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Cormac McHenry 1936-2023

4th January 2024
A man of the mountains and the sea – Cormac McHenry balanced a busy professional life with treasured time in the hills or on the ocean
A man of the mountains and the sea – Cormac McHenry balanced a busy professional life with treasured time in the hills or on the ocean Credit: courtesy McHenry family

Cormac McHenry of Dun Laoghaire, who died on December 22nd at the age of 87, was a highly-regarded sailing enthusiast with a particular interest in short-handed long-distance cruising, a quietly determined enthusiast who had many other interests including Leinster rugby, all of which he pursued with the same devoted, serious and intelligent focus that he brought to the world of boats.

His boyhood as the oldest of four children was in Dublin in Rathgar and Terenure, and he acquired his lifelong love of rugby in Terenure College. But by the time he was taking Electrical Engineering in University College Dublin, he was into motor-cycling and car rallying, a speciality in the latter being as a navigator.

Initially developing his career in the corporate world as an engineer after further training with General Electric in England, he went on to several postings in Ireland with major companies. This involved a peripatetic lifestyle for his already expanding young family, for in UCD he’d taken the first steps towards a long and happy marriage of 67 years to Barbara Nevin, the daughter of the UCD Professor of Physics.

STARTING WITH SELF-BUILD ENTERPRISE DINGHY

They’d five daughters whose earliest childhood memories include an early period of living near Drogheda in County Louth, while their busy father - having worked through his fascination with high speed cars to the conclusion it was dangerously inappropriate for a young husband with a growing family - was to build himself an Enterprise dinghy to develop his interest in sailing, initially with the Boyne Yacht Club at Mornington.

Early days – Enterprise Class (and one lone GP14) racing with the Boyne Yacht Club at Mornington. Photo courtesy Linda PattonEarly days – Enterprise Class (and one lone GP14) racing with the Boyne Yacht Club at Mornington. Photo courtesy Linda Patton

This was taken a stage higher with an aspiration to the Olympic ideal with an International Finn, which seemed to the children to involve complex family holidays featuring long and dusty driving with the heavy boat in the car roof down the sometimes rudimentary Spanish and Portuguese roads of those days, in order to reach some major Finn regatta venue, representing Ireland at places like Cascais.

Cormac’s final seasons of dinghy racing were with the demanding International Finn ClassCormac’s final seasons of dinghy racing were with the demanding International Finn Class

However, by the time he took up a position in Waterford his interest in sailing had developed into what became his lifelong enthusiasm for cruising and voyaging, and in due course he launched his 6-ton Kerry Class cruiser Ring of Kerry for the first time, lowering her gently into the river for the first time afloat in the heart of Waterford.

SELF-COMPLETED KERRY CLASS

He’d finished the boat himself from a bare hull to a notably high standard with skills developed with both the Enterprise and the Finn and other DIY projects which gave him special satisfaction. But while he was to make many longtime sailing friends in Waterford sailing’s focal point in Dunmore East with WHSC, a further career change of direction brought him back to Dublin, where in time Barbara reinforced her links to UCD administration by becoming the Examinations Officer for every branch of that expanding university.

The extensively-voyaged Kerry Class 6-tonner Ring of Kerry was completed by Cormac from a bare hull, and her first sailing was with Waterford Harbour SC at Dunmore East. She is seen here at an ICC Rally in Port Dinorwic on the Menai Straits in North Wales. Photo: Ronan BeirneThe extensively-voyaged Kerry Class 6-tonner Ring of Kerry was completed by Cormac from a bare hull, and her first sailing was with Waterford Harbour SC at Dunmore East. She is seen here at an ICC Rally in Port Dinorwic on the Menai Straits in North Wales. Photo: Ronan Beirne

Cormac in turn had found his real and spiritual nautical home in the National Yacht Club, which he joined in 1967. From the very beginning of his 56 years of membership, he found the National to be congenial, so much so that his daughter Susan Spain – currently the NYC Honorary Sailing Secretary – said in her Eulogy at his very well-attended funeral on December 27th that the NYC is now in the McHenry DNA, something reflected in the fact that in his mature years, Cormac served for a long time as a National YC Trustee.

