Greg Denieffe On The Mulholland Cup

Greg Denieffe, whom by now should be regarded as one of HTBS’s regular contributors, has great knowledge of Irish rowing. Here is a nice piece about the Irish Mulholland Cup:

The Mulholland Cup was presented by John Mulholland (later Lord Dunleath) for competition by the clubs on the Lagan and Belfast Lough. It was made in London by Edward and John Bernard and hallmarked with the date letter for 1866. It is a rowing trophy with elaborate chasing; bearing classic silver designs including Acanthus scrolled handles and garlanded cherubs. The cup is densely engraved with the names of the winners and it is now in the Queen’s University Belfast Silver Collection in the Naughton Gallery.

The cup was contested 11 times between 1867 and 1878 when it was won outright by Carrickfergus Amateur Rowing Club by virtue of winning it for the third consecutive year. During this period it was the premier rowing competition in Belfast and was raced in four-oared in-rigged gigs. In 1939, the IARU published History of Boat Racing in Ireland by T. F. Hall and the cup is mentioned in the chapter dealing with “The Connor Challenge Cup” [1890], “…the cup replaced another older trophy, the Mulholland Cup, which had been won outright by Carrickfergus some years earlier.”

Mulholland Cup Medal 1868. Courtesy of NRF.

There is a medal from the 1868 Race in the rowing exhibit “Let Her Run” at the National Rowing Hall of Fame at Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, USA. It is described thus in the Museum catalogue: Prize medal [obv] “Belfast Amateur Rowing Club” [rev] “Mulholland Cup, 1868, E. M. Adams, Stroke” The obverse shows the Coat of Arms of Belfast and the motto ‘Pro tranto quid retribuamus’. Translated from Latin, it means ‘what return shall we make for so much’. The name ‘Belfast’ originates from the Gaelic Béal Feirste, meaning mouth of the sandbars” or “mouth of the river”.

The medal pictured above was purchased by the writer in 2007. [Obverse] “CARRICKFERGUS AMATEUR ROWING CLUB”, [Reverse] PRESENTED TO, Winning Crew of, Mulholland Cup, 1872. 1873, S.McComb. No 1. It is probably gold (not hallmarked) and is similar in style to the silver medals presented at the 1876 Carrickfergus Amateur Regatta only slightly smaller at 27mm as opposed to 30mm.

The Irish Times
of Monday 7 July, 1873 reported on the race under the heading “THE BELFAST ROWING CLUB”,

The annual competition for the cup presented by John Mulholland, Esq, D L, took place on Saturday, under the auspices of the Belfast Rowing Club. The following boats started :- Holywood Rowing Club (Vedette), H Henderson, B F Bothwell, T Withers (stroke), and E Henderson (coxswain); Carrickfergus Rowing Club (Witch), McComb, D Pinkerton, C A Kirby, J B McFerian (stroke), and P Cairey (coxswain); Carrickfergus Rowing Club (Wizard), W McCombe, D B Alexander, J Dubourdieu, Robert Vint (stroke), and Singleton Vint (coxswain). The Witch carried off the cup, this being the second year it has done so.

It would be safe to say that the crew of the ‘Witch’ was the premier crew in Ulster that year. They won the Ulster Challenge Cup at the Belfast Regatta on 30th August beating Ulster Rowing and Athletic Club by four lengths over two miles. The names of the crew as recorded in The Irish Times are slightly different, but it is likely it was the same crew. Carrickfergus Rowing Club (Witch), S. McCombe, D. Pinkerton, jun; C. S. Kirby, J. B. McFerran (stroke), and J. Carrey (coxswain); Ulster Rowing and Athletic Club (Osprey), F. Lepper, E. Maginnis, F. W. Thomson, W. J. Brett (stk), and R. Coleman (cox).

The first race was held on 7th September 1867 and was won by Belfast Amateur Rowing Club. The winners of the Cup are as follows:

1867 Belfast Amateur Rowing Club beat Holywood Amateur Rowing and Swimming Club.

1868 Belfast Amateur Rowing Club beat Holywood Amateur Rowing and Swimming Club.

1869 No Race.

1870 Ulster Rowing and Athletic Club beat Northern Amateur Rowing Club who had earlier beaten Holywood AR&SC in a heat. The race was organized by Ulster R&AC and held on the Lagan at Queen’s Island. Winning crew; W.P. Wallace (Bow), W. J. Robertson (2), W. H. Dickson (3), T. R. Richardson (stk.) and T. S. Ronaldson (cox.).

1871 Ulster Rowing and Athletic Club beat Holywood AR&SC in a race held at Holywood. Winning crew; W.H. Mervyn (Bow), R. Richardson (2), J. W. Cochrane (3), J. Ireland (stk.) and T.S. Richardson (cox.).

1872 Carrickfergus Amateur Rowing Club.

1873 Carrickfergus Amateur Rowing Club [Witch] beat Holywood AR&SC [Vedette] and Carrickfergus ARC [Wizard]. See above for the winning crew.

