing interest back with him.

But because he still had so many enemies around the Shannon Estuary, he made his base at Rostellan Castle on the eastern side of Cork Harbour, which conveniently enabled him to have the occasional sail for the pure pleasure of it. Yet when he died in 1673, his will stipulated that he was to be buried in St Mary’s Cathedral, so they got him back there in the Shannonside city whether they wanted him or not.

Yachts of the 1720-founded Water Club on fleet manoeuvres off Cork as painted by Peter Monamy in 1738. Image: RCYCYachts of the 1720-founded Water Club on fleet manoeuvres off Cork as painted by Peter Monamy in 1738. Image: RCYC

Meanwhile back in Rostellan his descendants continued sailing with such increasing interest that when the Water Club was established in 1720, the fourth Earl of Inchiquin – Murrough’s great-grandson – was the founding Admiral. And though in the 1800s the Rostellan Inichiquin O’Briens returned to Dromoland Castle as the Thomond branch there had run our of heirs, back in Cork the O’Briens continued to be prominent in sailing to such an numerous extent that one branch re-spelled their name as O’Bryen, with the Cork Harbour-based Henry O’Bryen becoming Ireland’s most successful racing skipper in the 1860s, his successes including winning the mould-breaking Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race in 1860.

SHANNON ESTUARY COMES TO LIFE

But by that time the Shannon Estuary itself had seen some remarkable flourishes of sailing. A regatta at Kilrush in 1828 which drew in boats and skippers from as far south as west Kerry in the form of Daniel O’Connnell, The Liberator, from Derrynane, and his Uncle Maurice from Cahirsiveen, arrived to augment the growing locally-based fleet at Kilrush, and from that the Royal Western Yacht Club of Ireland was formed, a good two years before any sort of club was established at Kingstown in the East Coast.

That said, the Northern Yacht Club on Belfast Lough had been in being since 1820, but by 1838 it had transferred all its focus across channel to the Clyde becoming the wholly Scottish Royal Northern Yacht Club

The Royal Western of Ireland thrived as a moveable feast, with “Stations” at Kilrush and Tralee. But Kilrush remained the main base, and in 1838 there were eighteen substantial yachts based there, while others were to be found in various estuary anchorages – in 1837 the Knight of Glin had taken his south-shore based yacht Rienvella to Galway Bay to contest sailing’s Galway Plate, and won.

Glin Castle with the Shannon Estuary beyond. In 1837, the Knight of Glin took his yacht Rienvella to Galway Bay and won sailing’s Galway PlateGlin Castle with the Shannon Estuary beyond. In 1837, the Knight of Glin took his yacht Rienvella to Galway Bay and won sailing’s Galway Plate

But while slowly growing overall prosperity seemed to guarantee a bright future for west coast sailing, the Great Famine of 1845-1848 wiped it out, and just about everything else with it. The pleasure boats were left to rot, or else withdrew to the east coast, and the Royal Western briefly had a life as an east coast club, until the Model Yacht Club emerged from among its few younger members in 1857, and from that emerged the Corinthian-promoting Royal Alfred Yacht Club on Dublin Bay in 1870.

Meanwhile, what was left of the old Royal Western of Ireland was taken over by the buccaneering Scottish entrepreneur John Arnott in Cork to find a new base in Cobh. But even that didn’t seem to work, and it was supposedly wound up there in 1870, but many years later it was shown that such was not the case.

THE LIBERATOR INVOLVED IN REVIVAL OF ROYAL IRISH YACHT CLUB

Daniel O’Connell meanwhile had not lost interest entirely, for before he set out in 1847 for his desperate “famine pilgrimage” to Rome - from which he did not return alive - he was one of a small group who revived the old Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire as a response to the almost wholly Ascendancy landlord-dominated outlook of the Royal St George YC. That founding meeting took place in Dublin on 4th July 1846, and the choice of American Independence day was no accident.

