Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

John Sisk 1944-2022

8th September 2022
Hallowe’en at the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire. The late John Sisk was in the syndicate which kept this 70ft 1926 Fife classic in pristine condition
Hallowe’en at the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire. The late John Sisk was in the syndicate which kept this 70ft 1926 Fife classic in pristine condition Credit: W M Nixon

The death of John Sisk of Dun Laoghaire highlights the sailing achievements of a private yet remarkable family whose name is internationally-recognised on major building sites and civil engineering projects in several countries, while at the same time, they are known among fellow-enthusiasts for their keen involvement in other activities.

Originally a major Cork business, it was John’s father – also John – who developed the Dublin focus at an exceptionally young age, such that Dublin eventually became the firm’s headquarters. But while his devotion to growing the company was highly respected, he also brought from Cork a family interest in boats and sailing which for a while manifested itself in an intriguing sideline around 1950, the Dalkey Shipyard Company, which built some substantial sailing boats in addition to a range of Folkboats.

But while John Senr was interested in building boats and sailing them, racing was not his thing. Yet his three sons George, Hal and John were definitely racing inclined, so in typical John Senr style, there was correspondence with the great New York yacht designer Olin Stephens which resulted in the debut in Dun Laoghaire in 1967 of the Italian-built Gaia 36 Sarnia, one of the first boats to the hull shape which became best known as the Swan 36.

John Sisk (right) aboard Sarnia in Crosshaven in 1970 after winning an RORC Race from the Irish Sea. His brother George is on the left, Frank Larkin is second left, and Hal Sisk is at centreJohn Sisk (right) aboard Sarnia in Crosshaven in 1970 after winning an RORC Race from the Irish Sea. His brother George is on the left, Frank Larkin is second left, and Hal Sisk is at centre

The Sisk brothers, meanwhile, had been at various stages of carefully selected university courses, and it was while doing Business Studies at University College Dublin with a view to eventually running the Sisk Group’s expanding property development section – which he was to do for many years - that young John Sisk met an Enterprise Dinghy sailor from Limerick called Frank Larkin.

This was through the very active UCD Sailing Club, and we are indebted to Frank Larkin – who continues to sail offshore, and also races a Laser out of Killaloe SC on Lough Derg – for his personal recollections of a very special friendship which lasted for almost sixty years: 

“I first met John in 1963 when I went to UCD and joined the UCD Sailing Club. Over the next three years, John and I represented UCD in University sailing events in Ireland and the UK. After graduation, I returned to Limerick but kept in touch with John and was invited to race on the Sisk family's new yacht Sarnia in 1967.

Through John, I met his brothers George and Hal, and I have been fortunate to sail and race with the Sisk brothers in their various yachts for over 50 years. It gave me the opportunity to compete at the highest level in offshore racing, in Irish Sea races, Round Ireland races, Fastnets and other RORC races, Clyde Weeks, Cork Weeks, and Middle Sea Races etc, in addition to cruises to the UK, Continental France and Spain, and the Mediterranean.

John also shared my enthusiasm for rugby – he played for Lansdowne - and we sat beside each other for Internationals and other major matches in Lansdowne Road for over 20 years.

I am very fortunate to have known John as a valued friend for nearly 60 years, and I extend my deepest sympathies to his wife Anna Marie, and his children Maria Louisa and JP, his sister Hope, and his brothers George and Hal, and their families. May John Rest in Peace.”

The range of Sisk-owned boats over the years reflected the family’s wide-ranging interest in sailing development. While John Senr had built a Robert Clark-designed 13-tonner with the Dalkey Shipyard, and then a Knud Reimers-designed 8 Metre Cruiser-Racer in 1954, the move to Sarnia was truly pioneering. But even more advanced was the acquisition by the brothers of the Finot-designed Half Tonner Alouette de Mer in 1971.

