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Lough Ree Yacht Club & Shannon ODs Share MG Motors “Sailing Club of the Year” Award for 2022

1st January 2022
Shannon One Designs in close racing at Lough Ree Yacht Club. In 2022, the Shannon ODs are celebrating their Centenary, while the 1770-founded Lough Ree YC will be marking its pandemic-postponed Quarter Millennium+
Shannon One Designs in close racing at Lough Ree Yacht Club. In 2022, the Shannon ODs are celebrating their Centenary, while the 1770-founded Lough Ree YC will be marking its pandemic-postponed Quarter Millennium+ Credit: Con Murphy

Lough Ree Yacht Club and the Shannon One Design Association are sharing this year’s MG Motors Sailing Club of the Year Award. It’s the well-deserved honouring of a dynamic combination that provides a core contribution to the Athlone area’s reputation as a hotbed of Irish sailing advancement and was recognised back in 2008 when they previously were joint winners.

At that time, Shannon OD numbers were expanding at an unprecedented rate, while Lough Ree YC was settling into an enlarged clubhouse which facilitated the club’s growth as a national focal point for sailing in Ireland, both as a venue afloat and a meeting place ashore.

MG Motors Sailing club of the Year

In this new award some fourteen years later, there are two vital extra elements to add to the healthy combination which was so outstanding in 2008 and continues today. In 2020, Lough Ree YC should have been celebrating its Quarter Millennium in exuberant style, but the fact that - with its foundation in 1770 - the Club is possibly the second-oldest in the world had to be marked in a COVID-muted way, and thus 2022 hopes to see LRYC celebrate Quarter Millennium + 2, if anything with added zest.

Lough Ree Yacht Club at Ballyglass. The club has steadily increased its land-holding, and with activity and membership increasing on a strongly family basis, it is contemplating further extension of the premises and facilities afloat and ashoreLough Ree Yacht Club at Ballyglass. The club has steadily increased its land-holding, and with activity and membership increasing on a strongly family basis, it is contemplating further extension of the premises and facilities afloat and ashore  

But for the Shannon One Designs, 2022 is it - the Centenary Year. In making the award, we will be celebrating one of the most remarkable classes in the world, a class which - thanks to its classic clinker-built construction - is now recognised as being of special Heritage Significance, with official UNESCO recognition of this ancient-yet-updated method of boat-building.

Walter Levinge of Lough Ree YC built many of the Shannon One Designs in the early days of the class from 1922 onwards, and was active in boat-building and sailing until the 1960s. His clinker construction of these classic boats was of a quality well deserving of the recently-awarded UNESCO Heritage Status.Walter Levinge of Lough Ree YC built many of the Shannon One Designs in the early days of the class from 1922 onwards, and was active in boat-building and sailing until the 1960s. His clinker construction of these classic boats was of a quality well deserving of the recently-awarded UNESCO Heritage Status.

In fact, so much of long-term sailing heritage is to be found in and around the southeast corner of Lough Ree that perhaps the entire area should be declared a UNESCO Heritage Site, for in addition to the Lough Ree YC complex, it includes the location where the legendary Walter Levinge built many of the early Shannon One Designs in addition to other classic clinker-built designs, and it also includes the newly re-configured headquarters of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland.

MGM Motors Sailing club of the Year

LOUGH REE YACHT CLUB

It’s probable that organised sailing of some sort was taking place on Lough Ree long before 1770, but the records from 1770 prove beyond doubt that something was under way by that time. And though the name Lough Ree Yacht Club was not always the title being used, it’s the one that has lasted, even if within the past hundred years the club activity had sometimes become thin enough.

That said, dedicated families like the Murtaghs of Athlone kept the flame alight, even though - in the very thin years of the 1950s - if it hadn’t been for Sid Shine of Athlone making his houseboat/barge The Fox available for use as a clubhouse when required, LRYC might have become an idea rather than something tangible.

Jimmy Furey and Sid Shine. The late Jimmy Furey of Leecarrow on Lough Ree took over the Levinge mantle as the leading builder of Shannon ODs of the highest standard, while Sid Shine of Athlone was a dedicated sailing enthusiast who played a central role in keeping Lough Ree YC going through the thin years of the 1950s. Photo: W M NixonJimmy Furey and Sid Shine. The late Jimmy Furey of Leecarrow on Lough Ree took over the Levinge mantle as the leading builder of Shannon ODs of the highest standard, while Sid Shine of Athlone was a dedicated sailing enthusiast who played a central role in keeping Lough Ree YC going through the thin years of the 1950s. Photo: W M Nixon

That is something difficult to imagine as we contemplate the contemporary thriving clubhouse/dinghy park/boatyard/marina complex at Ballyglass. As proof of the club’s thriving good health, it has managed to keep a busy if truncated COVID-compliant programme going during the regulation periods under current Commodore John McGonigle, who incidentally is Ireland’s leading classic watch-maker. And before that in 2020 itself with his predecessor Garrett Leech, there was as much activity afloat as possible, and a continuing programme of acquiring extra land which has led to LRYC having a total site of six acres. This will facilitate the re-routing of the access road and other amenities, thereby making the interaction between the clubhouse and the on-water facilities more user-friendly, while providing a launching pad for further clubhouse expansion.

