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Have the Herons Gone Completely from Kilbarrack?

19th May 2021
It's some time around 1960, and with the tide flooding gently into Sutton Creek, the Heron Class are getting ready to race at Kilbarrack Sailing Club, while beyond a Snipe crew are preparing to board their newly-floating boat on her drying mooring
It's some time around 1960, and with the tide flooding gently into Sutton Creek, the Heron Class are getting ready to race at Kilbarrack Sailing Club, while beyond a Snipe crew are preparing to board their newly-floating boat on her drying mooring Credit: W G Stokes

These evocative photos of the Heron Class in their prime in the early 1960s at Kilbarrack Sailing Club are a reminder that there are concerns about the well-being of avian herons in general in the north Dublin Bay region. Our beloved "feathered pterodactyls" seemed to have closed down their relatively new base at the foot of the Howth Castle grounds opposite Howth station, and there's little or no sign of activity in the long-established heronry in St Anne's Park in Raheny. We can only hope they've moved on to another site in that extensive demesne, and any good news of heron well-being will be very welcome.

Meanwhile, the photos – they emerged from a covid-clearout up on the Baily – are of the Jack Holt-designed Heron Dinghies at a Kilbarrack racing gathering in Sutton Creek. And they remind us of when the now-defunct Kilbarrack Sailing Club was a real force in Irish sailing. The tiny club produced talents of the calibre of Roy Dickson, Romaine Cagney who skippered the first all female crew in the 1988 Round Ireland Race, and many others who could trace their earliest experiences to the flotilla of American-designed Snipe dinghies that used to lie to drying moorings off the little KSC clubhouse.

When craftsmanship was still king. Some of the Herons were noted for being built to the highest levels of professional skill. Note too that every stone of the Kilbarrack embankment was carefully hand laid to get a smooth overall finish – nowadays, crude-but-effective rock armour would be used. And note also that it's still clear water all the way inside the Bull Island to Clontarf. Photo: W G Stokes   When craftsmanship was still king. Some of the Herons were noted for being built to the highest levels of professional skill. Note too that every stone of the Kilbarrack embankment was carefully hand laid to get a smooth overall finish – nowadays, crude-but-effective rock armour would be used. And note also that it's still clear water all the way inside the Bull Island to Clontarf. Photo: W G Stokes  

Senior sailors like Romaine used to remember the joy of being able to sail the full length of the sheltered water inside the Bull Island all the way to the Wooden Bridge at Clontarf, when strong onshore conditions might make Dublin Bay itself unsailable. The contrast was such that a local councillor proposed that this bit of magic water be known as The Blue Lagoon. The name is still used by senior locals, but more recent generations only know it as a shrinking creek, ever since the Council put a causeway across to the Bull Island at the foot of Watermill Road, but shortsightedly failed to put any through-pipes into it to maintain the flow of the tide and combat silting.

In the days before the Bull Island was connected to land with a fixed causeway with no tidal through-flow, for four to five hours around high water Kilbarrack Sailing Club had sheltered sailing water the entire length of "The Blue Lagoon" all the way along to the Wooden Bridge at ClontarfIn the days before the Bull Island was connected to land with a fixed causeway with no tidal through-flow, for four to five hours around high water Kilbarrack Sailing Club had sheltered sailing water the entire length of "The Blue Lagoon" all the way along to the Wooden Bridge at Clontarf

Thus the Blue Lagoon is a fading memory in every sense, and so too are the Herons dinghies. Once upon a time, they throve mightily at a number of Irish sailing centres, and these photos will ring many memory bells among our more senior readers. But they will also probably be reminded that the Heron-Mirror Total War in Irish dinghy sailing was starting to gather full steam at the time. 

Heron Class start at Kilbarrack – good luck to whoever made that cheeky port tack approach. Meanwhile, in the foreground, a young skipper called Mossy Shanahan with his model yacht has a long way to go in learning about optimum heeling angles for serious windward work. Photo: W G StokesHeron Class start at Kilbarrack – good luck to whoever made that cheeky port tack approach. Meanwhile, in the foreground, a young skipper called Mossy Shanahan with his model yacht has a long way to go in learning about optimum heeling angles for serious windward work. Photo: W G Stokes

The Heron was an attractive little boat which looked like a boat. But while the newer easily-built Mirror looked like very few people's notion of what a classic sailing dinghy should be, as a design concept it was hugely versatile, a work of genius. And though there was blood in the streets by the time the war was over, it was ultimately a matter of total victory for the Mirror dinghy.

Which means that, in a way, these portraits of the Heron class in full confident joy at Kilbarrack are slightly reminiscent of those poignantly dreamy photos you'll find of the good life throughout Europe in the few years of plenty before the lights went out with the Great War in August 1914…

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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