Rowing available – at one penny fare from D’Olier St
“Rowing Available – at 1p fare from D’Olier St.”
Founding & Early Days:
The Boat Club was founded in March 1917 with Arthur Clery acting as midwife – as he had also done for the Tennis Club. As was customary, Dr. Coffey was patron, and the Registrar, Dr. A.W. Conway was elected President. He had been an oarsman himself having rowed for his college at Cambridge. There were three Vice-Presidents, one of them being Arthur Clery. M.A. Ennis was commodore with L.K Branigan as captain. T.A McLaughlin (later to initiate the Shannon Scheme) was treasurer and A. Quirke, secretary. The other committee members were Messrs. Russell, O’Doherty, Duffy, Carroll and Nolan. Another founder member was J.J. McHenry, later to be President of University College, Cork.
There were few at the meeting but new members were hoped for after Easter; as the NATIONAL STUDENT remarked “If not UCD will have no Rowing Club.” As an incentive it was pointed out that the boathouse, actually that of Commercial R.C. at Ringsend, which took the infant under its wing, was a mere one penny fare from D’Olier St.
An unpublished manuscript by James Meenan gives a full description of the early days. In spite of the very small number of members the new club got down to business very quickly and first took to the water at the Metropolitan Clubs Regatta Fete on 27 July 1917.
“The College was represented by a coxed pair and a maiden four. In honour of the occasion it seems right to give all the names and details available. The pair consisted of J.J. McHenry, G. Dempsey and A. Russell. It beat Commercial by three lengths in the heat and, to quote the press account, was beaten by Neptune in the final ‘after a good race.’ The four, composed of J. Goulding, J. MacCurtin, J. Carroll and G. Dempsey, had a shorter run, being beaten by Neptune ‘easily, by one and a half lengths’.”
Athletes of all persuasions are wont to complain from time to time of the facilities provided – or the lack of them. They might be interested in a description of how things were at Ringsend:
“The surroundings were not attractive. The neighbourhood was shabby and in decay. In front of the boat houses, on the other side of the Dodder, stretched the docks of the coal importers. To the left the Dodder flowed down from Ballsbridge. It was not a sightly river as it served as the receptacle of drowned cats and dogs, old bedsteads and bicycles, that emerged into view at low tide. [Plastic bags had yet to be invented]. To the right lay the confluence with the Liffey. At the point of juncture there was a glue factory, which dispersed a peculiarly horrible, sweet and sickly, smell over all the neighbourhood. Definitely rowing had to be conducted in highly utilitarian surroundings. It was a far cry from the shaven lawns of Henley Royal Regatta.”
One may add that both the Liffey and the Dodder were tidal rivers and, effectively, little could be launched at low tide. Even when it was suitable, the water was seldom calm and quite a light wind could spell danger – to say nothing of the day to day river traffic.
The very early years are also described in an article in the Cork University Record by J.J McHenry, quoted in the Meenan account:
“In Dublin a beginning was made in 1917. At this time the UCD students had no boat-house, no boats, no funds. Rowing had almost ceased in the Dublin clubs, owing to the first world war of 1914-18. A small body of students led by one of the law professors – the late Arthur Clery – started a club and were given the use of boats and premises at Ringsend at a reduced membership fee. In 1918 at the Dublin regattas [which were still unofficial as the war had not yet ended] the students rowed in some of the regattas as UCD and in others they rowed as Commercial.”
“In the following year, 1919, UCD moved to the Dolphin Rowing Club premises at Ringsend as this club had more boats and fewer rowing men than Commercial, who were quicker to find their feet after the war. In those first years, 1918 and 1919, UCDRC had several wins and a Dolphin-UCD maiden eight composed mainly of College men was unbeaten on Liffey and Boyne, meeting their first defeat on the Bann at Coleraine at the last regatta of the season.”
