There were several notable Irish sailing families with their names up in lights more than once at Saturday evening’s virtual awards ceremony for the annual achievements in Irish sailing. But none could match the seaborn diversity of an ancient tribe whose ancestral lands are in south county Clare along the north shore of the Shannon Estuary, where they have developed a long and vibrant association with Limerick city.
Yet like all Irish families of note, these days the Mac Mahons (or MacMahon or McMahon) also have a global presence, their most notable expats being in France. There, a descendent of one of the Wild Geese who left Ireland after the defeats of the wars in the 17th Century was Patrice de MacMahon (1808-1893), 6th Marquess of MacMahon and 1st Duke of Magenta, a noted soldier who rose to become a Marshal of France and then, on going into politics, was President of the French Republic from 1875 to 1879.
Back home meanwhile, the MacMahons who stayed on in Ireland gradually emerged from the years of conquered oppression to re-build their lives over generations, and they have long since been in roles of distinction in many areas of local and national life. But nevertheless Saturday’s awards were something special in the family’s long history, as Gary MacMahon of Limerick received the President’s Award for his many years of devotion to the cause of restoring the 56ft 1926-built Conor O’Brien trading ketch Ilen with such success that she was able to voyage to Greenland in 2019.
In a completely different area of sailing, Eve McMahon of Howth was honoured as Youth Sailor of the Year for taking Gold in the U17 Division in the Laser Youth Worlds in Canada and other successes, while her brother Jamie McMahon was the Junior Sailor of the Month for April on the strength of his victory as Laser Radial overall title-holder in the Irish Youth Championship in Crosshaven.
All these successes are very much of our time. But there was a special salute to the Mac Mahon history as Ilen took her departure from Limerick for Greenland in July 2019. Her final anchorage in the Shannon Estuary before taking on the Atlantic was at Carrigaholt, where the stronghold of Mac Mahons in southwest Clare – Carrigaholt Castle built around 1480s – still stands, now maintained by the office of Public Works as a well-preserved if empty shell which eloquently serves – as does Ilen herself – as a tangible link to times past.