The secret life of yacht club flag officers…..John McGonigle, Lough Ree YC Commodore, is Ireland’s leading creator of customised classic wrist watchesThe secret life of yacht club flag officers…..John McGonigle, Lough Ree YC Commodore, is Ireland’s leading creator of customised classic wrist watches

Virtually all of this has been done with voluntary effort as far as the actual running of the club is concerned. Yet that’s something the members take in their stride as they focus on sailing, with one of their peak interests being the Olympic 49er duo of Rob Dickson and Sean Waddilove. Although the pair are generally associated with the east coast Fingal clubs of Howth and Skerries, Rob Dickson’s total passion for sailing was basically shaped around family holidays on the Shannon with the focus on Lough Ree YC, and while his head may be in Fingal or at some major international venue, his heart is on Lough Ree.

Lough Ree is renowned for its big skies, seen here making shapes over the LRYC SB20 Class.Lough Ree is renowned for its big skies, seen here making shapes over the LRYC SB20 Class.

There, the LRYC fleet is eclectic, with a strong emphasis on family and junior sailing through Optimists, Mirrors and 420s in addition to the Shannon ODs, while they’re also a stronghold of Cruisers and the SB20 Class, having provided the SB20s with their exuberant “Pandemic President” John Malone, who enthusiastically led his fleet both at LRYC and nationally into as much activity as was permitted, making them one of Ireland’s busiest classes.

LRYC is noted for its encouragement of youth classes, and while the 420s can enjoy its best summertime racing condition………LRYC is noted for its encouragement of youth classes, and while the 420s can enjoy its best summertime racing condition………
….there are many times when the lough reminds them that is basically an inland sea.….there are many times when the lough reminds them that is basically an inland sea.

But like all LRYC classes, the Lough Ree SB20s’ first loyalty is to their own home waters, and the way that they and all the sailors of Lough Ree YC interact in the most positive way with their own local community is an aspect of the club which the adjudicators find particularly inspiring. This soothing vid of a lone Shannon One Design sailing on the lake at Ballyglass tells us much about why the LRYC approach works so well:

 

SHANNON ONE DESIGN ASSOCIATION

Any organization which was founded in Ireland a hundred years ago will have found its earliest experiences coinciding precisely with the birth throes of the Irish Free State, which between 1919 and 1922 included a War of Independence, and the Civil War fought over the Treaty which resulted from the Independence conflict.

Thus the establishment of the Shannon One Design Association between the members of the North Shannon YC on Lough Bofin in Longford, Lough Ree YC at Athlone, and Lough Derg YC at Dromineer took place in a sort of parallel universe in which many people were trying to get on with some sort of normal life, while others in relatively confined areas were prepared to fight to the death for their objectives.

An early Shannon One Design clearly revealing the class’s noted hull flexibility.An early Shannon One Design clearly revealing the class’s noted hull flexibility

The ability to live with parallel situations was already almost normal in Ireland, for after the Sinn Fein victory in the 1918 General Election, an alternative government to that ruling from Dublin Castle was established under the new and “illegal” Dail, such that in many parts of the country, it was quietly if almost invisibly accepted as the real administration which either got things done, or prevented the supposedly official government from performing its more mundane functions.

MGM Motors Sailing club of the Year

In such circumstances, and with the River Shannon available to provide them with the means of travel should various roads and railways be blocked by felled trees or detonated bridges, the task of setting the Shannon One Design Association in being was put in motion, the key meeting being a gathering in the Prince of Wales Hotel in Athlone on January 20th 1920.

It may have started with a tentative January meeting in Athlone in 1920, but since then the Shannon One Designs have become one of the wonders of Irish sailing, as seen here with the class making a boisterous start in racing at Dromineer on Lough Derg, with John & Sandra Lefroy’s 1873-vintage iron-built Phoenix as Committee Boat. Photo SODAIt may have started with a tentative January meeting in Athlone in 1920, but since then the Shannon One Designs have become one of the wonders of Irish sailing, as seen here with the class making a boisterous start in racing at Dromineer on Lough Derg, with John & Sandra Lefroy’s 1873-vintage iron-built Phoenix as Committee Boat. Photo SODA

We get a fascinating insight into the mood and attitude of those involved through the 1972-published Golden Jubilee History of the class by L. M. “Bunny” Goodbody. For the most part, those originally involved lived in big house on the lakes and along the river, or were top professional and business people in the Shannon port towns. Nicknames were almost the norm – Bunny Goodbody had a formidable female relative, Posie Goodbody, whose most famous of many achievements was to set off at dawn from Killaloe in her hyper-fast motor-powered hydroplane, and by sunset she was at Lough Key, having power-boated in one span of daylight through the length of the Shannon.

