Irish Rowing – 1949 to 1964
by Barry Doyle
The Irish Amateur Rowing Union existed with a very limited function and was inadequately funded. The only source of income was from annual club subscriptions of 10 Guineas per club. The Union administered the rules of rowing and allotted the Championships to venues on a rotating basis. These championships were in Eights only and were expanded to the three categories of Senior, Junior and Maiden (the last being for oarsmen who had not won any event prior to the then current season). Any thoughts of international competition were confined to the possibility of the Olympic cycle and venues.
In 1952 Trinity College were dominant and with a majority of English oarsmen. Helsinki therefore posed no problem on selection or finance. Melbourne 1956 was not even considered on grounds of remoteness and cost.
Rome 1960 prompted an announcement by the Union of intention to send a crew subject to final trials and standards. UCD were Senior Champions in that year. The final trial was fixed for late July. No other crew presented at the trials. Due to late arrival of the officials the trials finished in darkness. Because of a strong head wind on Blessington Lake it was decided to row two courses in opposite directions and take an average of the two times. Timing on the second run (from current Finish Line to Starting Line) was by one watch held by an official on the road. A young member of Commercial Rowing Club was sent down to the water’s edge with instructions to shout when the crew, which could not be seen from the road, was passing. In due course it was announced that the time was one second outside the modest qualification requirement and no selection would be made.
1964 was Tokyo and ruled out for remoteness but in recognition of two years of good performances, unbeaten in Ireland and semi-final and quarter-final placings in the Wyfolds, the Union decided to send Old Collegians (4-) to the European Championships in Amsterdam. In the context of limited finances and total inexperience of the logistics involved, this was a brave decision and evidence of a growing awareness of the broader spectrum. On financial grounds the crew was coxless rather than coxed. A coxless boat could be transported by the British from London for Five Pounds but this was refused due to lack of finance and it was decided to borrow a boat in Holland. Four oars, four rowers and a manager – Wally Stevens, then Secretary of the Union – were sent. Accomodation was in a University Hostel with four persons to a room. Four self-funding supporters travelled.
The borrowed boat was new, modern and with 26 inch slides – perfect but not for use with old style orthodox blades which had been used with 22 inch slides. Results on the water were predictably bad. A blast off the start in the repechage left the crew level after 250 meters but fading rapidly. Finishing position in heat and repechage was sixth.
In terms of immediate returns it was a waste of money but the ice was broken. The need for development and proper organization was high lighted. Active competitors were encouraged. The Union Executive realized the requirement for a continuing and organized programme which evolved slowly and in due course Sean Drea underlined the possibilities and moved the sport on into the modern era.
Bosbaan 1964 was a time of frustration mixed with enjoyment, a sense of futility mixed with a sense of achievement in actually achieving international representative honours. It can best be regarded as a faltering step into the real world.