Athy’s Heritage Centre was the venue for a crowded gathering of dragon boaters and friends on Friday evening last when ‘The Big Barrow Splash Family Day’ was announced. Hosted by Athy Dragon Boat Club, the reception in the Centre was perhaps the liveliest event ever to be held in what was the town’s former butter market. It was a joyful occasion which allowed the Dragon Boat Club to celebrate its growing success after six years in being.
It was in June 2011 that Aiden McHugh, then leader of Barrow Line Canoe Club, which he founded in the mid 1980’s, read a feature in a local newspaper of a dragon boat race scheduled for Carlow. He encouraged Rosemary O’Sullivan, a member of the Canoe Club, to bring together seventeen of her female friends, whether canoe members or not, to make up Athy’s first dragon boat team. Sufficient numbers having come forward, the team trained for two weeks in Canadian canoes as a dragon boat was not available. That first female team called the ‘Barrowline Babes’ just missed the final of the Carlow event by 0.06 of a second but full of determination decided to enter for another dragon boat race in Dublin City Docks. By then the team was a mix of female and male rowers and the team name was changed to ‘Barrowline Bandits’. Success was achieved at the Dublin race with the young Athy team winning the first of what would be many gold cups.
The newcomers to the sport attracted the attention of the Irish Dragon Boat Association and officials of the association, having inspected the facilities in Athy, held the first dragon boat regatta here in May 2012. That year and the following year another Athy team ‘Crom a Boo’ won the first prize at the Athy Regatta and followed up with wins also in Carlow and Dublin. Just three years after the founding of Athy Dragon Boat Club and two years after the town’s first regatta, the annual event was attracting fifteen teams each comprising of eighteen members.
The next big development in local dragon boat racing came with the arrival of a team from Kendra Civil Engineering. That team, consisting of local men employed by Dan Curtis’s company, won a number of dragon boat races in 2014 and the following three years. Indeed, the Kendra team is today regarded as perhaps one of the most successful dragon boat racing teams in Ireland.
Hundreds of young people have been introduced to their local River Barrow through the Dragon Boat Club and the Athy Canoe Club which is still going strong. Both clubs owe their existence to Aiden McHugh whose dynamic leadership has not only given us two of the most vibrant river based clubs in Athy but also a Gymnastics Club and a local sign language Association. Aiden has stepped down from the Canoe Club and the Gymnastics Club but is still very much involved in sign language development and the local Dragon Boat Club.
The first dragon boat purchased by the Athy club was facilitated by Aiden McHugh and the local canoe club and is now housed in a temporary facility near the former Dominican Church. Hopefully Kildare County Council will ensure that both the Canoe Club and the Dragon Boat Club will have suitable permanent facilities so that local people, young and old alike, can make maximum of a tremendous river facility which unfortunately those of my age failed to enjoy in years gone by.
Returning to the reception in the Heritage Centre, the involvement of so many, young and not so young, speaks volumes for the continuing future success of water sport activities in the town. Particular congratulations must go to the various parties who have sponsored the Dragon Boat Club’s activities in the last six years and in that the regard the outstanding contributor is Dan Curtis of Kendra Civil Engineering. His contribution to the sport earned special mention at the reception as did the contribution of Aiden McHugh who was the recipient of a special presentation.
A great night was enjoyed by the many who attended with a promise that ‘The Big Barrow Splash Family Day’ on Sunday, 13th August starting at 11.00 a.m. will be a fun day for all the family.
Athy’s 1916 Remembrance Committee will shortly publish a booklet concerning the 1916 Centenary events held in the Town during March and April last year. It was felt that the opportunity should also be taken to include in the booklet photographs of the 50th Anniversary commemoration which was held in Emily Square in 1966. If you know of the existence of any photographs of that event, I would welcome hearing from you.