by Donal Carroll, Evening Herald, 9th July 1963
When the crews line up at the stake-boat for the Senior Rowing Championship at Limerick on July 20, much interest will centre on the wiry, muscular St. Patrick’s blue-and-saffron clad UCD Boat Club eight; for this balanced, superbly-drilled squad not only pioneered the spade-blade in local waters – they are the new frontiersmen of Irish rowing, whose impact on the ancient pastime was as welcome as the flowers in May.
True, the incentive was there from the start, for while great across-the-river-rivals, Dublin University, had one whale of a start, each member had the inborn determination to do as well, if not better, over the long haul.
This razor-keen rivalry has paid off in spades, for it has given the sport a new dimension, coaxed back many of the well-wishers and given the universities a monopoly of the “Senior” which they have garnered every year since 1935.
But while Dublin University Boat Club took its first, faltering steps in the last century, “National” came into being only in 1917, and then for a very short period, indeed.
Revived in 1928, they “lodged” temporarily with Dublin Rowing Club – in the premises now occupied by resurgent Dublin Commercials – before building their own home alongside at Islandbridge.
The driving force behind the revival was Professor Arthur Clery, sometime oarsman, all-time benefactor and the first president of the club as we know it. Professor Clery master-minded the present spick-and-span boathouse – a dream he was never to see realised, for he died before the official opening in 1932.
A couple of years earlier, the new and homeless club had crashed the success barrier when an under-age four, consisting of J. F. Meenan, E. T. Lalor, J. J. Hanly, J. L. Ginnell (stroke), and J. Allen (captain and cox), rowed to victory at Bann and Derry.
J. F. Meenan is now Professor of Economics at University College, and G. L. Ginnell is a higher official of the Irish Sugar Company.
The year 1932 not only signalled the opening of the new boathouse; it also signalled the first victory over Trinity – a feat they have since repeated even at the latter’s own regatta.
Incidentally, the bow of the 1929-30-winning boat, the “Miss Newark” holds a place of honour in the boathouse proper amid winning pennants – and a half one they shared with Neptune – and other “trophies” not won at all of which were won on the water.
There it is a source of particular satisfaction to boatman, Billy Bass junior, and of inspiration to all budding oarsmen.
Boatman Bass arrived with the clubhouse in ’32. Weaned to the job by his father, who had previously “done” for Trinity, young Billy came from the army, and has “soldiered” faithfully since with “National” savouring their triumphs and sharing their sorrows.
In 1934, another milestone was passed, when the club’s Maiden Eight, coached by the distinguished Cambridge oarsman, Dermot St. John Gogarty, went through the season unbeaten.
The squad, captained by Peter Spillane, their present coach, formed the nucleus of the Senior Eight crew which rowed to victory at Dublin Metropolitan and Galway in ’35. The other members were Eddie Leavey, Brendan O’Condon-Donnellan, Harry McCann, Daniel O’Sullivan, Ciaran Gannon, Ernie Holloway, James St L O’Dea and cox Tommy Doyle.
Holloway, now in Birmingham, was later to become Secretary of the Irish Amateur Rowing Union, O’Dea became Assistant Superintendent at St. Kevin’s Hospital, while anyone with any knowledge of our connection with the Dublin Grand Opera Society needs no introduction to Tommy Doyle.
Gannon, a most forceful personality, became captain of the club in 1937, and under his leadership, membership increased enormously. Re-elected in the following season, his work bore fruit a year later when the club’s senior and junior eights completed a wonderful championship double.
Bow and captain of the successful senior squad was Dermot Pierse, and the remaining members were James O’Dea, “Laddie” Gannon – brother of Ciaran – Dermot Daly, Walter Maguire, Ciaran Gannon, John McDermott, Gerry Frost (stroke) and Victor Fennell (cox).
With the exception of McDermott, who was accountancy-bent, all the others were medical students.
Other members of that unbeaten ’39 senior crew were the brothers Maurice (now State Pathologist) and the late Ray Hickey, and with changes at bow (Ray Hickey), at two (P. J. O'Donnellan), and at four (Frankie McKenna) the club went on to record its second Senior success in 1940.
Thus ended the first phase of the development of the club; a development which was to be arrested during the war years when the “run on medicos” meant sub-standard crews and poor returns. Victims of the blood bath which raged for the six dark years were the great Ciaran Gannon, who was killed with the R.A.M.C. in Burma in 1945, and Harry McCann.
No sooner had the last shot been fired on the approaches to Berlin when “National” were back in the business of collecting trophies. A fine , which included such as Paddy Dooley – later to become captain – Donie O’Leary (now a doctor in the U.S. of America) and Denis Sugrue (well-known Dublin surgeon) were first to break the barren spell.
After a gap of a yearm the Senior–Junior Eight Championship double was again completed in 1947, and victory in the Senior event meant a coveted first-ever trip to Henley. But, though reaching the semi-final of the Thames Cup, they eventually came a cropper to the crack U.S.A. entry, Kent School.
Another championship double was chalked up in ’48 and U.C.D. were duly nominated for the Olympic Games. The crew, stroked by club captain, Paddy Dooley, also comprised Tom Dowdall, Morgan McElligott, Joe Hanly – now president of the club – Barry McDonnell, Denis Sugrue and “guests” Don Taylor (Queens), R. W. R. Tamplin and H. R. Chauter (Trinity), and the Neptune trio, Paddy Harold, Wally Stevens and famed cox, Jack Nolan.
Before leaving the fiery forties one must note the inauguration of the Gannon Cup competition. This trophy, presented by UCD, perpetuates the memory of their great Captain Ciaran Gannon and is competed for annually along the Liffey stretches by the senior eights of National and Trinity.
Perhaps more than all, this competition serves to underline the friendly, but strong rivalry between the metropolitan universities. And, for the statically-minded, the 15 races to date have yielded seven successes to each with one tied.
Belfastman, Danny Macauley, took over as Captain in 1950, was re-elected in ’51 and under his steady and sturdy leadership, coupled with the expert coaching of the late Ray Hickey the club annexed the Senior and Championships.
The Junior and were added in the following season, but the remainder of the fifties – with the exception of ’55 when they again captured the Senior – were largely unspectacular.
In ’59, however, their Senior Eight had the satisfaction of pipping the highly-rated Frankfort (Germany) crew at Limerick, and they conquered visiting Coblenz at Cork and Limerick in the season following.
In that year, too, the Senior, the Dublin “Head” and the Gannon Cup made a handsome trio of triumphs, while a year later they did it again, and added the Wylie Cup for the Universities’ Championship.
Another trip to Henley followed the ’61 success but here history was to repeat itself, for Kent School again provided the opposition – and the old one-two.
It was now that the superb work of Peter Spillane as coach – he was appointed in 1956 – was seen to full effect, and last season the first “hat-trick” of Gannon Cup victories was recorded.
This year, to be sure, they have done nothing sensational – as yet. But under the captaincy of bow-or-number-two-cum-sculler Austin Carty, and the coaching skill of the successful Spillane, they could yet land the big prize.
Warns skipper Carty: “We hope to come to peak form at Limerick.”
Certainly all is in readiness for the big effort, and the spirit is right to add further glory to an already star-spangled history of achievement. And – who knows? – perhaps in far-off Washington D.C. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy is eagerly-awaiting that day when, as he “promised” on “Conferring Day”, he can “cheer for Trinity and pray for National.”