Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Now that the Leaving Certificate exams are about to start and the rowing season is in full swing, we thought to share the following story.

St Joseph’s secondary school rowing club first competed in 1932 when they beat St Patrick’s in the schoolboy fours. They soon became a force in rowing but in the early 1950s, the club was at a low ebb. They had no clubhouse, no equipment, and no coach.

A few of the boys who were not involved in any other sport got together and decided to start a crew. They discovered four oars belonging to the Bish Club of old in the Commercial Club which they were allowed borrow on condition they had a Brother in charge. Brother Otteran Mohan became their mentor. They arranged to borrow a boat, The Munchun, from Hibs (Galway Rowing Club ) with the help of Rookaun Heaney. They approached Fr Eddie Diffley who was in charge of rowing in the Jes and who was interested in having a strong schools rowing base in Galway. He taught them the fundamentals of the stroke on a rowing machine at the back of the Jes and then brought them up the river with Jes crews.

Michael Hannon of Hibs eventually became their coach and Jimmy Heaslip was made captain. Their boat was converted from block to swivel rigs and the oars modified to suit by Charlie McCarrick in the tech.

In 1953 Trinity Regatta was late because of the coronation of the queen, and when it was coming up, the boys resolved to compete for the unofficial but de facto schools championship. It was during their Leaving Cert exams so they were refused permission to travel. They had a free day on Saturday and there was consternation when it was discovered they were all missing. They had no money so they decided to hitch-hike to Dublin, their first lift bringing them to Merlin Park, but things improved and they reached their destination at 1.45pm. They had no food. Trinity Rowing Club gave them the loan of a boat and Neptune gave them oars. They came into the enclosure just in time to hear themselves being called to put out the boat.

They raced in their own white T-shirts and beat Belfast Royal Academical Institution in the semi-final, went on to win the final by beating the Jes by two lengths, and were awarded the cup and a medal each. They were given some food by the host club and, trophies in hand, they started hitching home. They got as far as Athlone where they were put up in the local Garda station. The following morning, Garda Mannion gave them a big breakfast, stopped a car, and sent them on their way home.

Had they not won, there would probably have been some terrible retribution, but because they were All-Ireland champions, they became heroes. I have no record of how they did in their exams.

Our photograph shows the intrepid five in action. They are, from the left; Jimmy Heaslip, Eamonn Geary, Jim Mannion, Seán McErlean, and Des ‘Scrapper’ Kenny, who was the cox. They were often joined by four others to make up an eight man crew, Seamus Powell, Jimmy Clancy, Joe Tyrrell, and Brian Callagy, and they had a very good rowing season.

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