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Historic Royal St George Yacht Club Ensign a Reminder of Vexillatious Issues

5th April 2021
The Royal St George Yacht Club in 1846 - its last year as the Royal Kingstown YC - is pictured in the Illustrated London News as flying a somewhat ambiguous ensign
The Royal St George Yacht Club in 1846 - its last year as the Royal Kingstown YC - is pictured in the Illustrated London News as flying a somewhat ambiguous ensign

The learned word for the study of flags is "vexillology". Had we been told that it shares its roots with "vexation", it wouldn't have surprised us at all, living as we do just down the road from a region where the interpretation of "flegs'n'omblums" is a deadly serious business.

But in fact, it goes back to the "vexillum", the special distinctive banner-flag carried by the Roman legions, which thereby became a clear symbol to all those peace-loving primitive tribes, getting on with their idyllic back-to-nature lives out in the boondocks, that trouble was on the way.

Since then, we've been right through the mill with the manifestations of vexillating. And certainly, there was a time when having a clear flag-like symbol was very important indeed, in all those ages when mankind was blighted by poor communications, untreatable deafness, and lousy eyesight.

It goes some way to explain why many wind-driven warships of the olden days used to head off for battle flying distinctive ensigns which were often much larger than many of their sails. For it was bad enough having to engage with the enemy, but having your rig shot away by some half-blind crew who were supposed to be on your side could ruin your entire day.

The Marquis of Conyngham, first Commodore of the Royal St George Yacht Club from 1845-1862.The Marquis of Conyngham, first Commodore of the Royal St George Yacht Club from 1845-1862.

So it was only natural as the early yacht clubs got going - with all their recreational versions of naval behaviour and style – that flags should immediately be playing an important role, with flag etiquette top of many an inter-club agenda.

That it all could become a pernickety and contentious affair was inevitable, and as vexillology got into its nautical stride during the 19th Century, as sure as God made little apples there was trouble in Ireland. Until the mid-1840s, several of the clubs with a royal warrants were entitled to fly the white ensign of the Royal Navy. But some busybody in the Admiralty decided this wouldn't do, and the word went out to all relevant clubs, except the favoured Royal Yacht Squadron, that the practice was to cease immediately.

Unfortunately, this general order overlooked the fact that the Royal Western of Ireland Yacht Club was still in existence, albeit in a parlous way. The irony of it all was that when the white ensigns were being dished out around 1831, the RWIYC said that they'd actually prefer to have a green version of the white ensign, if that were possible, but were told it most emphatically wasn't.

Yet when their few remaining yachts still flying the white ensign in the 1850s were tracked down, they fought like terriers (admittedly rather aged terriers by then) to retain the privilege. We could continue with this sideline story for ever, but suffice to say that, in the ultimate irony, hidden in a corner of the snooker room of the Royal Ulster YC, there's an ancient green RWIYC ensign on discreet display…… 

A unique flag in many ways – the Marquis of Conyngham's well-used 1847 RStGYC ensign is up for auction on April 13thA unique flag in many ways – the Marquis of Conyngham's well-used 1847 RStGYC ensign is up for auction on April 13th

Meanwhile, a reminder of the vexillologically disputatious days of the 1840s has come to light with collector and auctioneer Niall Mullen flagging – how else? - an online sale in association with Victor Mee on April 13th & 14th, in which one of the more intriguing items will be the personal 1847 ensign of the first Commodore of the Royal St George Yacht Club, the Marquis of Conyngham.

At the time, the club was in the process of settling into being known as the Royal St George's YC – soon to be the plain Royal St George – where previously it had been the Royal Kingstown Yacht Club. But equally, there was some to-ing and fro-ing as to the form its ensign should take under the new Admiralty dispensations.

Thus it's just possible that with his simple red ensign with its symbol-defaced union flag on the top left-hand corner, the often-absent Commodore was showing what he thought the new flag should be like. But back in Kingstown, the Committee had their own ideas, as revealed in the history of the Club published in 1988, which suggests that many members wished to continue with the established flags.

The historic flags of the Royal St George YC/Royal Kingstown YC, as collated in 1847 and published in the Club History in 1988The historic flags of the Royal St George YC/Royal Kingstown YC, as collated in 1847 and published in the Club History in 1988, its 150th Anniversary. The club's own version of the ensign is markedly different from that flown by their first Commodore, but subsequently the agreed ensign became simpler, defaced by a crown on the red ground in the lower right quarter

Central to its page displaying the relevant flags is an ensign of red ground with a superimposed white St George's Cross, and the plain union flag top left. Doubtless qualified vexillologists will have their technical terms for every aspect of the design, but all it indicates to us simple souls is that in 1847, the Commodore of the Royal St George YC may have had one notion of what the club ensign should be like, while the Committee perhaps had another.

It's clear evidence of – how shall we say – a difference of opinion which might provide some added value, for although it has come direct from Slane Castle, it is very modestly guided at €1,000 to €2,000. That said, according to one newspaper preview of the sale, the ensign is accompanied by a letter of provenance from the "Royal Marine Museum" in Dun Laoghaire. That sounds like it might be a lot of fun if only such a place existed, but maybe the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire has clarified the matter.

Be that as it may, another item in the sale might also be of interest. It's a Tibetan kangling, or leg flute. It's so called not because you somehow play it by leg, but because it's made from the thigh bone of a Tibetan mountainy man. As the rest of the mountainy man is no longer attached, it's modestly guided at €400-€600.