His long career - both ashore and afloat – had taken the ideal course to achieve that highly-respected position in club administration. In professional life, despite his engineering qualifications his particular interest developed in labour relations and the resolution of workplace disputes, and by the time he retired, he had become a much-respected Member of the Labour Court, a satisfying involvement in a key area of Irish life that had come about with a fresh career change in the mid 1980s.

SAIL TRAINING IDEAL

Meanwhile, in developing his sailing experiences, he was naturally drawn to the sail training ideal, and was one of the few in the Irish maritime community in recent years who could still look back to a long interaction with Coiste an Asgard, first with the original Asgard in her sail training role from 1968, then with her successor the ketch Creidne which is now with the Naval Service Yacht Squadron in Haulbowline on Cork Harbour, and most rewardingly with the 84ft Sail Training Brigantine Asgard II from 1981 onwards.

The original Asgard in Dublin Bay in her time as a sail training vessel – Cormac McHenry was one of the few in the contemporary Irish sailing scene who had sailed as a Watch Officer on Asgard, on her successor Creidne, and also on the brigantine Asgard II. Photo: Des BarringtonThe original Asgard in Dublin Bay in her time as a sail training vessel – Cormac McHenry was one of the few in the contemporary Irish sailing scene who had sailed as a Watch Officer on Asgard, on her successor Creidne, and also on the brigantine Asgard II. Photo: Des Barrington

However, despite his active involvement with other sailors and their boats, he was always determined to have one of his own, and thus completing Ring of Kerry had been satisfying in many ways, not least in its opportunities for technical and philosophical exchanges with the boat’s designer O’Brien Kennedy MRINA, whose seagoing experience was reflected in his membership of the Irish Cruising Club, an organisation to which Cormac himself was to be elected in 1980, with Barbara joining in 1993.

In his 43 years of membership of the ICC, he cruised extensively firstly in Ring of Kerry, then the Nicholson 31 Erquy (named for the Breton port in which he and Barbara has spent their honeymoon), and finally in the remarkably comfortable American-designed and built Island Packet 40, whose name of Island Life reflected Cormac’s sense of self-reliance afloat, while also providing the perfect boat for his later years, when he and Barbara spent several seasons based at Portosin on northwest Spain’s Galician coast.

The Nicholson 31 Erquy returnes to the National YC in 1997 at the conclusion of a much-awarded solo Atlantic circuit cruise. Photo: Ronan BeirneThe Nicholson 31 Erquy returnes to the National YC in 1997 at the conclusion of a much-awarded solo Atlantic circuit cruise. Photo: Ronan Beirne

His many years of cruising of every kind brought a return to his fellow enthusiasts, for during his 43 years of membership of the Irish Cruising Club, he gave unstintingly of his time in voluntary roles for a continuous 17 of those years, starting as a Committee Member and then going on to become the Honorary Secretary from 1990 to 2003, the Rear Commodore in 2003-2004, then Vice Commodore in 2003-2004, and finally Commodore in 2004-2005.

Additionally, he served as standby Editor of the ICC Annual if the official Editor happened to be away in an extended cruise, and in all his roles, his fastidious attention to detail and the procedurally correct made a major contribution to the Irish Cruising Club’s ability to take on its growing status in the international cruising and voyaging world.

This in turn saw his own international cruising club memberships and friendships expanding. He joined the Ocean Cruising Club in 1990, and was elected to the 1880-founded Royal Cruising Club in 1999, while his significant positions in the ICC saw friendships develop with both the Clyde Cruising Club and the Cruising Club of America.

