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Ben Mulligan

22nd November 2022
The late Ben Mulligan (right) in his Flying Fifteen 'Enfant de Marie' with Cormac Bradley
The late Ben Mulligan (right) in his Flying Fifteen with Cormac Bradley Credit: FFAI

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;”

Mark Anthony’s speech on the death of Julius Caesar
From Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

Fortunately, the style of funeral oratory has changed dramatically since these Roman times or indeed Shakespearian times, because those of us who attended Ben Mulligan’s funeral mass a few short weeks ago, got to hear of the “good” that Ben did in his far too short a life that ended so suddenly and tragically.

As his siblings, Mary Jane and Jonathan, addressed a packed, standing-room-only St Joseph’s in Glasthule at the conclusion of his funeral mass, we learned of his early childhood in Sandycove and the games and activities they would get up to together on the beach, a stone’s throw from their front door. Mary Jane would testify to the love he had for his children Hannah and Eugene and of the immense pride he had in their achievements. Mary Jane spoke of the thought that he put into presents for family members, nieces and nephews and his efforts to make sure that the present would be used and valued. We heard how he regularly visited his mother in Sandycove after his father’s passing and how they would share, in awe, a murder story on TV together, even though they had probably seen it many times before. We learned of his diverse tastes in music and his ability to debate the merits of poetry and prose, with anyone who cared to take him on.

We learned that Ben was an active, committed and popular member of the Dominic Street Conference of St Vincent De Paul, who always had time for a chat and a bit of humour when he made his visits to those who were struggling to make ends meet.

We learned of his commitment to coaching Eugene’s rugby team down in Killorglin, Kerry and the apparently seamless way in which he mixed with the other parents in this endeavour, even though a lot of the time he was a short-time visitor.

And finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, we learned that he had just joined the Dun Laoghaire Choral Society a month earlier. A letter from another member described how Ben had endeared himself to his fellow choristers over a one-hour lunch break. Strangers at the start of lunch, the letter described how over the course of an hour, the writer of the letter came to consider Ben a friend with whom he could comfortably have a pint!

But in this forum, it is Ben, the Flying Fifteen sailor, that I wish to acknowledge. In many ways, I am the least qualified to write this obituary because I have known Ben for a much shorter period than many others of the Flying Fifteen Dun Laoghaire fleet – they have known him half a lifetime.

Ben and I were introduced at the end of the 2016 summer sailing season, on the eve of the Flying Fifteen Frostbites that are sailed in October and November. We agreed to sail on a particularly blustery Saturday, with a wind direction that makes getting out of the DMYC corner of the harbour a challenging affair. Between the pontoon at the DMYC and the Icehouse (recently demolished) we filled the cockpit of “As Good As It Gets, 3688” twice, and I wondered what I had let myself in for! Once out on the racecourse, however, we hit it off immediately. Ben’s plan was to contest the 2019 Flying Fifteen Worlds, scheduled for Dun Laoghaire and coming ashore that blustery Saturday, Ben offered me a “contract” to sail with him and achieve that 2019 goal.

In 2017, we won the George Arthur Newsome Trophy, one of DBSC’s Special Trophies, for the best one design performance. In 2019, at the Worlds, we won the Silver fleet, counting an 8th place in one race. And in provincial regattas, we had our individual moments, but never had quite enough of them to get onto the front of fleet podium, but other fleet prizes marked our progress through the ranks. Throughout, this whole period, I can only recall “having words” with Ben once, a Saturday afternoon DBSC race when we found ourselves on the wrong side of the run, fighting the tide and losing out to everyone else on the opposite side of the course. It didn’t last long! For Ben never seemed to get openly annoyed or frustrated when things went wrong. A broken carbon fibre spinnaker pole, caught by the kicker on the way out to the start of a Thursday DBSC race was a “C’est la vie” moment rather than a cause of annoyance. It cost us a DNC that night, but he wasn’t flustered!

On the last day of the 2019 Worlds, as we came ashore, Ben shook my hand and thanked me for the previous two years of sailing and for the friendship that had evolved between us. “I’m taking a break from the Fifteens”, he explained. It was a natural end to a campaign that had achieved a favourable result. A few weeks later he rang me and “put another contract on the table”. He explained that, on reflection, he had enjoyed the previous two years so much he had ordered a new Flying Fifteen.

The late Ben Mulligan (left) in his Flying Fifteen 'Enfant de Marie' with Cormac Bradley at the Dublin Bay 2022 National Championships hosted by the National Yacht Club Photo: AfloatThe late Ben Mulligan (left) in his Flying Fifteen 'Enfant de Marie' with Cormac Bradley at the Dublin Bay 2022 National Championships hosted by the National Yacht Club Photo: Afloat

“Enfant de Marie, 4081” arrived under a Covid cloud in 2020 and Ben decided to take some time to see “what was what” before she launched for that summer season. Having got her blessed, we went out and won our first DBSC race. On October 1st, 2022, Ben and I sailed the last DBSC race of the season and won again. Unbeknown to us both, it was to be the last time we would sail together. Thus, our time together was bookended by Saturday DBSC race wins.

Ben was a wonderful, supportive friend to everyone in the Flying Fifteen fleet and beyond in the sailing community. In recent years he lent his support and gave his time to the Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club as Sailing Secretary and organiser of the Junior Training over the past two summers. He acted as Race Officer for the DMYC Frostbites and for DBSC.

Ben had his own demons in times past, but by the time I met him, he had brought those under control and the post-race enquiry in the DMYC on a Thursday night or a Saturday afternoon was conducted over a pot of tea “and whatever you’re having yourself”.

As well as being an active competitive participant, he was a past President of the Flying Fifteen Association of Ireland and was currently serving as fixture secretary. In the past two seasons, he attended all bar two of the provincial regattas, renewing acquaintances at each of the venues we went to! He was always warmly welcomed in Strangford, Portaferry, Connemara, Whitehead, Lough Derg, Lough Neagh and Dunmore East and other venues on the Flying Fifteen circuit. He attended most of the Flying Fifteen World Championships in recent years, in Durban, New Zealand, Hayling Island and Port de Pollensa in Mallorca, France where he made an impression on those he met.

But most of all, in one-to-one encounters he was engaging, humorous, generous and could tell a good story. He found it easy to put you at ease. And for those reasons alone, aside from all the good stuff he did, he will be very sorely missed over the coming winter and at the start of the new summer season. We will look around and ask – Where’s Ben?

“I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to guide her by”

Sea Fever, by John Masefield.

Fair winds Ben; we hope you have your star to guide your onward passage! R.I.P.

CB

Cormac Bradley

About The Author

Cormac Bradley

Email The Author

Dublin Bay Fireballer Cormac Bradley was appointed Rear Commodore of the International Fireball Class in 2017. He is a regular dinghy and one design correspondent on Afloat.ie

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Flying Fifteen - At A Glance

Overall Length 20 ft6.1 m

Waterline Length 15 ft4.6 m

Mast Height 22 ft 6 in6.86 m

Sail Area 150 sq ft14 sqm

Spinnaker Area 140 sq ft13 sqm

Hull Weight 300 lb136 kg

Keel Weight 400 lb169 kg

Minimum Weight 685 lb305 kg

Racing Crew Two

Ideal Crew Range 18 - 28 st145 - 185 kg

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