Ireland’s Part in the Growth of the F.I.S.A. Family

Erin go Bragh (Ireland Forever) – Embossed postcard from c.1910.

17 march 2017

 Greg of Lalaland writes:

 St Patrick’s Day Haiku
Ireland’s rowing team –
Holding the thin green line since
Nineteen forty-eight.

Rowing at the 1948 Summer Olympics was held in Henley-on-Thames from 5 to 9 August. Two days before the start of racing, on 3 August, F.I.S.A. held its Extraordinary Congress in the town and submitted to its delegates an application from the Irish Amateur Rowing Union for membership. The application was admitted unanimously and the way cleared for an Irish representative crew to race at an international event for the first time.

On 3 September, confirmation of acceptance into the ‘rowing family’ was issued by the general secretary of F.I.S.A., Gaston Mullegg. The letter of confirmation also requested a total of 400 Swiss francs (CHF) in respect of the combined entrance fee and the annual subscription. This amounted to twenty-three-pounds-two-shillings; a tidy sum in 1948 which required clearance by the Exchange Control Section of the Department of Finance. For comparison, the fee payable by Ireland this year is 1,000 CHF.

Founded in 1899 as the national body for rowing in all of Ireland, the I.A.R.U. selected a crew containing eight men who were members of Dublin clubs and one man, Danny Taylor, who was a member of Queen’s University Belfast Boat Club. Taylor’s selection for the crew established the Thin Green Line ensuring that Irish crews could contain members from both political jurisdictions on the geographical island of Ireland.

In 2012, I wrote about the 1948 dispute between the Irish Olympic Council and the Olympic Organising Committee which saw many Irish athletes barred from taking part in the athletics and swimming competitions and how the I.A.R.U. used their diplomatic skills to overcome Lord Burghley’s dogmatic resistance to allowing ‘Ireland’ compete as a single team; read part 1 here and follow the link to part 2.

I recently discovered that an RTÉ Radio One documentary, Thin Green Line, is available for playback online. Produced by Irish rowing historian and Steward of Henley Royal Regatta, Micheal Johnston, the documentary which was first broadcast in 1989 looks at the issues that caused such controversy, and interviews the athletes who were directly affected. The programme’s blurb reads:

The documentary focuses on the row between the Irish Olympic Council and the organising committee. This row turned around two specific issues. Firstly, whether the country would compete under the name Éire or Ireland. And secondly, whether athletes from Northern Ireland could be in the Irish team. Laurence Foster reads the words of the British officials, while Daniel Reardon reads the words of the press. Members of the Irish team, Paddy Dooley, David Guiney, Wally Stevens, Denis Sugrue and Robin Tamplin also recall their experiences of the Games.

You’re in! Photo: Irish Rowing Archives.
Stroke and Captain of the Irish crew in 1948, Paddy Dooley laid down the law to his crew. Photo: Irish Rowing Archives.

This year, F.I.S.A. (World Rowing) celebrates its 125th anniversary. It was founded in 1892 by Adriatica, Belgium, France, Italy and Switzerland. The next country to join was the Netherlands in 1913 but non-membership of the international federation was no bar to competing at the early Olympic Games. In 1908, eight nations raced at Henley-on-Thames but only two, Belgium and Italy, were affiliated to F.I.S.A. The letterhead pictured above lists all the countries affiliated following the 1948 congress in the order of admission with the names of Japan and Germany crossed out and the recent additions typed in: Sweden and Norway joined in 1946; Great Britain, Austria and Australia in 1947; and five countries, South Africa, Ireland, Canada, Cuba and Chile in 1948. Out of the 31 countries eligible to race at the 1948 Olympic Regatta only four; Spain, Poland, Romania and Chile did not enter.

By 1956 the rowing family had grown to 38 countries. Japan re-joined in 1951 and was joined that year by West Germany and Mexico. The following year, the USSR and New Zealand were admitted. Bulgaria joined in 1955 and East Germany in 1956. At the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Regatta held on Lake Wendouree, Ballarat, 25 countries competed including a unified German team.

All countries are equal but some countries are more equal than others – F.I.S.A. members in 1956. Photo: Irish Rowing Archives.

Since 1956, World Rowing has grown steadily and current membership stands at 151 members including 40 from Europe. For the 2016 Olympic Regatta in Rio de Janeiro, 69 countries qualified boats of which 25 had only one entry: 21 NOCs won medals, 15 of them from Europe. These impressive numbers may prove difficult to improve on especially with the proposed Tokyo Olympic programme for 2020 that World Rowing will recommend to the IOC.

I spy with my little eye something beginning with ‘F’. Ireland takes its place among the cupcakes of the world at the F.I.S.A. 125th celebration at the River and Rowing Museum, Henley-on-Thames, on 4 March 2017. Photo: @RegattaSport1.
That’s not a shamrock! Photo: Colours Boat Races.

In more recent years, the St Patrick’s weekend has become synonymous with the University Boat Races between Dublin University and University College, Dublin. Raced on the River Liffey through the centre of Dublin, the four races for senior and novice eights for both men and women are collectively known as The Colours Boat Races. The oldest race is the Gannon Cup for senior men which began in 1947. The Corcoran Cup for senior women began in 1980 with the novice events beginning in 2004 (men) and 2005 (women). Tomorrow’s races which begin at 1.30 pm will be from O’Connell Bridge to St. James’s Gate, home of Guinness since 1759. With England in town for the final match in this year’s Rugby Six Nations (5 pm KO) there is sure to be a party atmosphere. There will be time to catch all four races and then find a nice quite spot in a pub and answer Ireland’s Call – my only advice ‘Don’t drink green beer’.

Sometimes it’s hard to find the thin green racing line! Photo: Steve Krave (flicker).


  1. According to the text of your article Adriatica was a founder member of FISA. What or where is Adriatica, please?

    • Good question Lionel; one which I should have addressed in the article. Adriatica was the affiliated name for those clubs around Trieste (now in northeast Italy on the Adriatic coast) which at the foundation of F.I.S.A. was not part of Italy. The first European Rowing Championships were held in 1893 on Lake Orta, Italy, but I cannot find evidence that Adriatica took park. Read more about the history of Trieste at

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