The Royal Irish Yacht Club, originally founded 1831, was brought back to life on American Independence Day – the 4th July – in 1846, and its new clubhouse, opened in 1850, is now the world’s oldest intact purpose-designed yacht club.The Royal Irish Yacht Club, originally founded 1831, was brought back to life on American Independence Day – the 4th July – in 1846, and its new clubhouse, opened in 1850, is now the world’s oldest intact purpose-designed yacht club

SAILING ON THE SHANNON LAKES

Looking inland from Limerick, recreational sailing had long been a feature of life on the great lakes of the Shannon, and while a predecessor of Lough Ree Yacht Club had existed at Athlone since 1770, in 1835 Lough Derg YC came into being at Dromineer, drawing in sailors from a wide area of Ireland.

The date is of significance, as these days up in Dublin they tend to think of Lough Derg YC as being Royal St George Yacht Club West. But as “The George” didn’t come into being until 1838, it should arguably be more accurately thought of as Lough Derg Yacht Club East.

Squibs in action off Dromineer, where the Lough Derg YC was founded in 1835. Photo: W M NixonSquibs in action off Dromineer, where the Lough Derg YC was founded in 1835. Photo: W M Nixon

FURTHER LIMERICK BREAKTHROUGH

The next Limerick area breakthrough in sailing came in 1885, with the America’s Cup Challenge by Lt. William Henn RN (Retd) of Paradise House on the north side of the Estuary, along the western shores of the rapidly widening River Fergus as it flows south through and beyond Ennis.

William Henn loved sailing, he loved being at sea, but when he found that the Royal Navy was providing him with very little of either, he resigned in disgust, though always proudly sporting his rank as a Lieutenant.

Galatea, seen here in full racing trim, was the America’s Cup challenger in 1885Galatea, seen here in full racing trim, was the America’s Cup challenger in 1885

Even in Victorian times, the saloon in Galatea was somewhat at variance with full-on racing expectationsEven in Victorian times, the saloon in Galatea was somewhat at variance with full-on racing expectatios

Happily for his interests, he’d married a Scottish heiress who shared his love of sailing and living aboard their luxuriously appointed America’s Cup cutter Galatea, which they brought to the Shannon Estuary between sessions of unsuccessful but hugely popular America’s Cup challenging, and extensive Caribbean cruising which made them pioneers in that now-renowned cruising area.

We gave an update on their story here. It’s sufficient to say that while the Galatea challenge in 1885 set the sporting and popular tone later emulated by the Royal Ulster’s Thomas Lipton in his five AC challenges between 1899 and 1931, one of the reasons Lipton was able to make such good use of his increasing popularity was because, in 1893 and 1895, the Shannon Estuary provided the home base for two more America’s Cup Challenges, but they became embroiled in controversy.

THE DESCENDANTS OF THADY QUIN

The Earl of Dunraven of Adare in County Limerick, on the River Maigue a few miles upstream of the south shore of the Shannon Estuary, was descended from a shrewd 17th Century County Limerick farmer called Thady Quin. Quin was good at the agricultural business, but he was even better at establishing a dynasty through a family tradition of marrying well, such that by the late 1800s, his direct descendants were living in the enormous new manor house at Adare on a vast acreage, and the current patriarch was Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quinn, the Fourth Earl of Dunraven.

Having exhausted Ireland’s supply of really useful heiresses, Thady Quin’s descendants had looked to Wales, and signed on a Miss Wyndham, who came with a very substantial field. It was actually a coal field. In fact, it was about half of the very extensive and extremely valuable coalfield of South Wales.

WELSH ORIGINS OF DUNRAVEN TITLE

On the coast beside it was the Wyndham’s home place, Dunraven Castle. So though the title of Earl of Dunraven may sound very Irish indeed, it has more basic origins in South Wales, as the Wyndham family had held sway there since 1642. But also with a basis in Wales was a new and enormous income, much of which was poured into expanding and developing the family’s Irish estates such that the fourth Earl even used experience acquired in Wales to create a coal mine near Adare at Ballingarry, in which he took a direct personal and technical interest.

The fourth Earl of Dunraven – brainy, ambitious, and very very richThe fourth Earl of Dunraven – brainy, ambitious, and very very rich

But as it happened, his lively mind and technical expertise caused him to become interested in the America’s Cup, as sailing had become a new and passionate activity for him after being introduced to it at the Royal Cork Yacht Club in what was then Queenstown, and pursuing it further with his friend John Jameson, the whiskey magnate of the Royal St George YC on Dublin Bay.

