A Potted History of Wicklow Sailing Club
In the year of 1950, a small band of enthusiasts under the guiding arm of the late Joseph T. O Byrne (fondly remembered by all as J.T.), gathered in the Bridge Hotel (birthplace of Capt. Robert Halpin, master of the “Great Eastern” steam-ship that laid the first Transatlantic cable in the late 1860’s) to put the wheels in motion to start a new club in Wicklow, dedicated to Yachting, and in 1951, Wicklow Sailing Club was born.
The first boats acquired for the fledgling Club had an interesting history. The boat decided on by the new members was the Cadet, a 12’ wooden dinghy, and the first 5 of these came to the Club from an unlikely source. A former Army Captain, who had killed his wife’s lover in a fit of jealous rage, was detained in Dundrum’s Lunatic Asylum for the Criminally Insane, and was contracted by those founding members to build a number of these boats. Along with the unfortunate Captain’s consignment (collected from Dundrum by Harry Jordan, a founding member, former Commodore and W.S.C.’s only continuous member over the 50 years), some club members also built a number of other dinghies, like the Kearney brothers GP14, and a racing fleet was born.
The next major step was the requirement for a club/store house and through the efforts of these new members running hops, dances and other fundraising events, sufficient funds were raised to secure a site on the South Quay adjacent to the R.N.L.I station. The first sod was turned in 1953, and a basic building erected. Through several subsequent transformations, this humble shed has now become the fine modern comfortable Clubhouse and Bar that exists today for our members to enjoy.
In the 50’s, the Club expanded rapidly and more dinghies were required to keep pace with the demand. They acquired Herons, IDRA 14’s, and the members through another cooperative effort built several Graduate dinghies, one of which still survives today in the ownership of Stan Kiddle, our former Honorary Subscriptions Secretary. It was this spirit of all hands on deck that has surely laid the solid foundation that has made Wicklow Sailing Club the vital force that it has now become in Irish Sailing. During the 60’s and 70’s mini fleets of 420’s and Mirrors regularly graced the waters of Wicklow Bay, a learning ground for many sailors who are now well known all around our coasts. Over the intervening years, many Regional and National Dinghy events have been successfully run from the slipway in front of the Clubhouse and in the early 70’s, J.T. oversaw the building of the boatpark, adjacent to the slip. This Boatpark was upgraded in 2006 with the laying of a concrete floor and is now a wonderful facility for our mainly junior dinghy fleet.
Eventually a number of Cruisers augmented J.T.’s ubiquitous “Wamba” to add a new dimension to the sailing options available. Boats such as the wooden Polish folkboat bought by Peter Gale, called “En-route”, and subsequently his “Felice” on which he was to die in the Isle of Man. Wicklow had had a long history of Cruiser racing going back into the previous century, when the British Custodians of the day would run regattas (in conjunction with the Town Regatta Festival, which is Ireland’s oldest continuously run festival) for their Military and Noble folk and some of their grand Trophies have survived to the present day. In more modern times, several regattas and rallies using Wicklow as their hub, attracted sailors from up and down our coast as well as from across the pond in Wales and England. The early 70’s had firmly established Wicklow as a fun place to go for a Bank Holiday weekend of good sailing and craic. In 1979, a Round Ireland Rally was proposed (with a number of stopovers en route). This rally was a great success and marked the first occasion for the club to win the Club of the Year award. Indeed due to this success, a more ambitious idea was born.
A race, starting from and finishing in Wicklow, leaving Ireland and all its islands to starboard was proposed, and under the stewardship of the late Michael Jones, the 1980 Round Ireland was born. Subsequently, under the sponsorship of Cork Dry Gin, this supreme offshore test of boat and man has become a major International event on the biennial sailing calendar. BMW sponsored the 2004 – 2008 races and Volvo Car Ireland came on board as title sponsors in 2016. With a base in Dun laoghaire facilitated by Royal Irish YC, the race continues to grow in stature. The current co-ordinator, Theo Phelan, is very encouraged by the positive feedback received, both from sailors at home and abroad. This event is obviously the jewel in the crown of Wicklow Sailing Club and despite the onerous demands it puts on the shoulders of all the members every 2 years, it will continue to be hosted from Wicklow harbour for the foreseeable future.
The club has run very successful sail training courses for both juniors and adults for many years. The level of participation and organisation in sail training in 2016, along with the hugely successful Volvo Round Ireland race that year, resulted in the club being awarded for the second time the national Club of the Year award, now generously sponsored by Mitsubishi Motors Ireland.
Wicklow Sailing Club is proud of its role in bringing many visitors to Wicklow harbour throughout the sailing season, who add colour and variety with their boats and also contribute in no small way to the tourism spend within the local community. This has been greatly enhanced by our very strong relationship with several Clubs and individuals across the Irish Sea, to the extent that we are formally twinned with Madoc Yacht Club, who are based in the beautiful town of Portmadoc, which nestles under an impressive backdrop of Snowdonia and we are particularly chuffed that this connection was instrumental in the official twinning of the respective Town Councils in 2006.
Our founding members (of whom a few still survive) would be proud to see the thriving Club that exists today, over 60 years later, and now that a new Millennium has dawned, the mantle has passed to the current membership to take the next brave steps to further improve and enlarge both our facilities and numbers.
The Wicklow Sailing Club always has its doors open to all who wish to sail, provide a safe and friendly environment in which to participate in the sport, advance plans to improve Clubhouse and waterside facilities and continue to contribute to the sporting and social life of Wicklow .