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Sheila Morrison 1927-2020

6th February 2020
Sheila Morrison at Howth YC in 2015 after a typical day afloat “doing some sailing and catching a few mackerel” Sheila Morrison at Howth YC in 2015 after a typical day afloat “doing some sailing and catching a few mackerel” Photo: courtesy Bothwell family

Sheila Morrison of Howth, who has died aged 92, had a natural talent for sailing. But in her many years, she demonstrated that her greatest gift was as a supportive and loving wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother and friend who brought out the best in a remarkable extended family for whom boats and sailing – both on the sea and on the inland waterways - were a natural part of their way of life.

She was a Maguire, a daughter of Cecil Maguire who was originally from the inland waterways town of Enniskillen, but in the golden years just before World War I had found the best outlet for his engineering and mechanical talents in Dublin, where he was a pioneer in the rapidly-expanding motor trade.

This meant that his primary interest afloat was in developing motor-boats. But as the family home from the 1930s was beside the north shore of Dublin Bay where Kibarrack is veering into Sutton, his four children - Neville, Sheila, David and Romaine - were able to learn their sometimes self-taught sailing in dinghies in the sheltered inner waters of Sutton Creek inside Bull Island with the nascent Kilbarrack SC.

Cirrus 1950 grand canal2Cecil Maguire’s 40ft Thorneycroft motor-cruiser Cirrus on the Grand Canal in 1950, with the well-laden working canal boat 69M going past on her work. Even as young teenagers, the Maguire children had been expected to be able to re-position the 1945-bought Cirrus unaccompanied to the next cruising destination on the inland waterways, or bring her out to Howth if need be. Photo: David Maguire
However, as Cecil’s own sailing base was Howth, where he’d the 26ft 1894-built gaff cutter Marie and then after 1945 the comfortable 40ft Thorneycroft motor-cruiser Cirrus (which he bought at Lucan on the Royal Canal), he was keen that Howth Motor Yacht Club should share in this encouragement of young dinghy sailors, and seventy-seven years ago Sheila became the first of his children to join the club.

She was able to do so because she was at school in Dublin while her older brother Neville was away at school in Cork. He joined a few weeks later when he came home for the summer holidays, but it remained a matter of quietly amused satisfaction to Sheila for the rest of her life that she was senior to her renowned older brother Neville – subsequently a multiple champion - in terms of Howth sailing membership.

She was further drawn into the Howth scene with marriage in 1950 to Jim Higginbotham, whose wider family were involved with both HMYC and Howth Sailing Club, and they soon had two daughters – Gaye and Judy – while their sailing developed with Jim going into partnership in the Howth 17 Mimosa with a Dublin-based airline pilot from Cork, Paddy Kirwan, who later was to be President of the Irish Yachting Association.

sheila 1947 cirrus3 Jim Higginbotham and Sheila Maguire aboard Cirrus in Howth, 1947

Meanwhile, in Howth the major dredging of the harbour in the mid-1960s provided an opportunity to amalgamate the two clubs, an epic story in which Jim and Sheila found themselves playing a key role, as Jim became the Commodore of Howth SC (only the third one since its foundation in 1895) only on condition that HSC and HMYC continued with active negotiations to become one as Howth Yacht Club.

This was duly achieved in 1967-68. It may all seem a straightforward amalgamation in retrospect, but conservative feelings ran deep in the old guard in HSC, a notably purist organization, and Sheila’s kindness and charm as the Commodore’s wife - combined with her own family links to HMYC where both her daughters were in the Junior Training Programme – quietly played a key role in achieving a successful outcome.

Family life afloat and ashore continued with the notably fit Sheila keeping trim as a regular swimmer and badminton player in addition to sailing, and in time she and Jim had two sons-in-law with the inevitable connection to boats developing, airline captain Derek Bothwell who married Gaye and lived in Howth, and architect Stuart Hamilton, married to Judy, whose main interest was in the inland waterways – he was one of those who developed the private marina at Gortmore on Lough Derg.

sheila 1962 mimosa4Sheila on the helm in the Howth 17 Mimosa in 1962 with her sister Romaine Cagney and the next generation who are: Gaye Higginbotham (on afterdeck), Pamela Cagney (front left), Susan Maguire, Roger Cagney (later Commodore HYC), and Judy Higginbotham on right. Photo: Neville Maguire
In 1975 Jim and son-in-law Derek went into partnership with the Folkboat Mistral, and contributed greatly to the growth of this then-very-active class in Howth, which at its peak was pushing towards two dozen actively raced and cruised boats. But it was a sadly short-lived arrangement, as Jim Higginbotham died in 1979. It was a personal tragedy which left the extended family bereft, yet in time was to show Sheila’s remarkable powers of resilience while reinforcing her lively and mutually entertaining interest in her growing extended family.

The vitality of the family was such that by the time of her death, Sheila had seven grandchildren and fourteen great-grandchildren, with all of whom she maintained a busy and informative relationship. She kept herself well up to speed with the latest communication technology not because she felt it was the right thing to do, but because she was a Maguire and the interested and intelligent use of technology was in her DNA.

She cherished personal independence and continued driving herself to the end, while in her eighties, during a visit to family in Australia, she did an extensive self-drive tour of South Australia with a hired camper-van.

Meanwhile, her sailing had moved into another area with a second marriage in 1985 to the widowed Ian Morrison of Howth, a former offshore racing and cruising veteran with whom Jim Higginbotham had sailed, and whose sea-going interests were now taken up with the Mediterranean-based Halberg Rassy 42 ketch Safari of Howth aboard which they cruised extensively before Ian’s death in 2004.

That was a cruel year for Sheila as her younger sister Romaine Cagney – like all the Maguires a hyper-keen sailor and parent of sailors - also died, but in due course the Sheila Morrison resilience reasserted itself, and life went on afloat and ashore.

By this stage she was a lead figure in a very large family sailing scene, with son Derek Bothwell serving as Howth YC Commodore from 2002-2004, a role also filled by her nephew Roger Cagney, while another nephew was, of course, international sailing superstar Gordon Maguire, Neville’s son.

Yet for Sheila Morrison, all relatives were of equal interest, while her own direct and now-large family were her sustaining passion in an extraordinary global mutual-support system of constant communication and encouraging and loving interest.

Her funeral in Howth was an inspiring mixture of sadness and celebration, a true expression of the place and the people who are in it and sail from it. As for Sheila Morrison, she may have been 92, but it would entirely miss the point to describe her as being 92 years old. Sheila Morrison was never old.

WMN

Published in Howth YC
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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Howth Yacht Club is the largest members sailing club in Ireland, with almost 2,000 members. The club welcomes inquiries about membership - see top of this page for contact details.

Howth Yacht Club originated as Howth Sailing Club in 1895. In 1968 Howth Sailing Club combined with Howth Motor Yacht Club, which had operated from the West Pier since 1935, to form Howth Yacht Club. The new clubhouse was opened in 1987 with further extensions carried out and more planned for the future including dredging and expanded marina facilities.

HYC caters for sailors of all ages and run sailing courses throughout the year as part of being an Irish Sailing accredited training facility with its own sailing school.

The club has a fully serviced marina with berthing for 250 yachts and HYC is delighted to be able to welcome visitors to this famous and scenic area of Dublin.

New applications for membership are always welcome and can be accessed through its official website.

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