DUNRAVEN’S TECHNICALLY-BASED AND SUCCESS-ORIENTED APPROACH

Being Dunraven, his approach was very technically-based and success-oriented. After extensive research, he decided the Scottish designer G L Watson was the man to create his very advanced new 117ft challenging cutter, to be built on the Clyde by Henderson’s. The name was to be Valkyrie II, for of course the Earl was a Wagner fan, and when the contract was signed and the building shed being prepared, she was the only big cutter to Watson’s new and brilliant ideas to be under construction.

But when the sporting Price of Wales got to hear of this, he decided it was his duty to provide Valkyrie II with a near-sister to be a training partner before Dunraven’s boat made her way to America, sailing across the Atlantic as AC challengers were then required to do. So the Prince sent to Portmarnock to his friend Willie Jameson to be the Royal Sailing Master and what we’d now call Project manager, and the wonderful yacht that became Britannia was soon under construction beside the very similar Valkyrie II.

Valkyrie (left) in action in the America’s Cup. Although she was designed before the royal cutter Britannia, the new and very fast hull type from GL Watson became known as “The Britannia Ideal”Valkyrie (left) in action in the America’s Cup. Although she was designed before the royal cutter Britannia, the new and very fast hull type from GL Watson became known as “The Britannia Ideal”

BRITTANIA STEALS VALKYRIE’S FAME

Thus although Dunraven was a talented man with much good fortune, when things went pear-shaped for him, they did so big time. Nowadays, the near-perfection of the “Britannia Ideal” at the time of her construction set a gold standard for yacht design for decades. And because the Prince of Wales was involved, this is the way it is remembered. Yet if life was at all fair, it would be remembered as the Valkyrie Ideal. But fate has decreed that all the two Watson-designed Valkyries of 1893 and 1895 are remembered for is international acrimony, and a sinking incident.

Dunraven’s excess of enthusiasm and competitive zeal were his undoing in his 1893 America’s Cup challenge, and even more so in his contentious 1895 challenge. He was making them at a time when the Americans were seriously flexing their international sporting and national pride muscles, and if anyone became responsible for losing the 1851-won America’s Cup, he would be given a bottle of Bourbon and a loaded revolver, and left alone to contemplate his fate.

AGAINST THE ODDS

Thus everything conspired against Dunraven’s two wonderful Watson-designed boats, and when he made a real fuss abut the many spectator steamships crowding Valkyrie III during light weather racing in 1895, it ended with such acrimony that he received the unprecedented snub of being expelled from his Honorary Membership of the New York Yacht Club.

In his massive and definitive history of the America’s Cup, the late Bob Fisher felt that Dunraven had been poorly treated, and in private conversation he was much more firmly of this opinion. But we needn’t waste too much sympathy on this sailing son of Shannonside. He soon bounced back with extensive cruising under sail. And he developed numerous technical projects, many of them of a maritime nature, while his America’s Cup challenges are now perhaps best seen as ensuring that in the half Century after America first won the cup, Shannon Estuary-based owners made one third of the nine challenge.

SUCCESSFUL NEGOTIATOR

More surprisingly in life afterwards, Dunraven proved adept at high politics. He was a popular and effective co-Chair of the successful Land Commission of 1903, which transformed – for the better – the nature and structure of Irish country and farming life. Yet he was his own man. When the Great War ended in 1918, he took the enormous profits from his Welsh coal-mining interests and invested a substantial part of the sum in – wait for this – the design, development and construction of a 500-ton diesel-powered yacht, the largest built at that time, and a fine vessel without anything coal-fired throughout the length and breadth of her.

CONOR O’BRIEN MAKES HIS APPEARANCE

One of Dunraven’s many active interests was west Kerry, with Derrynane’s natural harbour where he sailed with the ghost of Daniel O’Connell, and the eternally fascinating Skellig rocks – miniature sea mountains – dominating the horizon.

