By Harry Hatton
The autumn sunshine beams down as throngs of people, male and female, young and old, are busy rowing in racing boats on the River Liffey. While Francis Street is officially dubbed the ‘Antique Quarter’ of Dublin, it would be no surprise if the stretch of water adjacent to the Chapelizod Road became known as the ‘Rowing Quarter’ of the capital.
In this part of Dublin, you will come across clubs such as Garda, Commercial and also Neptune Rowing Club, which was founded way back in 1908. Neptune’s clubhouse was officially opened back in March 2010 by then president Mary McAleese and is steeped in history.
Pictures of past teams and members decorate the walls of the modern building and upstairs in the clubhouse bar, a couple of former Irish Olympians gather for a chat. They gaze out the window at the stars of the future, rowing along the Liffey.
Frank Moore, who raced for both Garda and Neptune during his career, had the distinction of being the Irish flag bearer for the opening ceremony of the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, while being the spare man in the rowing team.
Moore had to wait another 12 years to qualify for the Olympics again and the Laois native came 11th in the coxed pair event in Seoul, Japan. He jokingly admits with pun intended “I’m still searching”, for his performance at the 1988 Games. Now a coach at Neptune, Moore says that there is a great discipline needed to succeed in rowing.
“The best thing about rowing is it’s a fantastic leveller. It’s a leveller for young people. They have to be disciplined enough to get up at 8 o’clock in the morning. They have to be disciplined enough to get in here, [do] dirty gym work during the week as well as work or after school hours.
“I think overall there’s a fantastic balance in the sport of rowing. You have to take your defeats with your wins. For later on in life, it gives you a certain determination to succeed. For children in Leaving Cert, it’s a fantastic balance. For people who are studying, for people who want to row,” says Moore, whose daughter Aine is club treasurer.
Neville Maxwell is another former Neptune representative at two Olympic Games, finishing just shy of a podium finish by coming fourth in Atlanta in 1996, while also competing at the Sydney Olympiad in 2000.
Maxwell insists that rowing is not a sport that requires years of dedication to succeed in and points to the O’Donovan brothers second place finish at Rio 2016.
“The O’Donovans were not going to the Olympics until 18 months before. They qualified the year before. Four years before that one of them was sitting in a bar and saying ‘I want to do that’.
“It can be done. I remember four years before I went to the Olympics, I had absolutely no interest in rowing. It’s not the kind of sport that you have to spend years building up for.
“All the juniors that are rowing out here, they are doing exactly what they should be doing. They just have to do mileage. Miles and miles and building up the body. Once they do that, anything is possible. All we have to do is turn them into racers … [the] hardest thing about rowing is racing.”
Dara Breaden has been involved in Neptune Rowing Club for 25 years now. She became the club’s first female member back in 1991 and last year she was elected to the position of president. She is busy on this particular Saturday morning gathering up membership subscriptions and also organising an event in the club’s function room.
Currently the club has well over 100 members with 80 of them active rowers. The annual subscription fee at Neptune is €400 for adults, €250 for students and juniors, and €100 for non-rowing members. The club caters for people from the age of 14 years and upwards.
“The problem we have is having adult members,” Breaden reveals. “We’ve had this for quite some time. We would have been the top club in the country in the Irish championships. Skibbereen have overtaken us now. The reason for this is when our juniors turn eighteen and go to college, they go to row for Trinity or UCD or whatever and they don’t come back.
“When I started rowing here first, we had a lot of senior oarsmen and oarswomen. Now we have a cohort of 20 men, intermediate men. They’d be guys in their 20s and 30s and [they] only started rowing last year. That’s what we want to try and do. We’re trying to generate our own oarsmen and women.”
On the bright side, the number of members at Neptune could soon rise as interest grows in the club’s ‘Adult Learn to Row’ course which is “oversubscribed,” according to the president. “We’re actually booked out until after Christmas. We just can’t keep up with the demand.”
The course consists of ten lessons for a total fee of €100 with the only mandatory condition being that the participant is able to swim.
Meanwhile, Neptune’s function room is available for venue hire but Breaden admits that it doesn’t generate the same income as the rowing competitions that the club hosts.
“We wouldn’t have a function every weekend. This month I think we have two in the whole month. We don’t get many because of the drink driving laws. A big source of income would be our Head and our Regatta. They would make money.”
The Head and the Regatta are both official Irish Rowing competitions. Neptune’s Regatta will take place next year on Saturday, 1st April at the club’s base while the club’s Head competition will be held on Saturday, 4th November in Blessington, Co Wicklow.