By Norman Hamill
This is the story of our top level victories in Irish rowing from 1880 onwards. The golden years came in the first decade of the 20th century and again in spells between the wars. After the Second World War, success was more irregular but we had four great years, within my memory, in the early 1950s. Then after eight relatively lean seasons we enjoyed a significant revival again in 1964. Unfortunately it wasn’t sustained. My own involvement with the club was intermittent after that year as I then rowed at school and at university. This account draws heavily on a short history of the club by my inspirational friend and mentor, former secretary and great rowing aficionado A. R. Kernahan. It was published in ‘Rowing’ in 1966. Russell was the man behind our 1964 success. Our more recent championship wins in 1984 and 2010 are, naturally enough, more widely remembered within the club today.
A Rich Tradition
Our new generation of Irish champions are the inheritors of an amazingly rich rowing tradition. Bann Rowing Club has won more championships than any other commercial club in the country outside Dublin.
Our record is special. In the middle of the 20th century Irish rowing was dominated by the big university and Dublin clubs. Yet even after 30 years of this domination we were still in fourth place on the list of all-time winning clubs at the country’s premier regatta.
The Golden Era
The club was founded in 1842 but between 1880 and the outbreak of the Second World War we enjoyed unprecedented success. These years included a wonderful decade of supremacy between 1900 and 1910. One of the club’s greats from that golden era was the legendary, “Doyen of the Strings” Tommy Glenn. He died in 1948 and with his passing one of the club’s strongest links with the halcyon days was lost. He had steered Bann crews for the previous 56 years, with an amazing record of 218 winning finals to his credit. Will any cox, in any club anywhere, ever equal his remarkable achievement? It must be extremely doubtful.
The glory days really began with an unbeaten senior four in 1883 and 1884. Robert Hunter was Irish sculling champion in 1888 and Joseph Irwin emulated his feat in 1890. In 1900 we won “The Blue Riband” of Irish rowing (Irish Championship) – the Metropolitan Grand Challenge Cup at Dublin Metropolitan regatta. Two brothers in the crew, Tom and Bob Shannon won the Irish Pairs Championship and on the same day, Tom also won the Irish Sculling Championship. What an amazing feat! Three championships at one regatta! But more glory soon followed.
Over the next ten years Bann won the Blue Riband a further five times and in 1905 made a clean sweep of all senior events entered at five regattas – a magnificent season’s harvest of 20 trophies.
After the First World War, Bann won the Senior Eights Championship – “The Big Cup” in 1919, 1921 and 1924. Incidentally, one of the crews we beat in 1924 was City of Derry and later that year they defeated the Australian Champions from Murraybridge Rowing Club who had represented Australia in the Paris Olympics. They came to Dublin after the Olympics and were so surprised to be beaten on the River Liffey at Islandbridge by the Derrymen that the Australians presented the Derry men with their boat. That meant that our 1924 crew which had beaten the giant killing Derry crew had to be something very special too.
Four years later, Bert Barry from London was club coach. His speed in a sculling boat startled the locals but he failed to produce a winning senior crew. He was a relative of Alan Campbell’s coach Bill Barry who was a world silver medallist in the 1960s and champion of the Thames for the fourth successive time in 1966. Former Bann man Alan is a double winner of the Diamond Sculls and is Britain’s current international sculling star.
In 1934 we again won the Blue Riband in Dublin. In the same year a championship for junior eights was established. (The “junior” class is now called “intermediate”). We won the new championship and captured it again in 1935 and in 1938.
The Post War Years
Lean years followed the war but a great Maiden Eight (adult men in their first year in rowing) appeared in 1953. They won 12 trophies including a recently instituted Inter-Provincial Championship, sponsored by The Irish Press newspaper. The course was through the centre of Dublin on the River Liffey. The following year they won the Junior Championship and ten other trophies. In 1955 they had eight senior wins and in 1956 they won the Inter-Provincial Championship for the fourth successive time. This crew also established a course record at Bedford Regatta in England which lasted well into the 1970s.
In 1964 success came again, with victories at six regattas. The senior four was the best for several years. My late brother Victor, who spent his last moments in this life in a double scull on the Bann with me last November was in the crew. They defeated eight other fours including Garda Siochana to take the Subscribers’ Challenge Cup at Dublin Metro. They also defeated the bow four of the Old Collegians’ eight that won the “the big cup” that year. Altogether we had a maiden eight, a senior eight and a junior four in action at Metro.
Unfortunately our 1964 revival wasn’t sustained. Success did come again but it was once more intermittent. We did win a women’s Junior Championship in 1984 and we had this year’s superb win, in a particularly fast time, by our men in the Junior 18 eights. Congratulations to all involved. In addition a highly creditable number of our athletes have, since 1970, represented Ireland in the ‘home’ countries international and a select few have gone on to even greater international glory ‘across the water’.
I’ll leave the last word to my old friend Russell, he wrote;
“One of the oldest and most famous clubs in Ireland and, for many years the most feared of all at Irish regattas – that in a nutshell is the proud history of the Bann Rowing Club,”
I couldn’t possibly put it any better.