He liked the place so much that he built a holiday cottage there. It really is little more than a cottage, just big enough for small family groups. It was a shrewd move of which his ancestor Thady Quin would have approved, for had he built a substantial holiday home just above the Derrynane beach, his summers would have been over-run by uninvited guests imposing on the Dunraven noblesse oblige.

The place where many sailors histories interacted – Derrynane’s natural harbour in West Kerry. Photo: W M NixonThe place where many sailors histories interacted – Derrynane’s natural harbour in West Kerry. Photo: W M Nixon

As it is, big cheeses visiting that sublime area were hosted by the new Parknasilla Hotel at Sneem, and when they were sufficiently interesting, Dunraven would extend an invitation to sail out to the Skelligs. Thus Bernard Shaw – in the midst of writing St Joan in the middle of a supposed holiday at Parknasilla - was taken to Skellig Michael by the eccentric Earl, and it was worth everyone’s efforts, as the effect of that extroaordinary place produced some short but very impressive Shavian prose.

Meanwhile, another summer presence at Derrynane was Dunraven’s near-neighbours from Cahirmoyle at Ardagh, the O’Briens of the family of the 1848 Young Ireland activist William Smith O’Brien. While the countryside around their fancy Italianate house of Cahirmoyle at Ardagh was decidedly humdrum, they had their own much-loved piece of coastline at Foynes and Foynes Island, and for summer recreation they decamped to Keating’s Hotel at Derrynane (now Bridie’s), a modest place which set the mood of the place where young Conor O’Brien (you can find his signature in the Visitors’ Book) started to learn to sail with the 27ft open ketch-rigged clinker-built whaler Mary Brigid.

 First command – Conor O’Brien’s sailing was self taught with the 27ft whaler Mary Brigid along the coast from Derrynane First command – Conor O’Brien’s sailing was self taught with the 27ft whaler Mary Brigid along the coast from Derrynane

O’BRIEN’S UNIQUE ACHIEVEMENT

In time, O’Brien would mark the establishment of the new Irish Free State with the voyage round the world south of the great capes in his own-designed, Baltimore-built 42ft ketch Saoirse between 1923 and 1925. As Afloat.ie readers are well aware, we are very much in the midst of celebrating that momentous achievement with considerable flourishes. But while it officially began and ended at the Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dublin Bay on the 20th June 1923 and the 20th June 1925, as far as O’Brien was concerned that was purely for the convenience of publicity purposes. He felt on the contrary that all his voyages really began and ended when he sailed from or returned to his mooring off Foynes Island, where he made his last home and died in 1952 at the age of 72.

Conor O’Brien in his prime around 1930, as sketched by his new wife Kitty ClausenConor O’Brien in his prime around 1930, as sketched by his new wife Kitty Clausen

Saoirse re-born at Oldcourt on the River Ilen, June 2023 Photo: W M NixonSaoirse re-born at Oldcourt on the River Ilen, June 2023 Photo: W M Nixon

SHANNONS TO THE SEA AND SUCCESS

There’d been another Limerick area gesture to the new state when the new boats of the 1922-established Shannon One Design Class at Lough Derg YC at Dromineer were transported by various railway links to what nearly all the natives still thought of as Kingstown, as it had been selected as the sailing venue for the 1924 Tailteann Games. The Dublin Bay sailors were muted in their enthusiasm, but the SOD sailors, having made their journey, went at it with gusto for all that Dublin Bay was in a brisk mood.

Their boats were supposedly only una-rigged lake boats. Yet the long, slim and beautifully but lightly-built Shannons wiggled their way in style over the salty waves, and came home with two Gold Medals while the supposedly rugged local Water Wags reputedly had none.

Shannon One Designs as dedicated lake boats at Dromineer on Lough Derg, Yet in 1924 they proved to be able sea boats by winning two Gold Medals at the sailing events of the Tailteann Games in Dublin Bay.Shannon One Designs as dedicated lake boats at Dromineer on Lough Derg, Yet in 1924 they proved to be able sea boats by winning two Gold Medals at the sailing events of the Tailteann Games in Dublin Bay.

