East Coast President – Mick Curry on maintaining Ringsend’s rowing tradition

Pictured: Mick Curry in his favourite environment.
Photo by Kevin O’Gorman.

Stella Maris’s 80th anniversary year got off to a good start when, on January 22nd, lifelong club member Mick Curry was appointed Honorary President of the East Coast Rowing Council, a position he will hold for the coming year.

A popular choice, Mick is renowned in rowing circles for his courtesy, good humour and for his dedication to the sport of skiff racing. He has been at the rowing game for a long time. Growing up on Pigeon House Road at a time when all that stood between the houses and the Liffey was the sea wall at the end of the gardens, it was inevitable that he spent his early days “messing about on the river,” fishing, swimming or paddling punts.

He recalls, “Kids had a lot more freedom then. When we were young, we would spend the day having fun in the water down at the Point and wouldn’t be back home except for your dinner or your tea.”

Mick took up oars for Stella Maris when the Under-16 division was first introduced into the sport. Before that, there were only three divisions – Senior, Junior and Under-18. Now there are sixteen.

His crew tasted early success. They were the first Stella squad to win the Morgan Tyrrell Trophy, inaugurated in honour of a neighbour of Mick’s. Although he has competed in and won many races since then, he says: “That’s still the best for me, winning that trophy for the first time.”

He has wonderful recollections of going to regattas along the coast in his early days with the club when “everyone got on the back of the truck with the boat. The younger kids were put on the inside and the older people hung on the outside. The driver would say ‘no one is getting on’. Then as soon as he got into the truck we would all jump on. No-one thought it was dangerous then but when you see it – now you wouldn’t get away with it. Back then, going to Wicklow or Greystones was like your holiday.”

The local regatta was the highlight of the year in Ringsend, a day when everyone from the village would go down to the river. People who had left the area would come back to catch up with old friends. There were Factory Races, Punt Races, Dockers Races and hams suspended at the end of a greasy pole to be won.

When he wasn’t rowing for the Stella, Mick was a keen fisherman. He recalls: “Along here, there used to be a lot of salmon fishing, between here and the Point. We would catch whitebait and grey mullet. A lot of the fishermen were sailors who would go off for six months to Japan or all around America with Irish Shipping during the winter.In the summer, they would come home and do their fishing and row for the Stella and then go off on another trip. At one time, there were trawlers here, a fishing fleet in Ringsend, fishing in the bay. No one fishes commercially here now. The last one was Michael Purcell, he had a trawler here until he died about 15 years ago.”

Although Mick is in favour of any development that brings benefits to the local community, he is far from happy with some of the changes that have taken place along the river. He deplores the “lack of joined up thinking” that brought the sewerage works and the incinerator to the area and with them increased traffic “being moved from one bottleneck to another.” For this, he lays the blame at the feet of the local politicians who failed to limit these threats to the environment, the character of the area and to the future of the clubs along the river. “We have the worst politicians in the country; they never stand up for the community. If you had a Jackie Healy Rae or someone like that here it wouldn’t happen” he said.

He views the latest plans for development in the area with a jaundiced eye; experience has taught him that “if they get it half in, they’re through.” Mick draws on previous experience, with Roche and DCC, when the East Link road and bridge were first proposed, and believes that the community was naïve to accept assurances given to them at the time.

Promises that the new road would never be linked to any other road and even of gardens to replace the ones lost to the toll road were made to be broken, it transpired. He says, “Ringsend is being pushed further and further inland, away from the river. We’re the last of the river people in Dublin. Before the bridges were built, when the boats used to go up to Custom House Quay, a lot more people and communities were connected to the river. We’re the only ones left. Before all of this, we had the whole river but now in Ringsend we are lucky to get eight boats across, and if any more of this comes, where do we race? Because this is our tradition, it will be a huge loss if it goes.”

Mick no longer rows in competition. These days, he helps with training and acts as coxswain when needed. When he is not at the club or on the water he enjoys his golf and is a member of Clarke’s Golfing Society.

Last season, his beloved Stella once again won the overall East Coast Championship. As the club celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, he is looking forward to another season at the top and proudly tells NewsFour, “We are the best club on the East Coast. Our crews have the confidence, as soon as they are under pressure, to always pull it out and you can see them coming through.” He puts this down to the preparation and dedication of the members.

He loves to see that whole families are now involved in rowing. “That’s the best, watching them all having picnics and enjoying the competition at the regattas. Rowing gives the kids improved fitness. It gives them confidence. They get to meet a lot of other people from along the coast. It’s good that they are keeping a tradition alive that was always here; an important tradition that is part of our identity.”

By Jennifer Reddin