Maritime Cork: Cork Harbour's proud rowing history

Maritime Cork: Cork Harbour's proud rowing history
Competitors in a previous Coastal Rowing Championships held at Passage West.

The Cork Harbour Rowing Club was founded in 1859 and held its inaugural regatta a year later when its crew rowed a three-mile race in 18 minutes. That record remains unbroken to this day.

It is a proud piece of maritime history in the harbour where the Passage West Rowing Club is now one of the strongest bases of the sport.

This year is the 160th anniversary of the founding of the Cork Harbour club which was based in Glenbrook. It will be celebrated this Saturday when the Passage club hosts ‘The Middle Harbour Race.’ 

“Over the years, rowing has had its highs on lows in the harbour,” Laura O’Mahony of the Passage Club told me. 

“Today, the sport is stronger than ever in our harbour with three river clubs, six coastal clubs and a very active currach scene. Saturday will see boats of all descriptions take to the water to celebrate the history of rowing in the harbour.”

Passage West ladies rowing club passing Roches point during an Ocean to City Race. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Passage West ladies rowing club passing Roches point during an Ocean to City Race. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Many clubs are looking to venture into FISA (International Rowing Federation) offshore rowing recognised worldwide and which may be introduced to the Olympics in 2024 to replace the lightweight double.

The Cork Harbour Club was highly competitive, winning titles over the years when regattas were major sporting and social events in the harbour at Queenstown (Cobh), Monkstown and Crosshaven. 

Racing activities ceased in 1914 when 52 of its members went to fight in World War One. Six were killed in action while nine were decorated for bravery. Until 1926, when the club was revived, rowing was a forgotten sport, but it returned to win prizes at various regattas.

The Glenbrook Club no longer exists. As well as the Passage West Club, there is one at Monkstown. Currently, the Passage club is in the midst of a programme to improve its facilities.

“This is for the ever-growing numbers of enthusiastic rowers. Each year new rowers, ranging in age from 10 to over 50-years-old are trained in the technique, fitness and understanding the water. To keep up with the demand, the club recently secured the lease for the land where its boat shed is located on the quay in Passage West to build a more permanent structure and have embarked on securing planning permission."

"Along with building an improved clubhouse, we are also hoping to purchase a new boat to keep up with the trend of moving towards offshore rowing. The new FISA quad will cost in the region of €20,000.” 

Racing on Saturday will begin at 11am and include the Fr Mathew Challenge for currachs, the Captain Mackey Challenge for kayaks; Ringmahon House Challenge, FISA/one design; Lough Mahon Challenge 3km sprint and the Middle Harbour Cup Challenge, 3-mile race.

This race will recall the 18-minute record set back in 1860 by the Cork Harbour Rowing Club crew of: A. Stamers, E. Minehear, P. Power, T. Boland and Charles J. Leahy, the coxswain). Unbroken so far, it will be interesting to see if any crew can equal or beat that achievement.

Along with the races, there will be shoreside entertainment. This will include a special exhibition on the history of Cork Harbour rowing in Passage West Maritime Museum adjacent to the quay; a market of locally-produced crafts and goods, a ‘Picnic in the Park’ and the Cobh Animation Team demonstrating clothing worn back in 1859 when the Cork Harbour club was founded.

Entries for Saturday’s Middle Harbour Race close today (Wednesday) through the website: or contact Laura O’Mahony by or phone 087-7841128.

  • A voyage to Greenland is being planned for legendary Irish sailor, Conor O’Brien’s, ketch Ilen, which was restored at Liam Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt in Skibbereen. The ketch is now based at Limerick docks. The voyage, in Midsummer, could follow the salmon migratory path between the Shannon and Greenland.


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