FALLOW PERIOD

Despite these displays of enthusiasm, the 1930s and ’40s became a relatively fallow period for Limerick and Shannon sailing, even though some astute lake sailors had used the opportunity of the Olympic Games in Belgium in 1920 to secure some superbly-built racing keelboats at knockdown prices. And some amateur sailors such as Limerick merchant David Tidmarsh and later fellow Limerick-man Roger Bourke kept the flag flying to provide an Irish Cruising Club presence in the estuary. Then around 1960 the rocketing rise of kit-built dinghy racing saw Killaloe Sailing Club at the south end of Lough Derg becoming a vibrant Enterprise centre, with annual major events there showing that local talents such as Frank Larkin could match it and more with the national stars.

BUILDING SHIPMAN 28

As the series production of fibreglass boats was becoming an international norm, Limerick’s factory tradition inevitably became involved, and Gerry Nash set up Fastnet Marine in the city to build the notably successful Shipman 28. Primarily this boat was for the export market, but so many were produced that there isn’t a sailing port in Ireland that even today still has a significant presence of Shipman 28s.

Shipman 28s may be racing here in Dublin Bay, but they were all built in LimerickShipman 28s may be racing here in Dublin Bay, but they were all built in Limerick

But the main impact on the area came from that “State Within A State”, Shannon Development, whose quietly-expanded remit for the promotion of prosperity extended all the way from the sea at Kerry Head far upriver to Birr in County Offaly. Its success stemmed from a dedicated and very hard-working team, and when they decided that an integral part of the region’s continuing progress would be the re-establishment of Kilrush as a significant sailing centre, they didn’t mess about.

A NEW VISION FOR KILRUSH

They made their group financial controller, sailing enthusiast Brendan Travers, the Project Manager for the massive task of transforming Kilrush into a permanently floating marina, with a mighty barrage and a hefty sea lock. It was indeed a mega-project by the West Coast standards of the day, and inevitably, it over-ran in every direction. But now Kilrush is transformed, even unto the revival of the old Royal Western YC, of which the Glynn family of Kilrush had kept many original documents and artefacts.

Kilrush as it was in the 1890s, with the Shannon Estuary’s large tidal range a key factor in port life…….Kilrush as it was in the 1890s, with the Shannon Estuary’s large tidal range a key factor in port life…….

….and Kilrush as it is now, with the sea lock and marina providing peace of mind and space for a good boatyard.….and Kilrush as it is now, with the sea lock and marina providing peace of mind and space for a good boatyard

Not least of Kilrush’s achievements is that it has attracted the international boat-building talent of Steve Morris. From New Zealand, he was enticed to Ireland and Kilrush, in particular by his new Irish wife, who wished to live near her mother.

MARINE INDUSTRY RE-BORN

A substantial doctorate could be written about the longterm role of the Irish mother in enticing international skill to specialist industries in this city, particularly when they’re located in places others might think of as remote. Kilrush is no longer remote in classic yacht and general boat maintenance terms. In Ireland, it is now Classic Boatbuilding Central, with Steve and his team working on an extraordinary variety of jobs, everything from the re-birth of the Dublin Bay 21 Class for Hal Sisk and Fionan de Barra, to a minor but potentially tricky job of sorting out some damage on a relatively new Howth 17, which recently provided a useful excuse for four leading Howth 17 sailors to spend a day trailing the boat to Kilrush so that they could worship at this shrine of master craftsmanship.

The artist in his studio – Steve Morris last week in Kilrush, inspecting the restored hull of the Dublin Bay 21 Oola. Photo: Ian MalcolmThe artist in his studio – Steve Morris last week in Kilrush, inspecting the restored hull of the Dublin Bay 21 Oola. Photo: Ian Malcolm

The restored stem on Oola – the line of the bow on the Dublin Bay 21 was one of renowned designer Alfred Mylne’s very best. Photo: Ian MalcolmThe restored stem on Oola – the line of the bow on the Dublin Bay 21 was one of renowned designer Alfred Mylne’s very best. Photo: Ian Malcolm

Worshipping at the shrine – Howth 17 sailors Marc FitzGibbon, Donal Gallagher and Alan Markey savouring the quality of the Kilrush craftsmanship on the DB21 Oola. Photo: Ian MalcolmWorshipping at the shrine – Howth 17 sailors Marc FitzGibbon, Donal Gallagher and Alan Markey savouring the quality of the Kilrush craftsmanship on the DB21 Oola. Photo: Ian Malcolm

KILLALOE’S NEW CLUBHOUSE

Meanwhile, other aspects of the Limerick sailing skills and maritime devotion have continued to manifest themselves. Despite the Covid hiatus, Killaloe Sailing Club have built themselves a fine new clubhouse, while the dinghy sailing interests of the area have also been able to express themselves through the lake-based Cullaun Sailing Club in the heart of County Clare.

