Menlo heroes

On this day 85 years ago, the fourth of July 1929, rowing history was made at Galway Regatta when a crew from the Menlo Emmetts Club brought the Senior Eights Championship trophy to Galway for the first time. All of the crew were from the small village a few miles up the Corrib, were native Irish speakers, and had lived locally and worked by the river all of their lives.

Some years before, there was a very wet spring and these men could do very little farmwork. They would watch rowing crews training on the river and then someone suggested that as they were all boatmen who went out fishing, if they were all together in a racing eight, surely they would be able for any opposing crew.

So, a club was formed with Mr P Ellwood as president, T Brown as captain and P Lydon as club secretary. The crew started slowly and improved with training; in 1926, they won the maiden eights at Galway Regatta. In 1927, they moved up a category to junior level and in that capacity won the eights at Limerick, Galway and Metropolitan regattas and also the junior fours titles at the latter two events. In 1928, they graduated to senior eights, senior fours and premier fours. They won the eights at Galway and the senior fours at Galway, Derry and Bann regattas and they finished as runners-up in the senior eights championship which was held in Cork.

In 1929, they won the eights and fours at Limerick and then it was on to Galway Regatta where Trinity Boat Club beat Bann and Belfast Boat Club in their heat, and Emmetts got the better of Limerick RC and Galway Rowing Club in theirs. The two winners would contest the final.

It seemed as if the entire population of Menlo lined the river bank to cheer on their heroes. It also seemed as if the entire population of Menlo had backed those heroes with the bookies. The bookies had initially quoted odds of evens against Emmetts but after the second heat, they refused to take any more bets. Each boat was applauded on the way to the start. Trinity were famous for their fast start and both boats started at a very quick pace, both rowing well. The trinity boat had a device fitted by which, when the cox pressed a button, a little bell rang under each oarsman’s seat as a signal to increase his pace. Trinity used this tactic as they approached the gridiron and moved into the lead.

Emmetts were getting closer and closer and at the halfway stage, both crews were level. Rowing is one of the most intensely physical of sports and one of the legends of that day is, that as the Menlo boys drew level, their cox is reputed to have taken his pipe out of his mouth and addressed the Trinity boys with, “Soft day men, Thank God”. Whether this is true or not, the Menlo boys powered ahead near the tail of the wood, rowing beautifully, and while Trinity tried gamely to catch them, they were unable to do so. Emmetts won by two and a half lengths and still managed to look fresh when they arrived back at the landing stage. They even gave the impression that they could have rowed the race again.

The Menlo spectators cheered and cheered their heroes. “The likes of the hurrahs that saluted the crew after winning were never heard at the big house before or since.” Rarely has there been a more popular win than this. The crew were modest about it and cheered Trinity when they finished.

The Menlo crew have gone into the folk memory and been the source of many legends. They are our first image today and 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 ); and John Faherty (4 ).

In 1931, the club again won the “Blue Riband”, the senior eights championship, this time in Limerick. “They won and won comfortably. Their style of rowing was something worth witnessing. No evident exertion was apparent, but there is no room for argument that every stroke told and that the unison of movement and correctness of time were a treat to observe.” That crew were Malachy Ward (bow ); M Faherty (2 ); T Savage (3 ); J Faherty (4 ); J Connell (5 ); Mike Ward (6 ); M Connell (7 ); M Lawless (stroke ), and D Hickey was again the cox. In 1988, a plaque commemorating these two crews was unveiled at Menlo Pier.

Our second photograph is of the Emmett’s Rowing Club four of 1934. They are, front row: Martin Fahy, Tommy Morris and Paddy Egan. At the back are Joe O’Grady and David Burke.

 

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