Menlo oarsmen

One of the great sporting achievements of the last century was the remarkable success of a group of Irish speaking farmers and local men from Menlo. During a very wet spring when they could do little work on their farms or on the bog, as they watched rowing crews going up and down the river, a group of them decided to form a rowing club. They asked to become members of Menlo Emmetts Hurling Club and adopted the name. Many of them would have spent a lot of time on the river, but that did not mean they knew how to handle a racing boat. When they took their clinker out for the first time, it took them a good while to steady the boat. A local man watching, described them as “The Wobblers” and this name stuck for a few years.

They were determined to succeed and they trained hard and became expert oarsmen. Their training took place after a hard day’s work but their dedication paid off, and at the 1927 Metropolitan Regatta they won both the junior fours and eights. Rowing people now realised that these men were a force to be reckoned with. By 1928 they had graduated to senior rowing.

Their greatest triumph came on July 5, 1929, at Galway Regatta. They got to the final of the Senior Eights Championship, the ‘Blue Riband” of Irish rowing. Their opponents were Trinity College, renowned for their fast start. The entire village of Menlo was gathered on the bank, all work ceased, farming, housework, schools closed as local men, women, and children came to cheer their heroes.

Trinity built up a lead but slowly and surely, Menlo came back at them. Legend has it that the Menlo cox took his pipe out of his mouth and said, “Soft day men, thank God” as his crew passed the Dubliners. The local priest, Fr Nicholas Fagan, was up to his knees in water beside the finishing line praying for divine assistance for his parishioners. These oarsmen won and did their village, city, and county proud. They won another Blue Riband in 1931.

Our thanks to Brigid and Marie Campbell for this photograph of some of those oarsmen taken some years after those events. They are Tommy Fahy, John Faherty, Tommy Savage, Michael John Hession, Tom Browne, Malachy Ward, a Limerick visitor, Mick Ward, another Limerick visitor, John Connell, and Paddy Fahy.

This is one of the numerous photographs that appear in a newly published book entitled Menlo, Memories and Folklore which has just been published by Willie Henry. It is full of history, folktales, customs, stories, ballads, traditions, Famine days in Menlo, schooldays in Menlo, nostalgia, etc. It is a hugely impressive collection, and as you would expect from Willie Henry, an important addition to every Galwegian’s library. In good bookshops at €20. Highly recommended.

The book will be launched this Saturday evening, July 6, at 8pm in the Menlo Park Hotel by local councillor and Menlo resident, Frank Fahy and all are welcome.

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