Published in RStGYC
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 St. George Yacht Club

The Royal St George Yacht Club was founded in Dun Laoghaire (then Kingstown) Harbour in 1838 by a small number of like-minded individuals who liked to go rowing and sailing together. The club gradually gathered pace and has become, with the passage of time and the unstinting efforts of its Flag Officers, committees and members, a world-class yacht club.

Today, the ‘George’, as it is known by everyone, maybe one of the world’s oldest sailing clubs, but it has a very contemporary friendly outlook that is in touch with the demands of today and offers world-class facilities for all forms of water sports

Royal St. George Yacht Club FAQs

The Royal St George Yacht Club — often abbreviated as RStGYC and affectionately known as ‘the George’ — is one of the world’s oldest sailing clubs, and one of a number that ring Dublin Bay on the East Coast of Ireland.

The Royal St George Yacht Club is based at the harbour of Dun Laoghaire, a suburban coastal town in south Co Dublin around 11km south-east of Dublin city centre and with a population of some 26,000. The Royal St George is one of the four Dun Laoghaire Waterfront Clubs, along with the National Yacht Club, Royal Irish Yacht Club (RIYC) and Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club (DMYC).

The Royal St George was founded by members of the Pembroke Rowing Club in 1838 and was originally known as Kingstown Boat Club, as Kingstown was what Dun Laoghaire was named at the time. The club obtained royal patronage in 1845 and became known as Royal Kingstown Yacht Club. After 1847 the club took on its current name.

The George is first and foremost an active yacht club with a strong commitment to and involvement with all aspects of the sport of sailing, whether racing your one design on Dublin Bay, to offshore racing in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, to junior sailing, to cruising and all that can loosely be described as “messing about in boats”.

As of November 2020, the Commodore of the Royal St George Yacht Club is Peter Bowring, with Richard O’Connor as Vice-Commodore. The club has two Rear-Commodores, Mark Hennessy for Sailing and Derek Ryan for Social.

As of November 2020, the Royal St George has around 1,900 members.

The Royal St George’s burgee is a red pennant with a white cross which has a crown at its centre. The club’s ensign has a blue field with the Irish tricolour in its top left corner and a crown towards the bottom right corner.

Yes, the club hosts regular weekly racing for dinghies and keelboats as well as a number of national and international sailing events each season. Major annual events include the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, hosted in conjunction with the three other Dun Laoghaire Waterfront Clubs.

Yes, the Royal St George has a vibrant junior sailing section that organises training and events throughout the year.

Sail training is a core part of what the George does, and training programmes start with the Sea Squirts aged 5 to 8, continuing through its Irish Sailing Youth Training Scheme for ages 8 to 18, with adult sail training a new feature since 2009. The George runs probably the largest and most comprehensive programme each summer with upwards of 500 children participating. This junior focus continues at competitive level, with coaching programmes run for aspiring young racers from Optimist through to Lasers, 420s and Skiffs.

 

The most popular boats raced at the club are one-design keelboats such as the Dragon, Shipman 28, Ruffian, SB20, Squib and J80; dinghy classes including the Laser, RS200 and RS400; junior classes the 420, Optimist and Laser Radial; and heritage wooden boats including the Water Wags, the oldest one-design dinghy class in the world. The club also has a large group of cruising yachts.

The Royal St George is based in a Victorian-style clubhouse that dates from 1843 and adjoins the harbour’s Watering Pier. The clubhouse was conceived as a miniature classical Palladian Villa, a feature which has been faithfully maintained despite a series of extensions, and a 1919 fire that destroyed all but four rooms. Additionally, the club has a substantial forecourt with space for more than 50 boats dry sailing, as well as its entire dinghy fleet. There is also a dry dock, four cranes (limit 12 tonnes) and a dedicated lift=out facility enabling members keep their boats in ready to race condition at all times. The George also has a floating dock for short stays and can supply fuel, power and water to visitors.

Yes, the Royal St George’s clubhouse offers a full bar and catering service for members, visitors and guests. Currently the bar is closed due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The Royal St George boathouse is open daily from 9.30am to 5.30pm during the winter. The office and reception are open Tuesdays to Fridays from 10am to 5pm. The bar is currently closed due to Covid-19 restrictions. Lunch is served on Wednesdays and Fridays from 12.30pm to 2.30pm, with brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 3pm.

Yes, the Royal St George regularly hosts weddings and family celebrations from birthdays to christenings, and offers a unique and prestigious location to celebrate your day. The club also hosts corporate meetings, sailing workshops and company celebrations with a choice of rooms. From small private meetings to work parties and celebrations hosting up to 150 guests, the club can professionally and successfully manage your corporate requirements. In addition, team building events can utilise its fleet of club boats and highly trained instructors. For enquiries contact Laura Smart at [email protected] or phone 01 280 1811.

The George is delighted to welcome new members. It may look traditional — and is proud of its heritage — but behind the facade is a lively and friendly club, steeped in history but not stuck in it. It is a strongly held belief that new members bring new ideas, new skills and new contacts on both the sailing and social sides.

No — members can avail of the club’s own fleet of watercraft.

There is currently no joining fee for new members of the Royal St George. The introductory ordinary membership subscription fee is €775 annually for the first two years. A full list of membership categories and related annual subscriptions is available.

Membership subscriptions are renewed on an annual basis

Full contact details for the club and its staff can be found at the top of this page

©Afloat 2020

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