MG Motors Sailing club of the Year

Then as the Shannon ODs – or Sods as everyone called them – got going after many discussions, their long-serving timekeeper was one Henry R Newland MA (TCD), whom you might expect to be called Harry or even Hal, but you’d be wrong. Everyone knew him as Tulip.

With noted longtime Shannon sailing families like the Delanys, Murtaghs, Hogans, Lefroys, Levinges, Lysters, Moerans, Devenishes, Handcocks, Wallers, Goodbodies and Boltons involved from the start, it’s not surprising to learn that some of these talented individuals expected their own self-created designs to become the standard boat for the new 18ft una-rigged class, so perhaps it was a peace-making ploy to go to the English designer Morgan Giles of Devon for the designs.

He produced something whose hull looked in profile like his recently-created clinker-built Essex One-Design, but the proposed SOD was much narrower and this – with the una rig - changed the character of the boat completely to make it truly expressive of the classic Irish lake boat with a substantial sail added.

Shannon OD designer Frank Morgan Giles of Devon created some noted dinghy classes. However, when his original plan for a dipping-lug mainsail for the Shannon One Designs in 1921 was soon changed by the class to a much neater gunter lug, they only told him after it had been done, resulting in frosty relations for 35 years.Shannon OD designer Frank Morgan Giles of Devon created some noted dinghy classes. However, when his original plan for a dipping-lug mainsail for the Shannon One Designs in 1921 was soon changed by the class to a much neater gunter lug, they only told him after it had been done, resulting in frosty relations for 35 years.

The sail immediately caused trouble. Giles had designed it as a lug sail, and despite the increasing presence in Ireland of the International 12 dinghy with its very effective standing lug, the Shannon sailors seem to have been provided with a dipping lug.

This was an infernal nuisance, so they quickly changed it to a gunter lug, and almost as an afterthought, they sent a letter about the change to Morgan Giles. He replied in such a frosty style that there was a stand-off in friendly relations for something like 35 years before any sort of client-designer harmony was properly restored.

This may have been something to do with the Irish situation, for while the new class merrily went ahead with Walter Levinge building seven boats to the new design for the 1922 season, the Civil War was causing sporadic violence in Ireland, and increasing hostility and incomprehension in England.

Yet those who were determined to get the new class going and continue to live in Ireland knew well the mood of their people among whom they lived, whatever their own political views. A certain mutual tolerance, understanding and respect was needed.

MG Motors Sailing club of the Year

Thus when the new class was finally lined up for its first proper race on Wednesday, August 23rd 1922 at Lough Ree YC at Ballyglass, as the L. M. Goodbody Shannon OD History of 1972 records: “Wednesday brought the news of the death in action in West Cork of General Michael Collins, the Commander in Chief of the National Army, and in consequence all racing that day was suspended”.

Referring to the former guerilla leader as General Collins was something which had first emerged from Winston Churchill and F E Smith - of all people – during the long and tedious Treaty negotiations. But the fact that it should have appeared as a natural part of the first history of the Shannon One Designs tells us much about how the class’s members – as natural conservatives – were already anticipating di Lampedusa’s philosophy that those who wish things to stay basically the same must give a subtle lead in controlled change.

Consequently, when an invitation was extended to the expanding new class to take part in the Tailteann Games in 1924 to celebrate the new Irish Free State, it was accepted with enthusiasm, with seven SODs going to what all those involved still thought of as Kingstown. Part of the attraction was that this offered the chance to prove their mettle against the Dublin Bay Water Wags, who apparently didn’t think very highly of this new take on the traditional Shannon sailing boat.

When the Shannon One Designs first raced on the sea with their participation in the sailing events of the Tailteann Games in 1924 at Dun Laoghaire, the big seas of Dublin Bay revealed their readiness to plane when conditions suited. It takes a bit more effort to do the same on freshwater lakes, but here we see Olympic sailor Cathy Mac Aleavey’s boat – which she built herself working with Jimmy Furey – getting up to planning speed on Lough Derg.When the Shannon One Designs first raced on the sea with their participation in the sailing events of the Tailteann Games in 1924 at Dun Laoghaire, the big seas of Dublin Bay revealed their readiness to plane when conditions suited. It takes a bit more effort to do the same on freshwater lakes, but here we see Olympic sailor Cathy Mac Aleavey’s boat – which she built herself working with Jimmy Furey – getting up to planning speed on Lough Derg.