SAOIRSE RE-BORN

Foynes Yacht Club prospers such that it was able to host the 2023 National Championship of Champions sailed in their own fleet of Mermaids, and although Gary Mac Mahon has stood back from the day-to-day running of the Ilen through transferring the superbly restored ship to the Sailing-Into-Wellness organisation, the detailed research he did on Conor O’Brien’s Saoirse has enabled her to be re-built with authenticity in Olcourt near Baltimore by Liam Hegarty as a stylish vessel for West Cork devotee Fred Kinmonth.

Yet even as these various Conor O'Brien of Foynes re-creation processes were developing, today's Foynes YC offshore sailors have been spreading their wings at home and abroad in several ways, with the pace being set by the father-and-son team of Derek & Conor Dillon, whose two-handed achievements with the Dehler 34 Big Deal in the double-handed class in both the Round Ireland and Fastnet Races included overall victory in the in the duo division in the Round Ireland.

Saoirse departs from “Dunleary” on her great pioneering voyage on June 20th 1923Saoirse departs from “Dunleary” on her great pioneering voyage on June 20th 1923

THE LAWLESS FAMILY AT SEA

While all this was working towards fulfilment, before the century turned, Limerick man Pat Lawless set off solo round the world in an International Folkboat - a very pretty little craft, but she wouldn’t have been everyone’s choice for the task he had in mind. So no-one was surprised that, when he eventually returned, it was in a hefty 32ft Seadog ketch. And he has left his two sons Pat Jnr and Peter, with the ambition of being the first Irish sailor to sail solo round the world non-stop, for that’s what Limerick’s Lawless sailing family do.

Thus in national and international sailing terms, Limerick and the Shannon Estuary and the river’s nearby lakes are pace-setters in Irish and global sailing. In fact, every brief examination reveals further layers of achievement and seagoing activity. There’s no doubting there’s much more to the Shannonside city than Terry Wogan, Richard Harris, Frank “God Help Us” McCourt, and Munster Rugby. Limerick is a gutsy town. And though the Earldom of Dunraven and the Knighthood of Glin are now extinct, their spirit is more alive than ever.

Published in W M Nixon
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Master boat-builder Steve Morris of Kilrush has been busy with new projects these days, what with the re-birth of the Dublin Bay 21s for Hal Sisk and Fionan de Barra of Dun Laoghaire, and the building of a St Ayles Skiff to provide a local boat-building class and the prospect of Kilrush participation in Skiff Regattas to international level. And currently, he is also beginning the building of a “smallish” classically-constructed timber carvel yacht.

However, the challenge which really put him on the national map was the re-creation of a traditional Shannon Hooker to a lovely-design by Myles Stapleton. This brought us the characterful 25ft gaff cutter Sally O’Keeffe, and she continues to sail merrily along after ten years.

 Despite being only 25ft hull length, Sally O’Keeffe is “all boat”, and provides the ideal vessel for community use. Photo: W M Nixon Despite being only 25ft hull length, Sally O’Keeffe is “all boat”, and provides the ideal vessel for community use. Photo: W M Nixon

Community-built under Steve’s direction in Querrin - one of those attractively secret places on the Shannon Estuary shore to the west of Kilrush - Sally O’Keeffe deserves to be better known. It would certainly be very worthwhile for some coastal communities to set about using the design to build their own multi-purpose “people’s boat”, as she won all five races in the Kilrush League, and did so with eight people on board every time when – thanks to October’s peculiarly localised weather – she was also able to set her topsail for each race.