 All change….the brothers acquired the Finot-designed alloy-built Half Tonner Alouette de Mer “completely raw” from France in 1971, and raced her with great success in ISORA’s first season in 1972 All change….the brothers acquired the Finot-designed alloy-built Half Tonner Alouette de Mer “completely raw” from France in 1971, and raced her with great success in ISORA’s first season in 1972

After that, there was the Frans Maas-designed 40ft Standfast, then for a while the brothers joined the fascinating list of Imp owners, followed by Alliance and others. But inevitably, as the years passed their interests diverged, as Hal was well into the development of a lifelong widespread research and creation programme which in 2022 has seen him recognised as the International Classic Boater of the Year, while George – as Chairman of the company - has in recent years been noted for his campaigning of advanced offshore racers called WOW.

John meanwhile, was into International Dragon Racing in Dun Laoghaire, and it was with a group of mostly Dragon sailors that he was part of the syndicate that bought the 70ft 1926 Fife classic cutter Hallowe’en, the line honours winner in the second Fastnet Race in 1926, when the Fastnet was still an annual event.

But like all classics, Hallowe’en spends much of her time working through charter, and for his own Mediterranean offshore racing, John chose the First 45s5 Elusive, a 1990 Bruce Farr design, in which he featured in the Middle Sea Race. Elusive lives on in Middle Sea Race history, for after several successful years John sold her to the Podesta family of Malta, whose name is now synonymous with Middle Sea Race success - so much so that when Elusive was finally out-classed, they replaced her with a new race-winning First 40 which became Elusive II, twice winner of the Middle Sea.

(Left) The First 45f5 Elusive was a Bruce Farr design of 1990 and (right) John Sisk at the helm of Elusive in the Middle Sea Race. Photo: Frank Larkin(Left) The First 45f5 Elusive was a Bruce Farr design of 1990 and (right) John Sisk at the helm of Elusive in the Middle Sea Race Photo: Frank Larkin

John meanwhile indicated his move to cruising by acquiring the high-quality comfort-emphasising 47-footer Provident, and Croatia became the centre of much of his sailing. Despite being the youngest brother in a remarkable trio within an exceptional family, he was very much his own man, and a real contributor to the sailing scene. We join with Frank Larkin in our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.


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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Royal Irish Yacht Club - Frequently Asked Questions

The Royal Irish Yacht Club is situated in a central location in Dun Laoghaire Harbour with excellent access and visiting sailors can be sure of a special welcome. The clubhouse is located in the prime middle ground of the harbour in front of the town marina and it is Dun Laoghaire's oldest yacht club. 

What's a brief history of the Royal Irish Yacht Club?

The yacht club was founded in 1831, with the Marquess of Anglesey, who commanded the cavalry at the Battle of Waterloo being its first Commodore. 

John Skipton Mulvany designed the clubhouse, which still retains a number of original architectural features since being opened in 1851.

It was granted an ensign by the Admiralty of a white ensign with the Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of Ireland beneath the Union Jack in canton.

Many prominent names feature among the past members of the Club. The first Duke of Wellington was elected in 1833, followed by other illustrious men including the eccentric Admiral Sir Charles Napier, Sir Dominic Corrigan the distinguished physician, Sir Thomas Lipton, novelist, George A. Birmingham, yachtsman and author, Conor O'Brien, and famous naval historian and author, Patrick O Brian. 

In the club's constitution, it was unique among yacht clubs in that it required yacht owners to provide the club's commodore with information about the coast and any deep-sea fisheries they encountered on all of their voyages.

In 1846, the club was granted permission to use the Royal prefix by Queen Victoria. The club built a new clubhouse in 1851. Despite the Republic of Ireland breaking away from the United Kingdom, the Royal Irish Yacht Club elected to retain its Royal title.

In 1848, a yachting trophy called "Her Majesty's Plate" was established by Queen Victoria to be contested at Kingstown where the Royal Irish Yacht Club is based. The Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland at the time, George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon suggested it should be contested by the Royal Irish Yacht Club and the Royal St. George Yacht Club in an annual regatta, a suggestion that was approved by both clubs with the Royal St. George hosting the first competitive regatta.

The RIYC celebrated its 185th Anniversary in 2016 with the staging of several special events in addition to being well represented afloat, both nationally and internationally. It was the year the club was also awarded Irish Yacht Club of the Year as Afloat's W M Nixon details here.

The building is now a listed structure and retains to this day all its original architectural features combined with state of the art facilities for sailors both ashore and afloat.