We tend nowadays to think that Shannon One Designs look slightly out of place on the sea, but in their 1924 expedition to Dun Laoghaire where they were based at the Royal Irish YC, they very forcefully demonstrated otherwise. On one particularly rough day when the Water Wags refused to go out of the harbour, the Shannons sallied for with gusto and revelled in the planing opportunities which the big seas of Dublin Bay provided.

Edgar Waller of Lough Derg YC sailing SOD No. 47 (they’d started their numbering at 30) won the Tailteann Sailing Gold Medal after they’d out-performed the Water Wags boat-for-boat. It was a very satisfied group that returned to their home waters, with their new boats delivered back to the Shannon in due course on flat-bed rail trucks in a joint exercise by the Dublin South Eastern Railway and the Great Southern & Western Railway.

MG Motors Sailing club of the Year

This very convenient facility was available at Dun Laoghaire until 1961, when the entire Firefly Class, having raced their DBSC Tuesday evening contest, was transferred by launching trolleys to the waiting flatbed trucks on the waterfront railway, and on Friday evening their crews re-claimed them in West Cork in Baltimore Station nicely in time for Dinghy Week. It the last year in which they could so such a thing with the West Cork Line soon closing, though not all was lost - in time, the quayside Baltimore Railway Station became the first Glenans Base in Ireland.

The swans in the evening – Shannon One Designs return to portThe swans in the evening – Shannon One Designs return to port

Meanwhile, the Shannon One Designs built steadily through the 1920s and ’30s, with all transport needs between regattas being provided by sundry motor-cruisers when the wind didn’t suit. The North Shannon Yacht Club on Lough Bofin more or less expired after 1929, but this enabled a more compact programme between Lough Ree and Lough Derg to be devised for August, when many of the Shannon OD sailors returned on leave from remote postings in distant places – it’s said you could find photos of Shannon One Designs displayed on walls in District Offices in dusty places up towards the Khyber Pass.

Thus the user-friendly system of a week on Lough Ree followed by a week on Lough Derg developed, with additional spice being added to the summer’s doings with a long-distance race from Athlone down-Shannon to Lough Derg, with a midway stop at Shannonbridge and sustenance from the house speciality of hot rum and chocolate at Killeen’s pub.

They’ll always be trying something new – as August approaches, in distant parts of the world people will be dreaming of getting home to Ireland and trying a new trick or two in Shannon OD racing.They’ll always be trying something new – as August approaches, in distant parts of the world people will be dreaming of getting home to Ireland and trying a new trick or two in Shannon OD racing.

With class numbers continuing to expand as the challenge of building boats to the required high standard passed from Walter Levinge of Athlone to Jimmy Furey of Leecarrow and then since his demise (at a great age) to Dougal MacMahon of Athlone – thereby retaining Lough Ree’s reputation as the heartland of SOD construction - new names have emerged to the fore both in the racing and in the class administration, with the tradition of family involvement being stronger than ever.

Thus in 2021’s racing, the top overall prize, the Transom Trophy, was won by the Guy family of LDYC with number 142, second place going to the Mannions of Lough Ree with number 97, while third was another LRYC boat, number 73 sailed by David Dickson, uncle of Olympian Rob.

MG Motors Sailing club of the Year

Facing into the Centenary, the Class Chairman is Philip Mayne of Lough Ree who, like many other top Shannon OD sailors, has more to his sailing CV than just this one class, for among many other achievements he did a successful two-handed Round Britain and Ireland race in 1985 with Lough Derg’s Jocelyn Waller in the latter’s slim but slippy First Class 10 Silk.

The Shannon One Design Association Honorary Secretary is Naomi Algeo of Lough Ree YC, where her father Alan – a SOD sailor of many decades - has played many roles, including being Commodore.

Family matters…..SODA Hon. Sec. Naomi Algeo and her father Alan, former Lough Ree YC Commodore and longtime Shannon OD sailor.Family matters…..SODA Hon. Sec. Naomi Algeo and her father Alan, former Lough Ree YC Commodore and longtime Shannon OD sailor.

The programme to celebrate the Centenary will be developed as it becomes clear how the pandemic is moving and what becomes possible, though we can be sure that if it’s at all permissible, the Shannon One Designs will be doing it, and in considerable numbers too. Meanwhile, there’s a group effort in hand to publish the Centenary History before the magic hundred years are fully upon us all. Our thoughts are with the pictures editors in particular. The word is that they have 4,000 images - and counting – to choose between.

Meanwhile, congratulations to Lough Ree Yacht Club and the Shannon One Design Association on becoming the MG Motors Sailing Clubs of the year for 2022. Their joint achievements are so very special that if this informal and uniquely Irish contest hadn’t already been in existence for 43 years, it would be imperative to invent it immediately…….

The Guy family’s SOD No 142, Transom Trophy winner in 2021.The Guy family’s SOD No 142, Transom Trophy winner in 2021.

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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