1874 Ulster Rowing and Athletic Club beat Carrickfergus ARC and Lagan Amateur Boating Club. Raced at Belfast Lough. Winning crew; A. L. Ireland (Bow), S. J. Moore (2), W. C. Morgan (3), E. A. Maginnis (stk.) and R. Coleman (cox.).

1875 Ulster Rowing and Athletic Club beat Holywood AR&SC and Lagan ABC on the Queen’s Island course. Adverse weather conditions forced the Lagan club to retire from the race. Winning crew; W. D. Moore (Bow), S. J. Moore (2), W. Punsunby (3), W. S. Mitchell (stk.) and R. Coleman (cox.).

1876 Carrickfergus Amateur Rowing Club beat Belfast Boat Club.

1877 Carrickfergus Amateur Rowing Club beat Belfast Boat Club.

1878 Carrickfergus Amateur Rowing Club beat Belfast Boat Club and wins the cup outright by virtue of their 3rd consecutive victory.

John Mulholland, 1st Baron Dunleath (16 December, 1819-11 December, 1895), was an Irish businessman and Conservative Member of Parliament. He was the son of Andrew Mulholland of Ballywalter Park in County Down and was involved in the Mulholland family cotton and linen industry. He was a Justice of the Peace for Antrim and Down and High Sheriff of Down in 1868 and of Tyrone in 1873. He stood as Conservative candidate for Belfast in 1868, to be beaten by the Orange populist William Johnston of Ballykilbeg but was elected MP for Downpatrick between 1874 and 1885. In 1892, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Dunleath, of Ballywalter in the County of Down.

John Mulholland, 1st Baron Dunleath of Ballywalter (1819-1895).

For a more detailed history of John Mulholland, please click here. For information on the family home, click here.

Belfast Regatta
Early Belfast regattas had been held on the busy harbour course. Unsuitable racing conditions and other river traffic led to the regatta being cancelled after 1896. Belfast Regatta was resurrected in 1938 further upstream on a river course and The Mulholland Cup came back into service as a rowing trophy when after a lapse of 50 years it became a challenge cup for competition for Maiden Fours. Carrickfergus donated the cup and four others for competition at the revised regatta. It was once again retired when Belfast Regatta was discontinued in 1971. Twenty nine regattas were held during this period and many of the winner’s names are engraved on the cup alongside those from the 1860s and 1870s.

The programmes for Belfast Regatta described the event as follows:

THE MULHOLLAND CHALLENGE CUP. A Maiden Event. To be rowed in four-oared clinker-built boats by maiden oarsmen. Each boat to carry a coxswain. No oarsman (substitutes excepted) may enter and none shall compete for this Cup and any other Cup except the Greer or Bruce Challenge Cups.

Silver Sounds at the Naughton Gallery, Queen’s University, Belfast
Silver Sounds is a project that suggests that sound might be a way of uniting and reinterpreting the University’s silver collection. These soundscapes respond to the provenance of a particular piece of silverware and explore the reasons for its creation, donation and use and combine with the silver objects to create a new immersive artwork.

Jason Geistweidt is a sound artist currently based in Chicago. He was one of ten artists commissioned to create a piece for this project and his is based on the Mulholland Cup. His piece responds to the continual transformation of the sporting trophy as dates and names were added every few years as well as its static embodiment of particular events and memories etched in metal. Wishing to create a kinetic complement, he has incorporated elements which provide this object with a living context: the working of metal, the pull of the oar through water and the encouragement of the coxswain.

Entitled Stroke, the work incorporates the various ‘strokes’ encapsulated in the Mulholland Cup: the stroke of the silversmith, the stroke of the oar, the name of the crewman that sets the pace, and the stroke of the clock marking the passage of time. The project won the Times Higher Award for Excellence and Innovation in the Arts 2008.

To visit The Naughton Gallery at Queen’s, please click here.

Acknowledgments and further reading
Thanks to Shan McAnena Curator of Art at the Naughton Gallery, Queens University Belfast, Ken Morrow and Göran R Buckhorn for their assistance. Also to The Irish Times, the Public Records Office NI, and the authors of the following books:

T. F. Hall, History of Boat-Racing in Ireland (1939).
Donald McMeekin, Belfast Boat Club, The First 100 Years (1976).
Walter F. Mitchell, Belfast Rowing Club, 1882-1982 (1994).


  1. I am delighted to see the note about this race – John Carrey (cox) of Carrickfergus was a teenager when his team won in 1873 – sadly he drowned near the Cape of Good Hope two years later. He was the older brother of my grandfather Anthony (who never went to sea). My cousin John has the medal awarded to his great-great uncle from this race.

  2. Thank you so much for this information! So many boys from this family were lost at sea – in this generation about three. Thank goodness my great grandfather stayed ashore.

  3. I have just inherited a medal won by my great uncle Clifford Coulter, in the Connor Cup 1908. He was in bow. It is particularly interesting to me because I am a sea rower (Celtic Longboats). I believe he was a painter and decorator by trade in Belfast.

  4. Thanks for the information Meg. If you send me a photo of the medal to 'Greg at bellcross dot co dot uk' I will write a piece about Clifford and the Connor Cup.

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