What is the Royal Irish Yacht Club's emblem?

The Club's emblem shows a harp with the figure of Nice, the Greek winged goddess of victory, surmounted by a crown. This emblem has remained unchanged since the foundation of the Club; a symbol of continuity and respect for the history and tradition of the Royal Irish Yacht Club.

What is the Royal Irish Yacht Club's ensign?

The RIYC's original white ensign was granted by Royal Warrant in 1831. Though the Royal Irish Yacht Club later changed the ensign to remove the St George's Cross and replace the Union Jack with the tricolour of the Republic of Ireland, the original ensign may still be used by British members of the Royal Irish Yacht Club

Who is the Commodore of the Royal Irish Yacht Club?

The current Commodore is Joe Costello and the Vice-Commodore is Pat Shannon.

The RIYC Flag Officers are: 

Who is the Chief Executive of the Royal Irish Yacht Club? 

Padraig McCarthy is the RIYC CEO.  Tel  01 280 9452 extn 7 email: [email protected]

What reciprocal club arrangements does the Royal Irish Yacht Club have?  

As one of Ireland's leading club's, the Royal Irish Yacht Club has significant reciprocal arrangements with yacht clubs across Ireland and the UK, Europe, USA and Canada and the rest of the World. If you are visiting from another Club, please have with a letter of introduction from your Club or introduce yourself to the Club Secretary or to a member of management staff, who will show you the Club's facilities.

What car parking does the Royal Irish Yacht Club have at its Dun Laoghaire clubhouse?

The RIYC has car parking outside of its clubhouse for the use of its members. Paid public car parking is available next door to the club at the marina car park. There is also paid parking on offer within the harbour area at the Coatl Harbour (a 5-minute walk) and at an underground car park adjacent to the Royal St. George Yacht Club (a 3-minute walk). Look for parking signs. Clamping is in operation in the harbour area.

What facilities does the Royal Irish Yacht Clubhouse offer? 

The Royal Irish Yacht Club offers a relaxed, warm and welcoming atmosphere in one of the best situated and appointed clubhouses in these islands. Its prestige in yachting circles is high and its annual regatta remains one of the most attractive events in the sailing calendar. It offers both casual and formal dining with an extensive wine list and full bar facilities. The Club caters for parties, informal events, educational seminars, themed dinners and all occasions. The RIYC has a number of venues within the Club each of which provides a different ambience to match particular needs.

What are the Royal Irish Yacht Club's Boathouse facilities?

The RIYC boathouse team run the launch service to the club's swinging moorings, provide lifting for dry-sailed boats, lift and scrub boats, as well as maintaining the fabric of the deck, pontoon infrastructure, and swinging moorings. They also maintain the club crane, the only such mobile crane of the Dun Laoghaire Yacht Clubs.

What facilities are offered for junior sailing at the Royal Irish Yacht Club?

One of the missions of the Royal Irish Yacht Club is to promote sailing as a passion for life by encouraging children and young adults to learn how to sail through its summer courses and class-specific training throughout the year. 

RIYC has an active junior section. Its summer sailing courses are very popular and the club regularly has over 50 children attending courses in any week. The aim is for those children to develop lifelong friendships through sailing with other children in the club, and across the other clubs in the bay.
Many RIYC children go on to compete for the club at regional and national championships and some have gone on to represent Ireland at international competitions and the Olympic Regatta itself.
In supporting its young sailors and the wider sailing community, the RIYC regularly hosts junior sailing events including national and regional championships in classes such as the Optmist, Feva and 29er.
Competition is not everything though and as the club website states:  "Many of our junior sailors have gone on the become sailing instructors and enjoy teaching both in Ireland and abroad.  Ultimately, we take most pleasure from the number of junior sailors who become adult sailors and enjoy a lifetime of sailing with the club". 

At A Glance – Royal Irish Yacht Regatta 2023 Dates

  • RS Feva East Coast Championships - 6th May to 7th May 2023
  • Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta - 6th-9th July 2023
  • Cape 31 Irish National Championships
  • RIYC Junior Regatta
  • J Cup Ireland 2023 - August 26th/27th 2023
  • Annual Pursuit Race

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