By this time official regattas had re-commenced. University College Dublin Rowing Club to give it the proper title – which was changed to Boat Club in 1926 – affiliated to the IARU in 1922 possibly, it has been suggested, to enable it to participate in the Wylie Cup which had just been presented by Mr. Justice Wylie, President of the Union, to encourage Intervarsity rowing. Raymond Blake in BLACK AND WHITE, A HISTORY OF TRINITY ROWING, points out the very different status of the two clubs at the time:
“At this time, DUBC, though not back to its pre-war strength, was the only fully functional university boat club in Ireland. University College Boat Club was only in its infancy, and in the inaugural race for this trophy on 25 May the Trinity oarsmen were victorious. The UCD crew was entertained with the help of a £5 grant from DUCAC, but despite the initial success of the event, it was to be 1925 before it was held again.” In fact, Trinity won by a length and the UCD crew was O’Dwyer (bow), Mulvey, McHenry, Doyle (stroke) and Crean.
Under the terms of the agreement with Dolphin, that club had first choice of College oarsmen for its crews, time of practice and the like, which were eventually to lead to difficulties and, perhaps more importantly, meant that the Club could not compete under its own colours. Equally, however, it must be said that it was noted during those years that both Dolphin and the club enjoyed their rowing. Also it seems likely that without the support which it received UCDRC would have collapsed.
From the report of the 1925 Annual General Meeting, it would seem that the Woods Cup had been won at Carrick-on-Shannon in the previous season. There seems to be some mystery here. Meenan comments: “It is plain that the Cup for Junior IVs was won but it seems very odd that there is not a word about it in the records.”
In the 1925 season membership increased and a crew sallied out to defend the Cup but without success. In 1926 the Woods Cup was won. The SPORTS MAIL remarked that “Everybody interested in rowing will be pleased at National’s victory. They cannot boast many oarsmen, so that their victory is all the more creditable.”
Boat Club moves to Islandbridge (1928-40):
In 1928 the club left Ringsend for Islandbridge and joined up with Dublin Rowing Club. The experience gained in Ringsend was now used to good effect. The agreement with Dublin has been preserved which gave UCD the right to appear on any waters and to enter for regattas under IARU rules. Meenan again:
“The writer was secretary and then captain of the club in three of the four and a half years in which we were tenants of Dublin. He can recall how easily and pleasantly this agreement worked. There were occasional brushes, usually relating to the use of boats and oars. That was about all…”
At the end of the season rumours began to circulate that the club would shortly have a boat house of its own – some said as early as the following season which, in a College strapped for cash was patently over-optimistic but, in fact, the promised land was to appear at a speed which can be only marvelled at today.
The move to Islandbridge coincided with an increase in numbers to about thirty. The first club boat was a Clinker IV the gift of Mr. Waldron of New Jersey. This was obtained through the good offices of Mr. J.J. Hayes who was now starting a long association with the Club in a role which could be best described as General Manager. The Club first raced in its own colours in 1928 and the first trophy – the Foyle Challenge Cup – was won at Derry by the under-age Four in 1929. As the decade ended the SPORTS MAIL had a profile of J.G. Allen, captain, cox and coach who had succeeded in obtaining a grant of £500 through the Athletic Union Council – thereby starting a long saga of success in getting funds from the College to the continuing envy of other clubs!
A manuscript account by Peter Spillane now takes up the story:
“In 1929 the College Club, under the captaincy of J.G. Allen, put an under-age crew on the water. This crew travelled to Coleraine and Derry and to general surprise won their events in impressive fashion. This crew, coxed by J.G. Allen, with J.L. Ginnell as stroke, J.F. Meenan, E.T. Lawlor and Hanley must be considered the pioneers of rowing in UCD and it is a great tribute to their commitment that the club has survived to become a major force in Irish rowing.
The election of Jim Meenan as captain in 1931 proved to be a significant milestone in the development of the club. His dedication and enthusiasm was in no small way responsible for its impact on Irish rowing during the following decade. He was again elected captain in 1932 – a year which could be regarded as the start of a new phase of the development of the College Club…
He was President of the Irish Amateur Rowing Union in 1960 and 1961. Old Collegians Boat Club was started in 1936 with the aim of giving people who had left College a chance of keeping in touch with rowing and he was Hon. Secretary from 1936 to 1945.”
The major role played by Peter Spillane himself will become clear as the very well documented story of the club unfolds.
