The Irish Rowing Archive

some of the
Some of the ephemera in the Irish Rowing Archive.

Greg Denieffe writes:

In 2013, my daughter Laura needed a transition-year project for school. As a rower herself, she readily agreed to my suggestion that we create a website and scan the regatta programmes that resided in my attic. Having finished my own modest collection, my first port of call was to Micheal Johnston who has a vast collection of regatta programmes. Micheal readily agreed to loan his collection for scanning. Pretty soon word got out and programmes started to arrive from all corners of the country.

So writes Kieran Kerr, founder (or curator) of the website irishrowingarchives.com which recently celebrated its first anniversary. There are currently over 1,400 items of Irish rowing memorabilia on the site including 1,000 regatta programmes dating back to the late 1800s. Many of the programmes list crew names and some have articles of interest to rowing historians. Of particular interest to me are those from my home town club Carlow and those of Metro (Dublin Metropolitan) and Trinity (Dublin University) regattas.

K.Kerr
Kieran Kerr. Photo: World Rowing

Kerr, an active member of St Michael’s Rowing Club in Limerick is involved in the running of Limerick Regatta and St Michael’s Head of the River. He is also the Regatta Director for the Irish Rowing Championships and an active umpire both nationally (being chair of the Umpires Committee) and internationally where he has umpired at a number of World Championships and at the Beijing Olympics. He is currently researching the history of both St Michael’s Rowing Club and St Michael’s Temperance Society (1839) which is their parent organisation.

The initial plan as conceived by Kieran was simply to scan copies of regatta programmes. However, it has grown somewhat and has now become a central repository for any item of Irish rowing memorabilia like the Blue Book which was introduced by the IARU in 1927 and continued until 2011. They are an invaluable source of information providing such details as the clubs affiliated to the Union in any given year. The site has an almost a complete collection, missing only those of 1945, 1947, 1948, 1950 and 1952.

Under the section called Other Material can be found the annual reports produced by Micheal Johnston for the Associated Members of the IARU; starting in 1967 they are in effect ‘mini-almanacs’ covering the important regatta results and the Irish international teams/results for each year. There are also sections here for Calendars, Rule Books, Menu Cards and some editions of the 1980s Irish rowing magazine Regatta. Under the subsection ‘Club Stuff’ you will find the 1984 publication Carlow Rowing Club 125th Anniversary Souvenir Booklet. Please note that this contains some dodgy photographs of the writer!

A recent addition to the site has been the Secretary’s reports for Dublin Rowing Club covering the 1907 to 1941 racing seasons. HTBS has previously published a short history of the club which you can find here. The reports make sad reading as the financial pressure faced by the club forced it to close its doors in 1942.

Crews racing towards the finish line
Crews racing towards the finish line with the National Rowing Centre in the background. Photo: Irish Examiner

The Championships section lists the winners of each championship event since the introduction of the senior-eight championship in 1912. It also lists the overall club rankings, course records and the trophies awarded. The Championship Regatta is the highlight of the Irish rowing season and is now held each July at the National Rowing Centre in County Cork.

Last year Kieran kindly added a section called Rowing Publications which is a list of books on rowing in Ireland which I had compiled. I am pleased to report that this bibliography is already out-of-date with the publication last October of Eighty Years Rowing by Coláiste Iognáid Rowing Club.

The last Dublin Rowing Club crew
The last Dublin Rowing Club crew – 1941 Maiden IV. W. Frazer (Bow), S. Walsh (2), D. Farrelly (3), J. Wilson (Stroke), D. O’Sullivan (Cox), S. Towson (Captain). Photo: Irish Rowing Archive.

The most recent addition to the archive is a gallery for clubs no longer in existence. These include Carrickfergus Amateur Rowing Club, Dolphin Rowing Club (Ringsend, Dublin) and Dublin Rowing Club. The photograph above features two stalwarts of Irish rowing; Dermot Farrelly and Desmond (Dessie) O’Sullivan whom in a lifetime dedicated to sport in Ireland was President of Neptune Rowing Club and President of The Olympic Council of Ireland between 1976 and 1989. In an interview two years ago the current President of the OCI, Patrick Hickey had this to say:

We had a very bad experience here in that my predecessor [Desmond O’Sullivan] during the boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980, the government pulled the plug on our finance and tried to block participation of the Olympic team because of siding with the American government and Jimmy Carter’s boycott policy. My predecessor at the time resisted that very strongly, but to send the team, people had to go out on the street with collection boxes because the government pulled the plug. We decided we would never allow that to happen again so we set out to build up strong structures independent financially and that’s what we have done.

Dolphin Rowing Club would not join the exodus from Ringsend to the calmer waters of Islandbridge and they too had to fold. Below watch The Dolphin & Commercial Ringsend Regatta 1922 to see the crowded nature of the boathouses at the mouth of the River Dodder in Ringsend.

Now for the smoulder – Kieran would like to ask readers to see if they have any material to contribute to the archive. You can either scan the material and email it to irishrowingarchives@gmail.com or contact him to make arrangements to have it collected and returned.

If you are interested in preserving your club’s history you can apply to the River and Rowing Museum, Henley-on-Thames for their “Club Archive Kit” which provides tips and practical guidance to help clubs look after their history, images and artefacts. The guide is free from Chris Dodd at chris.dodd@rrm.co.uk

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