Eighty years of Jes rowing

Maurice Semple’s book Reflections on Lough Corrib has a very good section on the history of rowing on the river and lake. The first clubs were formed in the mid 19th century, and competitive rowing has been a feature of Galway life since. A number of pupils in Coláiste Iognáid came together in October 1934 to ask the school if it would consider setting up a Jes Rowing Club. Happily, it did, and thus began a history of great achievement which continues to the present day.

The first race they took part in was in the summer of 1935 was a fours race against Rockwell College. The crew was John Keogh, Bill Donovan, Gerry Colgan, Austin Caulfield, and Bertie Kavanagh, who was the cox and also the coach. They were beaten, but a strong new presence in Irish rowing had arrived. Their first championship victory was at Dublin Metropolitan Regatta in 1936 when they won the school fours. The members of that crew were Andy Keogh, Walter Murphy, Colm O Riordáin, Austin Caulfield, and Kevin Faller, the cox. Trying to maintain the sport during the war years was difficult, and in 1943, Fr Andy O’Reilly asked some pupils to undertake the renewal of the club. They had no boats, no clubhouse, but they managed to put a crew together of Senan Timoney, Frank Forde, John Mangan, Brendan O’Riordan, with Ivor Kenny as cox.

The club struggled on and then everything changed dramatically in the early 1950s when Fr Eddie Diffley was transferred back to Sea Road as a teacher and games master. He was born in Woodquay, and had attended the Bish and later the Jes. He gave the club new life and energy and in 1953, they had an unbeaten four, Larry Hynes, Niall O’Flynn, Danny Griffin, Mick McCarra, and Tom Colleran. This began a golden era in the history of the club as they won many championships and trophies. In 1958 they reached new heights when they won the Maiden Eights championship with a crew including Leo Wall, Piaras Connolly, Nicky Hardiman, Christy Tierney, Michael O’Dwyer, Maeliosa Costelloe, Colm O’Carra, Peter O’Flynn, and Paddy Dolan.

When the school became co-educational, it was only a matter of time before the girls started rowing, and in 1987 Fr Murt Curry put the first girls’ crew together — Celeste Auge, Deirdre Darcy, Anna Boner, Aisling O’Hanlon, Deirdre Ryan, Riana Parsons, Una O’Carra, Gail Fitzpatrick, and Fiona Lawless. The success of the girls on the water added to the popularity of the club and to the number of rowers.

In 1961, Hurricane Debbie demolished the clubhouse, and a new building was erected, but as the club grew the need for a new clubhouse with more space and facilities was becoming critical. A more up to date structure was formally opened in 2003 by Bobby Molloy. A group of ex oarsmen and past pupils voluntarily finished the fixtures and fittings so that today, the clubhouse is state of the art.

To celebrate its 80th anniversary, Coláiste Iognáid Rowing Club is organising a number of events on Saturday, October 18. There will be a gathering in the clubhouse that afternoon when the building will be renamed after Fr Eddie Diffley, and that evening there will be a dinner held in The Ardilaun hotel. It should be great fun and I am sure many a race over the years will be analysed and discussed. A book on the club’s history will be formally launched by ex-oarsman Seán O’Rourke. It is an occasion not to be missed by any ex-Jes rowers or past pupils. Details can be had from Maeve McManus at 087 120 6524 or Evan Molloy at 087 225 7121.

Our photograph shows the school crew who took part in the Head of the River in 1965. They are Niall Hannon, Ian Quinn, Declan Ashe, Ger Ó Máille, PJ Coughlan, Chris O’Dea, Enda Folan, Dave Tuohy, and Donal Bracken.

Michael Gibbons will have a busy time next week. On Monday he will give the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society lecture on the subject of “A lost Hanoverian Fort on the Gaelic Frontier, Oughterard Barracks in context”. This will take place in the Harbour Hotel on Monday, October 13 at 8pm. All are welcome. On Wednesday October 15 at 8pm, he will be in The Ardilaun hotel to give the An Taisce lecture on “Seaweed farms on the Irish coast, new discoveries and insights”. Again, all are welcome.


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