The Head of the River

In 1976 a group of likeminded people got together to work out a way to make the sport of rowing in Galway more competitive. They decided the best way to achieve this was to set up a new club, and so Tribesmen Rowing Club was formed. Starting a new rowing club is an expensive business so they began a number of fundraising activities, running raffles, organising dances, etc. They managed to get their first crew on the water in 1977.

In that year also, they took over the organisation of The Galway Head of the River. This event marks the end of the training period for rowers and the beginning of the regatta season. Crews race three miles downstream against the clock and against each other, and the results give them a chance to assess their progress and that of their potential opponents. In the old days results usually took hours, sometimes days, to compile.

Tribesmen changed all that when they developed a system with Tom O’Shaughnessy and a number of experts from Digital which computerised the event. Starting times were entered by the Galway Motor Club into the computer via a radio network which was developed by the Galway VHF Club. Finishing times were then entered and the computer went to work printing out the results which were distributed immediately, often to crews who were still coming into the slipway. This was the first computerised rowing event in the country, and the sport would never be the same again.

The Galway Head became the premier rowing event in the country for a number of years.

The number of crews grew every year, so a special race for scullers was introduced, another for small boats. The first ladies’ Head of the River took place in 1980.

This year’s race, which is being organised jointly by Tribesmen and NUIG Rowing Club, takes place this Saturday.

There will be three races, starting at 10am, 1.30pm, and 4pm, with up to 100 boats taking part in each race. The finish line is just below the Quincentennial Bridge and it provides the ideal viewing point for the public.

One of those involved in the organisation for many years is Mike McCrohan who has at various times acted as slip steward, safety boat, chief steward, PRO, and is now working on the computer timing.

He has dedicated a major part of his life to Galway rowing and is currently gathering material towards a history of Tribesmen Rowing Club to be published next year, the 40th anniversary of its founding. He is also compiling historical information on the Bish Rowing Club and he would greatly welcome any photographs, news clippings, stories, etc. So if you have any such materials, he would love to hear from you. He can be reached at [email protected]. You can check the club’s website to see what he has already gathered.

Our photograph shows the 1978 Tribesmen crew. They are, left to right: Seán Rabbitte, bow; Colie Gaughan, 2; John Curran, 3; Michael Keane, 4; Raymond Hughes, 5; Noel Rogan, 6; Christy Griffin, 7; Michael Heskin, stroke; and Mike Pender, cox.

The Old Galway Society will host a lecture this evening in the Victoria Hotel at 8.30pm. The title is “Ireland’s Extraordinary Storm Record, past present and future” and it will be given by Dr Kieran Hickey, senior lecturer, Department of Geography, NUI Galway. All are welcome.

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