It ‘feels’ like Derry has had more grand plans for the Foyle and its banks than we have submarines left over from the war. Yet the plans are like the submarines themselves – they’re stuck in the mud. Only wind and tide disturb the surface. Little else seems to happen.
This column has often mentioned rowing. Derry has a rich tradition in the sport. While the Foyle isn’t suitable for holiday cruising – it isn’t extensive enough for that – it’s great for rowing and other water sports.
Incidentally, let me ‘fess up’ to a mistake in a recent piece. The city’s former boathouse at Boating Club Lane, now the Quay West restaurant, was taken over by the Ministry of Defence during the war. I wrote that by the end of the war, the club had ceased to exist and the Ministry had nobody to give the boathouse back to. An old friend, Declan Doherty, present Captain of the Boating Club has taken me to task. He says the club was still in existence after the war but the Harbour Commissioners thought anti-submarine pens in the river had made it unsuitable for rowing. Those damned submarines again!
Happily, the club re-formed in the 1960s. They set-up shop at Prehen and since then, they’ve enjoyed a fair bit of success. In recent years Orla Duddy has represented Ireland with distinction and sisters Claire and Laura D’Urso both made a big mark on the junior international scene. Claire is currently taking a break from the sport but Laura is stroking (a rowing term) an outstanding eight at her university at Carolina in the USA. Meanwhile, Karl Doherty, 31, is hoping to compete for Ireland in the coming Para-Olympics. He’s about to travel to Cork for time trials for “arms only” rowers. He races in an adapted boat.
All this is despite the appalling state of the Derry Club’s premises at Prehen. The crumbling building, owned by the City Council, is in a shocking state. It doesn’t even have toilet facilities.
Meanwhile, just down the road, Coleraine can boast three men likely to row in the London Olympics. (Their boathouse is owned by Coleraine Council.) Brothers, Richard and Peter Chambers look set for selection for Great Britain in the lightweight coxless fours. Alan Campbell is likely to go in the single sculls. All three have real prospects of medals. Alan Campbell is currently the second fastest man in a single scull in the entire history of the sport.
Personally, I would prefer all Irish athletes to be competing for Ireland but Alan, Richard and Peter went off to study in Britain and got involved in the British scene. They’ve done exceptionally well.
So come on Derry City Council. You can do more for the river and for this sport. Rowing is big in Ireland and you’re missing a trick. It’s no use just producing grandiose plans and paying lip-service to the mighty Foyle.
Finally, a brief Rowing Glossary for the uninitiated:
‘Stroking’ a crew isn’t as much fun as it sounds and there’s no reason to feel sorry for men who row in ‘coxless’ fours. The stroke sets the pace for the crew and the only thing a coxless four doesn’t have is a coxswain to steer the boat.
Read more from Norman Hamill in the Journal every Tuesday