Foynes Yacht Club …. It’s Settings and Origins
by R.J. Scott 1991
In the age of commercial sail right up to the 1914-18 War, the Shannon Estuary was used regularly by coasting schooners and the like. Records show a considerable use of quays at Kilrush, Foynes, Kiladysert by these fine old wooden vessels. In fact, the Clare river (Fergus) was worked right up to Clarecastle in schooners and brigantines carrying as much as 320 tons of coal on 12.5 ft. draft, and that often without power other than flax, wind, a damn good kedge anchor and an even better six-man crew! Within the Estuary, as recently as 1954, the final cargo under sail was carried from Limerick when the late Johnny Davis put his 25-ton cutter “Alzina” on the mud at Labasheeda for the last time. Today motor craft have taken over from seagoing sail, fewer but bigger, and the lower Shannon sees them in all shapes of increasing ugliness, from 500 to 170,000 tons -in an age where carrying capacity is god and aesthetic beauty of line no longer of value in complex Balance Sheets. Estuary craft like the “Alzina”, “Edgar”, “Lahloo”, “Baron Joss”, “Mary Joseph” and others have surrendered to the economics of road transport.
The traditions of sail have been passed on and nurtured to a degree by yachtsmen the world over. Yet strangely, the Shannon Estuary appeared to lose much of this contact, that is apart from a comparatively few individuals, hardly more than a dozen or two at one time between 1920 and 1962. Perhaps the best known figure of this era was the late Conor O’Brien of Foynes who, fifty years ago this year(1991), sailed round to Dublin and took his departure on 23rd June in his 20-ton Baltimore-built ketch “Saoirse”. Exactly two years later to the day, he arrived back to a massive welcome having circumnavigated the world. His craft was the first to carry the new Irish tricolour round the globe. Conor’s writings are widely read and his home may still be seen, set amongst the trees on Foynes Island.
It was inevitable, of course, that with the increasing popularity of yachting on other coasts the pastime should develop in the Estuary. In July, 1962 seven boat-owners, five from Limerick, one from Foynes and one from Newcastle West,got together in a Foynes local and simply formed a club. So Foynes Yacht Club was born. For the record, the seven founders were: Dan O’Sullivan (Commodore), Dick Nash (Secretary) , Peter Lawless (Treasurer) with Peter McKenna, Pat Dinneen, Joe Bottcher and Roger Bourke.
From this small beginning Foynes Yacht Club had grown to a membership of one hundred and eighty by 1973. That year marked a long sought milestone, the opening of the new clubhouse. With it’s 250foot boat slip built by members in 1971, it gave Foynes and the lower Shannon Region it’s first major water based leisure facility.
Coincidentally, the West of Ireland Offshore Racing Association’s Annual Championship for Cruisers, also established 1973, has been hosted successfully every third year by the club since then.
Dublin Bay Mermaids were very popular in the club during the early seventies, declined almost to extinction in the eighties, but have returned more popular than ever in the nineties. But, if the Mermaids numbers declined, interest by Mermaiders in Foynes didn’t and the Mermaid National Championship was hosted by the club in 1973, 1977, 1984 and 1989 and is again scheduled for 1993. Meanwhile the club instituted The Munster Mermaid Championship in 1990 as an annual event which even attracts boats from the east coast to participate.
Perhaps the busiest year for the club was 1989 when it hosted a G.P. 14 Championship in May, the West of Ireland Offshore championship in July, the Mermaid Nationals in August and then revived the town Regatta in September . The club continued to improve by developing its facilities, reclaiming and rock facing the foreshore, extending and paving the dinghy and car parks and widening the slipway. The Club constructed the first Marina on the west coast.