Pimm’s on the riverbank. Panama hats. Girls in pretty dresses. Quality sportsmanship. This is what comes to mind with Trinity Regatta.
The sporting event has remained quintessentially sophisticated and is the premier social event in the Irish rowing calendar. Comparisons are often drawn with Henley Royal Regatta, which describes itself as an “Edwardian Garden Party”, and the event this year will not disappoint. On April 15th, Dublin University Boat Club (DUBC) will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first Trinity Regatta, held in July 1866.
DUBC is the oldest rowing club in Ireland. Tracing its origins back to 1836, for years it was the mainstay of Irish rowing. The first regatta was held at Ringsend in 1866 and included a fisherman’s race and an open fours competition. However, the following year, the club split into Dublin University Boat Club and Dublin University Rowing Club. An intense rivalry grew between the clubs, raising the standard of rowing at Trinity and throughout Ireland. DUBC held the Metropolitan Regatta in July 1869, an event which still exists today.
By the middle of 1898, the two clubs had united again. In 1903, DUBC won the Thames Cup at Henley. The first regatta held at the new venue of Islandbridge took place on July 7th and 8th, 1898. The regatta has taken place annually since 1922. This year will see a reunion dinner to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1966 Junior VIII. Speaking to The University Times via email, Kevin Shillington from the crew remarks: “It is not just a University sporting club, but is an institution that lives way beyond the upper Liffey. One does not cease being a member when one leaves Trinity.” At the 1966 regatta, no fewer than 14 former captains of the club attended. The Army No 1 Band played a programme of music from 3pm and a black-tie regatta dance was held in a marquee and the Long Room of the Boathouse, with music by the Manhattans and the Large/Hayes Quartet. Keble College, Oxford, Molesey from London, Liverpool Victoria and Glasgow University competed in the regatta. The Student Club Fours took place involving other student clubs and academic departments.
The national and international success of DUBC has had its ups and downs over the years. The club is currently enjoying a sustained period of success, thanks to the work of new coaches supported by a strong alumni interest. This culminated in the same crew winning the Intermediate and Senior VIIIs in the Irish national championship in 2015.
Dublin University Ladies Boat Club was founded in 1976 by Jane Williams and a number of her friends, all of whom wished to row but were unable to join the men’s club. The club won the Colours Boat Race against UCD last year, making it the first year Trinity took home wins in all four races.
In recent years, two-lane winding courses have decreased in popularity in favour of six-lane straight racing. Yet the appeal of Trinity Regatta remains its tradition, sophistication, beautiful and unmarred setting and formality: “regatta dress” is worn by spectators, a regatta lunch will be held with entertainment from a jazz band and there will be a formal presentation of prizes. In the evening, a competitors’ supper will be held.
Spectators can follow the entire 1,800m course on the upper ends of the Liffey. Twists, turns and varying stream flows make it a demanding course for coxes and rowers alike. The regatta enclosure covers the last 200m of the course, which ends abruptly just before the weir. Pat Braidwood, the captain during 1965 warned his crew: “There’s a weir just opposite the boathouse; try not to go over it. These boats are rather expensive.”
Planning for the regatta is in advanced stages with extra emphasis on the significance of the date. To commemorate the events of 1916, an exhibition race will take place between the Defence Forces Rowing Club and Garda Siochana Boat Club. Speaking to The University Times via email, Cian Flynn, DUBC cox and the Regatta Secretary for 2016, emphasises the strong support from alumni and the importance of this year’s event: “It is our responsibility, as the current members of the two Boat Clubs, to rise to the legacy of those who have gone before us, and do our utmost to ensure that the Sesquicentennial Trinity Regatta captures the excitement and sense of occasion that for 150 years has been associated with our regattas.” He recalls that the famous Junior Dean, RB McDowell, himself coxed in the Regatta: “Now it is our turn to make our bit of the event’s long and proud history.”
A large domestic entry has already been secured: 293 entries from 24 clubs to be precise. A number of international crews will travel to Dublin to compete – a first in many years. Women and men’s crews from the KSRV “Njord”, Leiden in the Netherlands have entered in the Senior VIIIs category.
The regatta offers tight racing, sporting and musical entertainment, many rowing alumni reunions and the opportunity for all students, their friends and families to get an insight into this intriguing sport which consumes so much of the athletes’ time. The event has something to offer for everyone. In the words of John Cary, a cox in the late 1960s: “All this rowing makes you thirsty.”