Galway Rowing Club, one hundred years

Competitive rowing had been taking place on the Corrib for many years when the Ancient Order of Hibernians decided to form a new club in 1910. They got local contractor Walter Flaherty (who had already built the Corrib Club ) to build a wooden clubhouse on the site of the present Galway Rowing Club. It was tarred each year up to 1970 in order to preserve the wood, and so it became known as ‘the Blackening Box’. In that year also there was a dispute in Saint Patrick’s Rowing Club and a number of oarsmen left and joined the new club.

Included in that group were Larry Sarsfield, Eugene Hickey, Tom Shaughnessy, Richard Walsh, Jack Monahan, James Kelly, and Denis Hickey. This meant the club had a strong nucleus of oarsmen on its foundation.

At one of the meetings it was decided to call the club Hibernian Boat Club, so they became known as ‘Hibs’. Later in 1914, this name was changed to Galway Rowing Club. They started to compete straight away and took part in Galway Regatta in 1910, 1912, 1913, and 1914. There was no regatta in 1911 because of the fire in Menlo Castle. They won their first trophy in the Open Fours in 1910 with a crew of Larry Sarsfield, bow; A Francis; M Lally; J Maloney, stroke; and P Tierney, cox. These were the first of thousands of oarsmen and women who have represented Galway Rowing Club over the years.

The resumption of organised regattas after World War I began a period of outstanding achievement for the club as they won a lot of trophies at different levels around the country. Like all clubs there were highs and lows, and the 30s was a lean period in terms of trophies. Things improved in the forties when the club produced some very strong women’s crews and the men won a number of national championships. Then, from 1953, the club began to deteriorate, as if a sickness got hold of it. The clubhouse was falling into disrepair, and for a time the committee had to meet elsewhere. But happily, a strong committee led by Paddy Lally decided to knock the Blackening Box and build a new clubhouse, which opened in 1970.

There is a strong social element to the building where they hold meetings, dances, card games, lectures, concerts, etc. It is much more than just a rowing club, but rowing is at the core of their activities. They have survived because of the loyalty and hard work of their members, people like Rucan Heaney, Mick Hughes, Bernard O’Halloran, Paddy Lally, the Elwoods, the Fordes, Miley McGrath, the Grealishes, and the Divineys have dedicated much time and energy to the running of GRC.

As the club prepares for their 100th year, they are publishing A History of Galway Rowing Club by James Casserly. This book, which was a labour of love for James, will be launched in the clubhouse tomorrow evening by Bobby Molloy. It is full of information, results, dates, lists of crews, etc, and is profusely illustrated with lots of photographs... a terrific addition to any Galway library, available in good bookshops.

Our photographs are:

The 1948 Maiden Eights Champions of Ireland at the slip: Richard Walsh, cox, with his back to the camera; Ollie Melvin, stroke; Martin Dolan 7; Patsy Hughes 6; Brod Conneely 5; John Elwood 4; Mickey Elwood 3; Jackie Mannion 2; and Martin Redington, bow. Standing on the bank are Mickey Hannon (nearest camera ), club captain; Paddy Fahy (in the hat ); Peter Griffin (in the raincoat ); and Tommy Morris (stooping down ).

The 1959 crew: John Kinneen, captain; Michael Shaughnessy 5; Des Shaughnessy 6; Michael Garvey 7; Miley McGrath, stroke; John Jordan, cox; Theo Heaney, bow; George Deacy 2; Michael Hackett 3; John Shaughnessy 4; and Vinny Griffin, chairman.

Rucán Heaney at the back of the ‘Blackening Box’, 1970.

1978 Junior Eights Champions of Ireland: In front are Tony Walsh, cox, and John Grealish, captain. Standing are Martin Forde, Willie Forde, Brian Fahy, Tony Freeney, Michael R Hughes, Gerry Hannon, Seamus Ward, and Paddy Lally.

On Monday night next, December 8, at 8pm in the Harbour Hotel, the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society will host a lecture by Professor John Waddell entitled Unearthing the Ancient Celts, during which he will discuss some of the spectacular archaeological discoveries of the ancient Celtic world in continental Europe, and examine the networks of contacts that linked this world and Celtic Ireland. All are welcome.

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