President hails ‘extraordinary club’ at special reception in Áras an Uachtaráin
BY KIERAN McCARTHY
PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins had his research done.
As President Higgins and his wife Sabina – who has family connections with the Clearys in Castlehaven – hosted a special reception for Skibbereen Rowing Club at Áras an Uachtaráin last Saturday evening, he delivered a polished performance that rivalled those of Gary and Paul O’Donovan on the water.
Hailing ‘an extraordinary club’ for its achievements in recent years, President Higgins’ local knowledge of West Cork drew a loud roar of approval from the Skibbereen crowd that packed Árás an Uachtaráin.
‘Deserving of a special mention is a parish which was famous for generations among all parishes for its butter, is now even more famous as a producer of rowing champions – the parish of Aughadown,’ President Higgins smiled, and the crowd loved it, enjoying every moment of this unique experience.
But the club, its members and its athletes earned this special reception at Áras an Uachtaráin as Skibbereen RC has changed the face of rowing nationally off the back of its success, both at national and international level.
Three of the men responsible for putting Skibbereen RC on the international map were present – Olympic silver medallists Gary and Paul O’Donovan and world lightweight pair champion Shane O’Driscoll – as was Ireland’s top female single sculler, European silver medallist Denise Walsh.
Mark O’Donovan, the second half of the Irish men’s lightweight pair, was unable to attend the reception as he was hosting a strength and conditioning course in Athlone on Saturday.
It was fitting that the club’s founding members, Danny Murphy, Richard Hosford and Donie Fitzgerald, were there too, all wearing their red and white Skibbereen RC ties with pride, as was coach Dominic Casey, who received special praise from President Higgins.
‘I am told that the defining characteristics of the Skibbereen rower that we have seen in international competitions – perseverance in the face of setbacks, a steady faith in their own ability, and a confidence that through hard work they can overcome any obstacle – have been instilled by Dominic over the years,’ President Higgins said, as he lauded all involved with the club.
He praised Skibbereen RC’s ‘vital contribution’ to what he called ‘a new golden era of Irish rowing’ and how many Skibb athletes have now become role models to a new generation of young rowers.
President Higgins spoke of Skibb athletes’ ‘dedication, discipline, resolve, relentless work on the River Ilen’ and how they possess ‘a certain disposition of the mind which is capable of impelling the body to do extraordinary things.’
Mr Higgins also spoke of how the first rowing club in Ireland was founded in 1836 by students of Trinity College.
‘History also records that the Skibbereen Rowing Club was founded in 1970, and joined what is now Rowing Ireland in 1971,’ he pointed out, before adding, ‘In a short period of time, you have amassed more national rowing championships than any other club, including some who have existed for over a century and half. You haven’t been wasting your time!’
After President Higgins’ speech, Skibbereen’s Máire Keating addressed the crowd as gaelige, before club president Nuala Lupton also spoke on Skibbereen RC’s behalf.
Then came one of the highlights of the evening when club captain Sean O’Brien sang ‘Dear Old Skibbereen’ before President Higgins and his wife Sabina were presented with gifts from junior club members Lorna Nugent, Alan Cotter and Dominic Casey.
SSean O’Brien then told President Higgins he was now an honorary member of Skibbereen Rowing Club, much to his and the crowd’s delight, but by then everyone in the room knew that the Irish President was already a big fan of this special west Cork club.