INTENSELY PERSONAL VOYAGING

But all this was the outward manifestation of a friendly and helpful yet very private person, whose own special interest continued to develop in his own intensely personal voyaging. This initially was undertaken in the pre-GPS area, when he derived much satisfaction from using his own skills in celestial navigation to arrive precisely on target at the conclusion of his first ocean passage, from Ireland to the Azores single-handed in the little Ring of Kerry in 1989. This venture had become such a satisfyingly complete cruise on his return that he was awarded the Irish Cruising Club’s premier trophy, the Faulkner Cup.

Game for adventure – Cormac and Barbara in expedition mode in 2011.Game for adventure – Cormac and Barbara in expedition mode in 2011

He was to go on to receive the Faulkner Cup again in 1997, for a solo Atlantic Circuit cruise with the Nicholson 31 Erquy, but his cruising by this stage was so frequent and extensive that at various stages he had been awarded the ICC’s Strangford Cup for an alternative best cruise in 1996 and the Atlantic Trophy in the same year, while earlier - to underline his deeply-felt interest in all things Irish - he was awarded the Round Ireland Cup with Erquy in 1995.

Ocean voyaging continued with the acquisition of Island Packet, and like many more senior Irish cruising folk, he and Barbara were drawn to the attractions of northwest Spain, with his final cruising years being happily spent there with Island Life.

Home from home for a senior cruising man – Island Life in Galicia in Northwest SpainHome from home for a senior cruising man – Island Life in Galicia in Northwest Spain

However, back home the new generation was coming along in Dun Laoghaire sailing with his daughter Susan - now Susan Spain – moving through the ranks of National YC administration to become the Honorary Sailing Secretary of the Club. She has done this in such a clearly defined personal way that not all the club’s large membership were aware that she was the daughter of their long-serving Trustee, Cormac McHenry.

REMEMBERED WITH THE DUBLIN BAY WATER WAGS

But this relationship was demonstrated in a very Dun Laoghaire style when Susan commissioned and launched her new Dublin Bay Water Wag at the NYC last September. Classically built by master craftsman Rui Ferreira of Ballydehob in West Cork, this latest manifestation of a local class dating back to 1887 was to be named Cormac, and it was the man himself who made one of his last appearances when asked to perform the naming ceremony in traditional style.

 The 1887-founded Water Wags in action in Dun Laoghaire Harbour. The newest boat for the class, the 2023-built Cormac, was named in honour of her father Cormac McHenry by owner Susan Spain, the Honorary Sailing Secretary of the National YC. Photo: W M Nixon The 1887-founded Water Wags in action in Dun Laoghaire Harbour. The newest boat for the class, the 2023-built Cormac, was named in honour of her father Cormac McHenry by owner Susan Spain, the Honorary Sailing Secretary of the National YC. Photo: W M Nixon

Typically, in his special appreciation of the workmanship involved, Cormac flatly refused to smash the bottle over the stemhead. Instead, he poured some of the champagne with gentle and loving care over a small area of the immaculate varnishwork, leaving everyone with an abiding final memory of a great sailor and assiduous servant of sailing, a skilled technician and craftsman who, when asked, was always generous with practical and sound advice, particularly when it was something to do with boats and sailing and the people who go with them.

RB & WMN

Published in National 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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The home club of Laser Radial Olympic Silver medalist Annalise Murphy, the National Yacht Club is a lot more besides. It is also the spiritual home of the offshore sailing body ISORA, the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race and the biggest Flying Fifteen fleet in Ireland. Founded on a loyal membership, the National Yacht Club at the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire on Dublin Bay enjoys a family ethos and a strong fellowship in a relaxed atmosphere of support and friendship through sailing.

Bathing in the gentle waterfront ambience of Dun Laoghaire on the edge of South County Dublin, the National Yacht Club has graced the waters of the Irish Sea and far beyond for more than a century and in 2020 celebrates its sesquicentennial.  

The club is particularly active in dinghy and keelboat one-design racing and has hosted three World Championships in recent years including the Flying Fifteen Worlds in 2003, 2019 and the SB3 Worlds in 2008. The ISAF Youth Worlds was co-hosted with our neighbouring club the Royal St. George Yacht Club in 2012...

