A €25 million marine vessel named after the renowned Co Kerry explorer Tom Crean departed without fanfare from its port in Galway on Tuesday shortly after hundreds of wellwishers lined the docks to welcome modern-day adventurer Damian Browne back to his hometown.
Browne, a former professional rugby player, completed a marathon 112-day rowing journey from New York, which ended with some drama when he was blown on to the rocks near Furbo in the early hours of Tuesday as a storm lashed Galway Bay.
The 42-year-old, who has also rowed from Spain to Antigua and climbed Mount Everest since hanging up his boots, said he feared the homecoming might be ruined when he went aground and had to be rescued.
“When last night happened I thought ‘what a disaster, tomorrow is kind of ruined for everyone’ because I knew a lot of work had gone in behind the scenes,” he said after receiving a warm welcome on arrival to Galway. “People weren’t saying that to me, because I was under a lot of pressure and stress out there, but I knew there was a lot being prepared so to arrive home to this reception is absolutely amazing.”
Browne was rescued by three gardaí near Furbo and taken ashore and reunited with his family after a journey which involved 2,686 hours at sea as he rowed more than 3,450 nautical miles.
The former Connacht and Leinster player had hoped to row in through the gates of Galway docks, but having spent time with his partner Rozelle and daughter Elodie, he sailed into the port on a rib and was greeted by hundreds of wellwishers.
“I accomplished what I wanted to and I’m safe and I’m uninjured and I have had an incredible reception. I’m a little bit taken back by it,” he said.
“Up to three days ago I hadn’t seen a person in 98 days and I had a bit of trepidation about this moment, because of the overwhelming nature of seeing so many people having been isolated from people for so long, and it is just great to be welcomed home by so many.
“I want to thank everyone who has come out to meet me and I want to also thank all the people who supported me online, all the messages of support along the way, when I was at my deepest and darkest moments of despair, of which there were plenty, all I had to do was put on the phone and know there was these people connected to me and I didn’t feel so lonely. All I can say, from the bottom of my heart, is thank you.”
Browne’s parents Mary and Joe and siblings Gillian and Andrew (another former Connacht rugby player) were among those there to greet him.
“I feel so proud of him and I’m feeling so relieved and so joyful and can’t believe that he is here with us,” said Mary.
Fergus Farrell, who started out the journey from Manhattan with Browne on June 14th, but had to be lifted after 13 days due to health issues, said he was delighted that his close friend completed the journey safely.
“I just relieved that Damo is home as I had left him alone out in the middle of the ocean,” he added.
Browne said his rugby career, which also included stints with Northampton in England and Brive in France, had instilled a resolve which served him well on his adventures.
“In those moments of darkness and you are facing headwinds for three days in a row and you are going backwards, I have a deep foundational belief that I will get through it and that stems from rugby and everything that gave me. I will always be grateful for that.”