Tim Magennis DBOGA Area president

According to Tomas de Bhaldraithe’s classic Irish-English dictionary ‘Óg’ is a two-word letter in the ancient Irish language meaning ‘young’.

For some time now, the current president of the Old Gaffers Association (Sean Walsh) has been scrambling his brain as to how ‘Óg’ could be introduced into the OGA’s official title, without offence, as a kind of recruitment drive to attract Irish youth into membership.

OGA MCS Junior Gaffers TnO

Learning to sail onboard Tir na nÓg of Howth with Sean Walsh

While DBOGA Óg seemed to initially fit, somehow the impact wasn’t there and so the thinking process continued. Over a weekend in May, a group of ten, 15-17 year-olds travelled from Cork to Poolbeg YBC and marina on Dublin’s River Liffey where DBOGA members provided gaff-rigged vessels for sailing experience and instruction.

Not one of the four girls and six boys had ever sailed before. The aim was simple: to provide a realistic gaff-rig sailing experience and instruction under the aegis of the OGA Youth Sailing Project and from start to finish, the inaugural event was a total triumph for all concerned.

Setting the scene

The school selected was Mayfield Community School, Cork – and inspired choice. Was this not the school where ace Irish footballer and current assistant coach to both the Irish national team and Aston Villa, Roy Keane was educated?

In addition, two of the school’s teaching staff, husband and wife Liam and Marian Begley, were crew members on Sean’s fast Tir na Óg of Howth. Their commitment to the project proved crucial in securing approval from school management and in the selection of suitable candidates.

The selected students were briefed thoroughly on what to expect of a gaff-rigged boat under sail as they would experience it; the significance of Galway Hookers in Connemara and island culture and economy and the work of the oyster fishermen in Falmouth, working on boats, similar to Tir na Óg of Howth.

Marian and Liam accompanied and supervised their young group over the weekend while the DBOGA team organised the vessels, food and embroidered polo t-shirts with the simple declaration: ‘I’ve sailed a gaff-rigged vessel.’

Positive feedback

When the weekend was over, Sean Walsh summed up the experience:

“To the delight of the skipper on Tir na nÓg, the crew tacked their Heard 28 the last mile upriver against a strong ebb, all the way to their Poolbeg marina berth. They had learnt the ropes ― and the language when the youth on the helm called out: ‘Ready about?’ to which his crew relied ‘Ready, lee ho!’

“Furious activity followed on all four winches as the staysail and jib were brought in, the lee-side runners were let off and pulled in on the weather side, and the mainsail came across. A wonderful end to a good sail on a gaffer!”

A BBQ awaited the hungry sailors and the clubhouse pool table provided the entertainment until sunset. After breakfast on Sunday, each participant was given a certificate, signed by the OGA President which confirmed that they had fully participated in the OGA Youth Sailing Project, and could ‘hand, reef and steer’, a gaff-rigged vessel.

The team then sailed upriver under the two lifting bridges to a small riverside church to the annual Poolbeg YBC ‘Blessing of the Boats’ ceremony.

Back in Cork, the young sailors retold the adventure. According to Liam, one of the boys revelled in the shock value response from declaring that while in Dublin they had slept on a hooker!  

Marian Begley said the weekend had been a resounding success:

“It afforded the team a unique opportunity to spend time and share experience with people who are living their dream of sailing boats and having real adventure, sailing in season beyond the sunset to interesting places.

“The door into a world of adventure never before experienced by any of them was opened, and if they chose to go through it, it was open to them.”

• First published in Gaffers Log, September 2014