Rowing ‘matches’ or ‘badge races’ have been taking place on the river for at least 150 years. Initially, they were confined to members of Corrib Rowing and Yachting Club, as it was the only boating club in existence here. When the Commercial Club was formed in 1875, a meeting was held to promote a regatta on the stretch of river under Menlo Castle. It was well attended, and there was general agreement that the regatta should be independent of both clubs, and open to everybody.
The attitude of the 1875 regatta committee was a great boost to the sport. It encouraged friendly rivalry and competition, and the regatta quickly became an eagerly awaited event each year. Soon, other clubs sprang up; St Patrick’s Club, better known as the Temperance Club, was set up by Father Lydon, and was soon to win many outstanding victories over its rivals. In the early 1880s there was a membership of 300 active oarsmen from the three city clubs.
In 1882 the Royal Galway Yacht Club was set up, and while its main emphasis was on yachting, members also provided further competition in rowing. In April 1910 the Ancient Order of Hibernians formed a boat club starting with 40 members. This club still thrives and today is known as Galway Rowing Club, though you will still find some old-timers who refer to it as ‘Hibs’. Other clubs which existed briefly were the Galway Athletic Rowing Club and the Citie of the Tribes Rowing Club. In or about 1920, Emmett’s Rowing Club was formed, made up mostly of oarsmen from Menlo. They made history by winning the blue riband of Irish Rowing in 1929 and 1931.
Boys’ races on the river were becoming more and more popular and schools began to affiliate with the IARU. Among those which registered briefly were St Mary’s College, St Patrick’s Monastery, and the Technical School, but it was the founding of rowing clubs in the Bish and the Jes in the late twenties that really gave a tremendous boost to the sport in Galway. The intense rivalry and competition between these two schools continues to this day, and both of them have brought many honours to Corribside.
In the mid thirties UCG founded a rowing club which has produced many fine sportsmen and women since, and in 1976, Galway’s newest club, Tribesmen RC was formed, providing even more competition on the river.
The Head of the River is an event which has been run in Galway since 1949, where crews race against time as opposed to racing each other. It gives them a good idea of how their training is going early in the season. In 1977 Tribesmen took over the running of the Galway Head. It was the first computerised rowing event in Ireland and therefore very attractive to the competitors. It has since become one of the major sporting events in the city. This year it will be organised by NUIG Boat Club and Tribesmen, and it takes place from the mouth of the lake to a little downstream from the Quincentennial Bridge, on March 10. The small boats race for fours and double sculls starts at 10.30am, the race for single sculls and pairs starts at 1.30pm, and the race for eights and quad sculls starts at 4pm. Several hundred competitors will be involved, and the best viewing points are Dangan slip, the college grounds near the bridge, or the Quincentennial Bridge.
So to mark the event, we have today a photograph of the UCG Senior VIII of 1971, the first year the Head went open. This crew, coached by Mike Kavanagh, broke the course record in winning the Grand Challenge Cup in Trinity and were runners up in the Senior Eights pot. They are, from the left: Noel Leader, Frank Mulligan, Mike Cullinane, Peadar McNena, Martin Fahy, Tom McDonagh, Chris O’Dea, and Gerry Small. The cox was Eamonn Lawless.
Our thanks to Mike McCrohan for much of the above information.