Her building and sailing group Seol Sionna would be very willing to help any potential builders, both with plans and frames and deadwood patterns. Meanwhile, the October win has put them on such a high that there’s now talk of sailing her to the Douarnenez Traditional Festival in Brittany next year. There, her qualities will be much appreciated by those imbued with the true Breton fisherman spirit, though doubtless, the local opinion-formers will tend to claim – as they do - that she is clearly a French-inspired design when she is no such thing.

 There are now several sailors in Kilrush whose first experience of helming came on board Sally O’Keeffe. Photo: Seol Sionna There are now several sailors in Kilrush whose first experience of helming came on board Sally O’Keeffe. Photo: Seol Sionna

Published in Shannon Estuary

It’s not the first time that the organisers of the National Championships of Champions have found themselves playing footsie with volatile Autumn weather.

Ten days ago, the National Junior Championship at Schull was cancelled due to southerly gales. And last year, the GP 14s’ representative Ger Owens found himself and his crew Mel Morris, retaining the trophy in an extremely intense one-day programme at Sutton Dinghy Club, as it was abundantly clear that any attempt at a second day of racing would be blown clean away.

Thus, meteorological fingers are crossed for this coming weekend (7th – 8th October), when the famously hospitable Foynes Yacht Club on the Shannon Estuary are staging the event in 17ft Mermaids. The Mermaids first appeared in 1932, and have been a significant presence in Irish sailing since 1936, so it isn’t the first time they’ve been used as the championship boat. For we happen to know for certain that in the 1965 Championship at Skerries in Mermaids, the winner was one James Nixon of Dublin University SC, and doubtless other sailing clans can make similar claims.

An immaculately-prepared Mermaid from the Foynes fleet racing in the Shannon Estuary. Photo: Tony QuinlivanAn immaculately-prepared Mermaid from the Foynes fleet racing in the Shannon Estuary. Photo: Tony Quinlivan

But few of them can claim that their man or woman was going at it to make it three in a row, so it will be very interesting indeed to see how Owens shapes up out of his current comfort zone of the GP 14s. Experience suggests that he is multi-talented in the helming front. Meanwhile, those who are concerned about delays while the weather makes its mind up can be consoled by the fact that the sailors can otherwise occupy themselves with the flight simulator at the Foynes Flying Boat Museum near the club. Your correspondent once had a go at it, and managed to crash the Boeing 314 Clipper before he’d got beyond the simulated Loop Head.

Entry List 2023:

ILCA 7              Finn Lynch               National YC                               Paris Olympic qualification place for Ireland

 All Ireland Sailing - 2023 Entry List

Published in All Irelands

The Shannon Estuary’s resident population of bottlenose dolphins could be under threat from plans to transform the area into a green energy hub, a conservation group fears.

Plans revealed last month in the final report of the Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce envisage the delivery of up to 30GW of power from offshore wind energy projects in the estuary by the year 2015.

But according to the Irish Examiner, the news has prompted concern from the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) for the status of the estuary’s protected and unique dolphins.

Marine wildlife such as dolphins are especially sensitive to noise from human activity, such as that which would be involved in the construction and maintenance of offshore wind farms and other green energy infrastructure.

“We are lucky to have these dolphins, they are unique and it would be a tragedy if they were not there anymore in 30 years,” said the IWDG’s Dr Simon Berrow — who added that he has yet to receive a response after reaching out to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Environment Minister Eamon Ryan and the taskforce.

The Irish Examiner has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

Amateur radio enthusiasts from across Ireland's midwest gathered at Loop Head Lighthouse Experience on the Shannon Estuary in County Clare over the weekend to participate in the 26th annual International Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend (ILLW). The event, which saw the Limerick Clare Radio Amateur Club broadcast non-stop for 48 hours from the West Clare lighthouse, involved using Morse Code and Single Sideband Radio to contact lighthouses and lightships around the world.

The Limerick Clare Radio Amateur Club has had great success in previous years, having contacted fellow radio amateurs in countries such as Australia, Brazil, and the US Virgin Islands. During this year's broadcast, visitors to the lighthouse were able to listen in on communications with some of the 500 lighthouses and lightships in over 40 countries that were activated by amateur radio enthusiasts.