In 1932 everything changed. It started poorly with the death of Arthur Clery, founder and constant friend, who also left a legacy to the club for the purchase of very badly needed new boats. The new boat house was occupied during the summer. The club had now come of age and what would have seemed an impossible dream to the pioneers of Ringsend had actually been realised. The club was now fully independent. Junior and Maiden Eights and Fours were put on the water.
“…The Junior Eight was successful at Coleraine and later at Dublin Metropolitan Regattas. This was the club’s first win as a Junior Eight and a new status had been established. For the first time the Club had produced senior oarsmen who had acquired that status through College rowing ranks.”
In 1933 for almost the first time some freshmen having rowing experience with Belvedere College, joined the club. Trinity always had a constant infusion of experienced new blood. Now, for the first time, UCD was in a similar position and the results were to show during the next few years. Coached by Dermot St.J. Gogarty the Maiden Eight with Peter Spillane at number seven and stroked by J.St.L O’Dea won at Bann and Derry. The Junior Four won at Trinity and Dublin Metropolitan.
The SPORTS MAIL was always supportive:
“The majority of trophies won by this Club go to the credit of their junior sculler, J.F. Meenan, who had a wonderful season…Meenan was very unlucky to lose at the Trinity Regatta and his only other defeat was at Derry.”
The next year saw the Maiden Eight, winners at Trinity, New Ross, Cork and Metropolitan, go through the season unbeaten. It was stroked by H.J. McCann and included Ciaran Gannon.
In 1935 Peter Spillane was captain and at the Dublin Metropolitan Regatta the Club, making its first appearance in senior rowing, won the Senior Eights and first Senior Fours. Spillane reports:
“Neptune were a stronger and far more experienced crew and should have won. It says a lot for UCD’s keenness and J.A. Gargan’s coaching that with three maiden oarsmen in the boat they were able to win so comfortably. The Senior Four had an excellent race to win the Metropolitan Grand Challenge Cup, known as the Blue Riband and regarded as the unofficial Fours Championship of Ireland. The final regatta of the season was at Galway and the UCD Seniors scored a ‘Grand Slam’ winning the Senior Eights and both Senior Fours. …It was a fitting climax to an exciting season.”
In 1936 the Metropolitan Cup for Senior Fours was won again, and in March 1937 the annual triangular contest with Queen’s and Glasgow University was held on the Liffey for the first time. In April 1938 the rules for the Wylie were changed to allow for three crews – Maiden, Junior and Senior – to compete. For the first time two crews were sent to the Chester Head of the River which came in fifth and thirteenth.
The year was off to a good start and in May the breakthrough came when the Wylie Cup was won at last. As usual Trinity won the senior eights but both UCD juniors and the maidens were successful. Also successful were the new rules as both Queen’s and UCG took part. At the Trinity Regatta College won the Maiden and Senior fours, at Derry six trophies were won, at Cork seven and, at Limerick, four.
The NATIONAL STUDENT gave what was a very off-hand account of a season in which 26 cups were won in four days. At the Annual General Meeting Ciaran Gannon, the out-going captain was thanked for the most successful season in the history of the Club.
At the beginning of 1939 the Wylie rules were changed yet again and it was now to be for Maiden Fours, Junior Fours and Senior Eights. On the day College won all three races to hold the Cup. They also travelled to Chester for the Head of the River races winning the Pennant and also the Clinker Pennant. At the Trinity Regatta, College beat their hosts in the Grand Challenge Cup and the senior fours were also successful; indeed, five of the ten events were won.
The story was the same at the Metropolitan when all the Senior events were won. At New Ross an important milestone was reached and a dream was fulfilled when the Senior Eights Championship of Ireland was won for the first time. The crew which achieved the historic breakthrough was: Dermot Pierse (bow), James St.L. O’Dea, Laddie Gannon, Dermot Daly, Walter Maguire, Ciaran Gannon, John McDermott, Gerry Frost (stroke) and Victor Fennell (cox). The coach was J.J. Holloway. Seven events out of eight were won and on the following day the three Senior events at Waterford. In Cork, the Leander and seven other trophies were secured, and at Limerick College won all the races except one – in which they were not allowed to compete.