National Yacht Club Facilities

Facilities include a slipway directly accessing Dun Laoghaire Harbour, over eighty club moorings, platform parking, pontoons, fuelling, watering and crane-lifting ensure that the NYC is excellently equipped to cater for all the needs of the contemporary sailor. Berths with diesel, water, power and overnight facilities are available to cruising yachtsmen with shopping facilities being a short walk away. The club is active throughout the year with full dining and bar facilities and winter activities include bridge, snooker, quiz nights, wine tasting and special events.

National Yacht Club History

Although there are references to an active “club” prior to 1870, history records that the present clubhouse was erected in 1870 at a cost of £4,000 to a design by William Sterling and the Kingstown Royal Harbour Boat Club was registered with Lloyds in the same year. By 1872 the name had been changed to the Kingston Harbour Boat Club and this change was registered at Lloyds.

In 1881. the premises were purchased by a Captain Peacocke and others who formed a proprietary club called the Kingstown Harbour Yacht Club again registered at Lloyds. Some six years later in 1877 the building again changed hands being bought by a Mr Charles Barrington. and between 1877 and 1901 the club was very active and operated for a while as the “Absolute Club” although this change of name was never registered.

In 1901, the lease was purchased by three trustees who registered it as the Edward Yacht Club. In 1930 at a time when the Edward Yacht Club was relatively inactive, a committee including The Earl of Granard approached the trustees with a proposition to form the National Yacht Club. The Earl of Granard had been Commodore of the North Shannon Y.C. and was a senator in the W.T.Cosgrave government. An agreement was reached, the National Yacht Club was registered at Lloyds. The club burgee was created, red cross of Saint George with blue and white quarters being sky cloud, sea and surf. The Earl of Granard became the first Commodore.

In July of 1950, a warrant was issued to the National Yacht Club by the Government under the Merchant Shipping Act authorising members to hoist a club ensign in lieu of the National Flag. The new ensign to include a representation of the harp. This privilege is unique and specific to members of the National Yacht Club. Sterling’s design for the exterior of the club was a hybrid French Chateau and eighteenth century Garden Pavilion and today as a Class A restricted building it continues to provide elegant dining and bar facilities.

An early drawing of the building shows viewing balconies on the roof and the waterfront façade. Subsequent additions of platforms and a new slip to the seaward side and most recently the construction of new changing rooms, offices and boathouse provide state of the art facilities, capable of coping with major international and world championship events. The club provides a wide range of sailing facilities, from Junior training to family cruising, dinghy sailing to offshore racing and caters for most major classes of dinghies, one design keelboats, sports boats and cruiser racers. It provides training facilities within the ISA Youth Sailing Scheme and National Power Boat Schemes.

Past Commodores

1931 – 42 Earl of Granard 1942 – 45 T.J. Hamilton 1945 – 47 P.M. Purcell 1947 – 50 J.J. O’Leary 1950 – 55 A.A. Murphy 1955 – 60 J.J. O’Leary 1960 – 64 F. Lemass 1964 – 69 J.C. McConnell 1969 – 72 P.J. Johnston 1972 – 74 L. Boyd 1974 – 76 F.C. Winkelmann 1976 – 79 P.A. Browne 1979 – 83 W.A. Maguire 1983 – 87 F.J. Cooney 1987 – 88 J.J. Byrne 1988 – 91 M.F. Muldoon 1991 – 94 B.D. Barry 1994 – 97 M.P.B. Horgan 1997 – 00 B. MacNeaney 2000 – 02 I.E. Kiernan 2002 – 05 C.N.I. Moore 2005 – 08 C.J. Murphy 2008 – 11 P.D. Ryan 2011 – P. Barrington 2011-2014 Larry Power 2014-2017 Ronan Beirne 2017 – 2019

At A Glance - National Yacht Club 2024 Events

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  • 21st – 22nd September F15 East Coast Championships
  • 5th October Start of F15 Frostbite Series
  • 12th October Lift Out
  • 19th – 20th October RS Aero Easterns

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