His many friends in international sailing and the global mining industry will be delighted to hear that the legendary Dave FitzGerald celebrated his 90th birthday at a very convivial gathering of family and close friends in the Royal St George YC in Dun Laoghaire at the weekend, hosted by his daughter Grainne writes W M Nixon.
Dave FitzGerald is best known as a legend of west coast and particularly Galway Bay sailing, but these days he lives in Dublin to be near his daughters, and old shipmates from the west coast came across country to join the great man as he entered his tenth decade.
His careers in mining and sailing - and indeed sports generally - are all decidedly high-powered. He is renowned for his utter fearlessness in the hunting field, and he brought the same total enthusiasm to his sailing. When he owned the 40ft sloop Partizan in the early days of the Round Ireland Race, he was a committed supporter of this new event starting and finishing in Wicklow. This meant that in order to participate, Partizan had to sail round Ireland twice, but it was the sort of thing the great men and women of west coast sailing could take in their stride.
When sailing took over from hunting for the summer season, if not racing he would go cruising – sometimes very extensively - and he was a popular member of the Irish Cruising Club, elected in 1966. In those days, cruising boats were few and far between on the Atlantic seaboard, but Dave encouraged others to take part in a sport which is now thriving in that challenging area. Meanwhile, he became part of the ICC administration, moving up through the committee and various offices until on the advent of the new Millennium in 2000, he became the ICC’s first Commodore from the west, hosting many memorable events.
Dave FitzGerald’s long and very active life has encompassed several eras of sailing, and seen many changes in design and boat use. When he returned to Ireland after very impressive experiences in some extraordinarily remote mining operations in many parts of the world, it was to develop Tynagh Mine near Loughrea in County Galway. Having decided that the area would be his longtime base of operations, and that Galway Bay would be his new sailing home, he bought his first cruiser in Dun Laoghaire, a little Snapdragon 26 which he called Pegeen.
Being impatient to start sailing in Galway Bay as soon as possible, he researched the best way of having the new boat delivered across country, and discovered that owing to some clerical oversight, the freight rate charged by CIE Rail for such a boat from Dun Laoghaire station to Galway by flatbed rail-truck was precisely 7/6d – seven shillings and sixpence, or about 38 pence in today’s pound sterling.
Apparently, no boat had been moved in this way for a very long time, and so the freight charges were still at 19th Century rates. So Pegeen - conveniently a twin keeler – was moved across Ireland to Galway Bay with no trouble at all at a pocket-money price, and Dave FitzGerald was launched into a new chapter of his remarkable sailing career which, with his many other adventures, was celebrated in proper style at his 90th birthday party.