Loop Head Lighthouse is an ideal location for long-distance radio communication attempts due to its isolated location on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and the lack of radio interference in the general area. The Club operated two stations during the weekend, one of which was at the entrance to the Lighthouse so members of the public could listen to some of the transmissions.

Loop Head Lighthouse is one of 17 Great Lighthouses of Ireland and has become one of West Clare's most popular attractions since it first opened to visitors in 2011Loop Head Lighthouse is one of 17 Great Lighthouses of Ireland and has become one of West Clare's most popular attractions since it first opened to visitors in 2011

Joe Ryan, Secretary of the Limerick Clare Amateur Radio Club, expressed his gratitude to all the staff of Clare County Council and the Commissioners of Irish Lights for their help in planning the event and allowing them to use the grounds as part of the International Lighthouse and Lightships Weekend.

Loop Head Lighthouse Experience is one of 17 Great Lighthouses of Ireland and has become one of West Clare's most popular attractions since it first opened to visitors in 2011. The lighthouse also serves as one of two Signature Discovery Points in County Clare along the route of the Wild Atlantic Way.

Overall, the event was a great success and brought together radio enthusiasts from all over the world to share their love of communication and lighthouses.

See here for more information on the International Lighthouse and Lightships Weekend

Published in Shannon Estuary

The naturally-sheltered and historic little port of Carrigaholt on the south shore of the Loop Head peninsula in far southwest County Clare is where sea and land and the outer Shannon Estuary colourfully interact to provide a unique sense and celebration of time past as they live on in the present.

There will be music every evening in all the pubs for three days of the Feile na Sionna from the 14th to 16th July.

At the core of the festival is a distinguished lineup of speakers headed up by leading maritime folklorist Criostoir McCarthy will provide entertaining and informative introductions to a wide range of topics of special local and broader interest. There are also guided walks ashore, and while several Shannon Estuary boats of Seol Sionna will be in port and active, the main highlight afloat will be racing on the Saturday afternoon by the West Clare Currach Club.

Carrigaholt's Shannon Estuary FestivalCarrigaholt's Shannon Estuary Festival

Published in Shannon Estuary
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Every Year Ireland's Search & Rescue Services deliver emergency life saving work on our seas, lakes and rivers.

Ireland's Water Safety Agencies work hard to provide us with the information we need to keep safe, while enjoying all manner of water based activities.

There's no better fun than getting out on the water but being afloat is a responsibility we all need to take seriously.

These pages detail the work of the rescue agencies. We also aim to promote safety standards among pleasure boaters, and by doing so, prevent, as far as possible, the loss of life at sea and on inland waters. If you have ideas for our pages we'd love to hear from you. Please email us at [email protected]

Think Before You Sink - Wear a Lifejacket

Accidents can happen fast on water and there may not be time to reach for a lifejacket in an emergency therefore don't just carry a lifejacket - wear it; if it's not on you, it can't save your life.

Irish Water Safety's Safe Boating Alert:

Check condition of boat and equipment, hull, engine, fuel, tools, torch.

Check the weather forecast for the area.

Check locally concerning dangerous currents and strong tides.

Do not drink alcohol while setting out or during your trip.

Carry an alternative means of propulsion e.g. sails and oars or motor and oars.

Carry a first aid kit on board and distress signals (at least two parachute distress rockets, two red hand flares).

Carry a fire extinguisher, a hand bailer or bucket with lanyard and an anchor with rope attached.

Carry marine radio or some means of communication with shore.

Do not overload the boat - this will make it unstable.

Do not set out unless accompanied by an experienced person.

Leave details of your planned trip with someone ashore - including departure and arrival times, description of boat, names of persons on board, etc.

Wear a Lifejacket at all times.

Keep an eye on the weather - seek shelter in good time.

In Marine Emergencies, call 999 or 112 and ask for Marine Rescue.

Lifejackets Checklist

Ensure Cartridges have not been punctured and are secured firmly.

Ensure all zips, buckles, fasteners and webbing straps are functioning correctly and adjusted to fit the user.

Check that fitted lights are operating correctly.

Ensure that Automatic Inflation devices are fully serviced and in date.

Check that the valve or lifejacket is not leaking.