The Hope Row

This year’s Hope Row took place on Saturday, September 10th. Now in its fourth year, the event is hosted annually by Stella Maris Rowing Club to raise money for good causes. Beneficiaries this year are St Vincent’s Oncology Unit in the Mater Hospital and The Royal Hospital, Donnybrook.

It was great day on the river with bright sunshine and very little wind to impede the rowers as they fought to win in their respective categories. Thirty-nine crews from seven of the eastern seaboard clubs took part. Although this was a charity event, competition between the clubs was as fierce as ever as each crew battled to to pass the finish line ahead of their rivals.

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The Hope Row differs from club regattas. It is not included in the competition for the East Coast Championships Shield, which was claimed once again this season by Stella Maris for the fourth year in succession. Well done Stella! The crews race over shorter and longer distances and they mix it up a bit when it comes to crews.

There was a huge element of fun involved.  Paddy’s Richie Saunders and Stella’s Mick Curry joined forces to challenge the East Coast currach rowers. To see a Paddy’s man and a Stella man in a boat together is rare but they put aside their rivalries to raise funds for these two great Dublin institutions.

The big races at the event were the Men’s Long Race, which was won by the St Patrick’s Men’s Senior Crew, all descendants of the original Hobblers, and the Ladies and Mixed Long Races, which were both won by crews from St Michael’s Rowing Club, Dún Laoghaire who were the overall winners of The Hope Cup. These races were 13 kilometers, far longer than the distance typically raced in regattas, and taxed the crews to their limits.

One of the most exciting competitions of the day saw Stella Maris fathers Liam and Michael Bannable join their respective daughters, Olivia and Chloe, to compete in the Mixed Race, which they won by some distance.

Any report of the event would be incomplete without acknowledging the fantastic work of Sharon Bolger who took on the mammoth task of feeding the crews, and everybody else who happened by, with her delicious burgers and hotdogs. She played a blinder on the BBQ all day with a smile on her face and a word for everybody. Stella’s David Doyle was in charge of the faultless organisation, ably assisted by the club’s members.

Crews and supporters from all the clubs celebrated well into the night with live music and craic in The Poolbeg Yacht Club. They were joined by those who took part in The Hill & Back 7km run/walk/crawl of Irishtown Nature Park, which was part of the event.

The Hope Row marks the end of the rowing season for another year. Soon the skiffs will be cleaned and stored safely for the winter, the oars will be painted and hung on the walls of the clubhouses and the rowers will find gyms and football clubs to get their winter kicks until the season starts again next May.

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Skiff racing and the girls of Stella Maris

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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!

Is fánach an áit ina bhfaighfeá gliomach

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“Is fánach an áit ina bhfaighfeá gliomach” (You never know where you will find a lobster) quoted boating specialist and author, Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh, as he helped celebrate the launch of a very special boat.

The launch was held on Friday, September 11th, at the Ringsend Registered Fishermen & Private Boat Owners Association boatyard, Pigeon House Road.  It was attended by forty or more boating and rowing enthusiasts, including members of the Ringsend Boat Owners Association, as well as members of the Stella Maris and St Patrick’s rowing clubs.  Those who braved an absolute deluge of rain to be there were well rewarded with a memorable evening.

The boat in question is a currach, one of a handful on the Liffey.  The man who built it, Edwin Tuthill, is a carpenter by trade and comes from landlocked Clane, Co Kildare.  Edwin fell in love with the elegant shape of this iconic boat when he first saw currachs on visits to the West of Ireland.  Notwithstanding the fact that he had never been on one, didn’t row, and didn’t live near a body of water, the craftsmanship appealed to the carpenter in him and he wanted to build a currach of his own.

So he set off to Spiddal, armed with only a measuring tape and a notebook.  He had no contacts there. He took measurements from the currachs which were, as is the tradition, moored upside down on the beach. He returned to Kildare with his figures, drew up a plan, and “with a rush of blood to the head” started to build.  He made great headway for about six weeks and “half-finished” the boat.  Then he hit a brick wall, builders block, so to speak.  He covered it with tarpaulin, stored it at the bottom of his garden and more or less forgot about it. Over the years he would occasionally look at it from his kitchen window and resolve to dismantle it, but he never did.

Ten years later, his friend, Ciarán Healy, introduced him to David Kelly, a Dubliner with a huge interest in currachs, cultivated on his many visits to Inishmaan.  David is a familiar sight on the Liffey.  He takes his own currachs out on the river three hundred and sixty-five days a year.

Edwin’s first trip on the water, crewing on David’s boat, re-ignited his enthusiasm for the project. It didn’t take long for him to get the hang of the rowing and he’s “flying at it now.”

When Eddie Byrne, secretary of the local boat owners club, heard about Edwin’s boat he offered the use of the boatyard to complete it.  With his support and with help from David and other members of the Liffeyside boating community, work on the currach was complete.

Eddie B and his wife Phyllis said that they would host the launch and provide “tea and sandwiches”, which turned out to be a feast, fit for a wedding.  The wine and beer flowed.  After all, the boat had to be blessed.  As Páraic Ó Flátharta, an Inis Mór native, who lent his expertise to the project, explained,“In the west nobody would sit into a currach until it’s been blessed.”

The blessing was performed by boating enthusiast Father Derek Harris.  Despite the foul weather, the majority of the assembly left the warmth of the boathouse to witness the proceedings.  Edwin stood by, as nervous as a bridegroom, slightly overwhelmed by the occasion.

All eyes were on the currach as she glistened under the boatyard lights in the rain, which was now coming down in buckets.  The skiff rowers from the Dublin rowing clubs smiled admiringly.  They all love the currach; its classic shape, its buoyancy, its agility on the water and the boating tradition it represents. Everyone agreed that “Ed made a beautiful boat.”

It’s hard to find a positive water-based story in Ireland these days but the blessing of Edwin’s curragh is certainly good news.  An evening filled with stories and music, the launch was about camaraderie, generosity and the celebration of achievement.  Lobsters do turn up in the strangest of places.