Last year I never got around to order a then newly published rowing book, A History of Galway Rowing Club 1910-2009 by James Casserly. I thought it would be interesting to read about Irish rowing, especially when someone told me in an e-mail the Casserly’s book was a “good” read. I had seen it on the web, and although one should never buy a book because it has a good-looking cover, or a wine with a good-looking label, A History of Galway Rowing Club 1910-2009 had a promising cover with nine lads in an eight.
Some weeks ago, I happened to see the book on eBay for a fraction of what it cost last year. I ordered it, and three weeks ago it arrived safely in the mail. It was with great anticipation I opened the parcel to flip through the pages of the book. After a while I put the book aside, only to open it again after a day, or two. I have done this procedure for three weeks, and when it is now time to write this little review, I am sorry to have to write that I am terribly disappointed about the book.
Yesterday, when I wrote about the two ways there are to write a club history, The Art Of Writing A Book On The History Of A Rowing Club, Casserly’s book would end up in the second category, a book only for the members and friends of the club. I think that he missed a great opportunity to write about Irish rowing, maybe not as a whole, but Galway RC probably has a great part of rowing in Ireland, and that is sadly not shown in this book.
I read with interest both your review and the earlier article on the art of writing a rowing history. I bought the Galway history when it was published and would like to make some kind of case for the “second” type of history.
The major works you selected as been in the “first” type of history were in the main “High Performance” clubs with their sights set on international success and producing world and Olympic competitors if not winners. They seem to me at any rate to be professional in everything but name. Their histories are intermingled with rowing in the wider rowing world and their books are all the better for it. The writers of these histories are also professional writers and journalists and we are all grateful for their work.
The small club history is usually written or compiled by an amateur with an interest in preserving their clubs history but they probably have a fulltime job and a family and if my own experience is anything to go by they are either rowing or coaching or running the club, if not all three!
Rowing is a minority sport and I don't think there is a mass market for any rowing book. One way of selling enough to cover production costs is to include loads of photographs and names of crews and the people involved and their family may buy the book even if no longer involved in the sport.
Personally I like books with old photographs of crews on the water or with trophies and there is always something of interest in the small club book.
If you would like to delve a little more in Irish rowing history you could do worst than read the following;
A History of Boat-Racing in Ireland, T. F Hall – 1939.
In Black and White, R Blake – 1991 [a history of rowing at Trinity College, Dublin from 1836 to 1986].
Belfast Rowing Club, W. F. Mitchell [including rowing in Ulster between 1840 and 1890].
There are only about thirty or so books with any relevance to rowing in Ireland. I have a detailed list, which needs a little updating and if you or any of the HTBS followers would like a copy please let me know.
Dear Greg – Thank you for your comments. Yes, maybe it is not fair to compare the works of professional writers (like Page, Burnell and Dodd) to “amateur” writers, who, indeed all, mean well and without any gain of money, probably the opposite, work hard to get their club's story out to the members.
My main point when it comes to these “small club history books” is that they can very easily be improved by having the author to also see the sport of rowing outside the walls of their own club. Michael Grace's book is a great example. Grace, who one has to regard as an “amateur writer”, has done very well when it comes to telling the story of the Wellington RC and the rowing in New Zealand.
Greg, I would be very happy to post your list of books on rowing in Ireland. I think it will help anyone who is interested in rowing in that country. Bring it on!