The mighty men of Menlo

July 4 1929 was an important day in the history of rowing in this country, and particularly in this part of the country, because that was the day that Emmetts Rowing Club from Menlo brought the first senior eights championship trophy to Galway. Almost all the members of the crew were native Irish speakers and all lived locally and worked by the river. During a very wet spring when they could do very little farmwork, someone suggested to them that as boatmen, if they were all put into a racing eight, they would be able to take on any crew.

In 1926, they won the maiden eights at Galway Regatta. The following year they won junior eights at Limerick, Galway, and Metropolitan Regattas, and the junior fours at the latter two. In 1928 they graduated to senior fours, senior eights, and premier fours... they were runners up in the senior eights championship in Cork. So the scene was set for Galway Regatta 1929. Emmetts beat Limerick RC and Galway RC in their heat, while Trinity beat Bann and Belfast BC in theirs. Trinity were famous for their fast start. The start was level and both crews set off at a very fast pace, both rowing well. The Trinity boat was fitted with a device by which, when the cox pressed a button, a bell rang under each man’s seat as a signal to increase his pace. Trinity went into the lead and their bells rang as they approached the Gridiron but Emmetts were getting closer and closer.

One of the legends is that the Menlo cox, in this most intensely physical of sports, is reported to have said to the Trinity crew, as Emmetts drew level with them: “Soft day, men, thank God”. Emmetts passed them, and while Trinity gamely tried to catch them again, they could not do so. Near the tail of the wood, the Menlo men shot ahead, and rowing beautifully, went on to win by two and a half lengths. They arrived back at the landing stage looking very fresh, and gave the impression that they could have rowed the race again.

The entire population of Menlo had turned out to see their heroes bring ‘the Blue Riband of Irish rowing’ to Galway for the first time and they cheered and cheered. The likes of the hurrahs that saluted the crew after winning were never heard at the Big House before or since. Most Menlo people had backed their own crew. Early in the day, bookmakers had quoted evens against Emmetts, but they would not accept any more bets after the second heat. As for the crew, they bore the tumultuous applause modestly, even shyly, and they vigorously cheered Trinity when they finished.

Rarely has there been a more popular win than this, and the crew have gone into folk memory and generated many legends. Emmetts went on to win their second ‘Blue Riband’ in 1931. In 1988 a plaque to these two crews was unveiled at Menlo Pier.

Today’s photograph is of the 1929 crew and they are, left to right: Michael Faherty (2 ); Malachy Ward, bow; J Connell (5 ); Mike Ward (6 ); D Hickey, cox; T Savage, (3 ); M Connell (7 ); M Lawless, stroke; John Faherty (4 ). A Mr P Elwood was the club president, T Brown was the captain, and P Lydon was the secretary.

On Sunday next there will be a special Mass to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Emmetts crew in the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Coolough at 9.30am. All are welcome.

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