This was truly a great year; the Club had definitely arrived and the years of work and waiting seemed over. Unfortunately Hitler had other ideas and, although rowing was to continue, it now became a question of keeping things going against increasing difficulties.
Through the war years (1940-50):
For the moment, things continued as before. In April 1940 College won the Head of the River race from Islandbridge to Marlborough Street steps, which was instituted by Old Collegians, but in March Trinity regained the Wylie winning all three races. This was a temporary setback as the Senior Eight won the Grand Challenge Cup at the Trinity Regatta and retained the Senior Eights championship – the I.A.R.U. Cup – at Portadown. The Pembroke and the Blue Riband were won at Metropolitan, J.F. McDermott won the Senior Sculls and R.G. Hickey the Junior. At Cork the Seniors continued their winning way with McDermott again successful.
During the year, the club received a boost, away from the Liffey when its President, Prof. A.W. Conway became President of the College in succession to Dr. Coffey. He was an eminent mathematician, being one of the few Irish Fellows of the Royal Society, and student gossip at the time credited him with being asked to advise on the construction of the wings of the Spitfire.
Trinity retained the 1941 Wylie but College had its revenge at the Trinity Regatta when it won seven events, including a clean sweep of the Senior races. They went on to win the Leander Cup for Senior Eights for the fourth successive year in what was described as a sensational finish in Cork – involving a stewards’ inquiry.
In 1945, the Trinity Regatta proved to be a very successful one for College when the Senior Eight won the University Grand Challenge Cup, and the first Senior Four, the Isthmian Challenge Cup. In addition the Maiden Eight were the first winners of the new Maiden Eights Championship of Ireland; the Four was also successful.
At the Dublin Metropolitan Regatta in 1946, UCD won the Gray Cup for Junior Eights and the Liffey Cup for Junior Fours. By winning the Senior and Junior Eights the Club won the Wylie on the Lagan in March 1947, following this up with a win in the Head of the River. In June the Gannon Cup was presented for competition between UCDBC and DUBC in memory of Ciaran Gannon who had died on active service in Burma in March 1944 while serving with the RAMC. Trinity won the first race for the Cup by a length on the course, which is still used, from Heuston to Marlborough Street steps.
However, at the Trinity Regatta the University Grand Challenge Cup was won, at Limerick the IARU Junior Championship and at Waterford the Senior, so that both championships were won in the same season, as was to be the case again in 1948.
In 1947 also, for the first time, the club entered a crew at Henley. It reached the semi-final of the Thames Cup losing by two lengths to the eventual winners, Kent School (USA).
At the beginning of the 1948 season the club programme was geared to the Putney Head of the River and Henley. At Putney the club finished 20th of 165 entries, but at Henley they lost in the first round of the Thames Cup to Molesey by a length.
At Belfast, in an exciting race with Neptune, College retained the IARU Senior Eights Championship. As a result six members of the crew were selected for the All-Ireland crew for the London Olympic Games. Paddy Dooley was selected as stroke and was joined by Tom Dowdall, Morgan McElligott, Joe Hanly, Barry McDonnell and Denis Sugrue, together with Robin Tamplin of Trinity, Paddy Harold of Neptune and D.B. Taylor of Queen’s. R.G Hickey and Maurice Horan of Lady Elizabeth B.C were named as coaches – Hickey had played a significant part in the Club’s revival. The crew came third in their heat and lost to Norway in the repechage.
In 1949, the Maiden Eight finished sixth of twenty two crews in the North of England Head of the River at Chester and the Club came second to Trinity in Dublin. In the Senior Eights Trinity won consistently but College had some consolation in winning the Senior and Second Senior Fours at the Metropolitan. Trinity won the 1950 Wylie but UCD won the Senior Eights and in the Gannon Cup drew level right on the line to dead-heat.
At Henley we are told that the band of the Scots Guard played ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling’ as the UCD crew drew away from First and Third Cambridge to win by a length in a magnificent finish to get them to the semi-final of the Thames Cup against Kent School, the eventual winners.
(This account was taken from the book – St. Patrick’s Blue and Saffron, a miscellany of UCD Sport since 1895′ by Prof. Patrick N. Meenan, published 1997)