It’s skiff racing season and once again these small elegant boats can be seen cutting through the dark waters of the Liffey, powered by teams of dedicated rowers who take to the river daily during the summer months.
Skiffs are based on the small open boats originally used by Hobblers, fearless men who risked all to link up with the ships and schooners making their way into Dublin port laden with cargo. The first boat to reach an incoming vessel and get a hook over the side got the job of guiding her into the Port, tying her up, and untying her when she was ready to cast off again. If they were lucky a team could get up to a week’s work discharging the vessel. It was hard work and tales about the bravery and daring of the men who worked the hobbling boats in dangerous waters are a part of the history and folklore of Ringsend and Irishtown.
During times when employment was hard to come by many local families survived on the Hobblers wages. Hobbling died out during the 1940s, as working conditions in the Port improved and pilot boats and tugs replaced their line of work.
Today, there are two skiff rowing clubs in Ringsend, St. Patrick’s (Paddy’s), which is situated in the shadow of the East Link Bridge, and Stella Maris, which is a stone’s throw away beside Poolbeg Yacht Club.
Skiff racing was very popular when the Hobbling boats operated but almost died out with the job. The rivalry between ‘Paddy’s’ and Stella Maris is largely responsible for keeping the tradition alive. Today there are rowing clubs all along the East Coast from Skerries to Arklow and their teams compete in regattas, hosted by each club, from May until August. Competition between the clubs is fierce.
No longer seen as a macho pursuit, today the sport is popular with men and women, boys and girls. St. Patrick’s and Stella Maris have teams for males and females in Senior, Junior, Novice, Under 18, Under 16, Under 12, Mixed Crew, Juvenile and OAP divisions.
Family participation in the sport is common and both Stella Maris and St. Pat’s have family members who row for teams in different categories or who competed in the past. The older members help run the clubs. Many are former rowers and still go out on the water occasionally, training new crews and acting as cox for the teams in training. They also teach new members traditional skills such as boat maintenance and oar making.
NewsFour spoke to Stella Maris Under 18 Girls’ team, Olivia Bannable (Stroke), Katelyn Behan (2nd Stroke), Chloe Bannable (Bow) and Ciara Bowden (2nd Bow). The girls started rowing together as a team this season and have been very successful in competition. They have been involved with Stella Maris since they were under 12, encouraged to join by parents and family members who are members of the club. They are great friends and love spending time together every day, practicing, competing and especially winning. As a team they are very competitive and the girls look forward to the regattas. Asked if they are ever nervous, they agree that they sometimes are but not, it turns out, about the water or the weather. The only thing that makes them anxious is that they might not win their races.
The girls make the point that women are as interested in rowing as men these days and say that anyone can do it. “You don’t have to be a certain weight or size and your fitness levels will improve if you are rowing every day,” says Olivia. Even when if the weather is bad and it’s hard to get out they look forward to their time on the water and know that they will come back feeling great. Rowing as a team keeps them fit and disciplined and they ooze energy and excitement when they talk about training and competing. “It’s great for fitness because you can’t slack or stop working on the water. You are part of the team and you have to keep going,” says Chloe.
The four girls agree that they hope to continue rowing with the club for as long as they can. Chloe jokes that she can see herself as the “mammy of the club someday,” like some of the older members who have influenced and encouraged them since they became members. NewsFour will have to check on that in many years to come!