Rowing teams from Oxford and Cambridge took on local boat clubs in a rowing festival yesterday to celebrate the oldest regatta in the world, the Killlarney lakes regatta. The annual regatta, held on the lower lake, Lough Lein, is the oldest surviving traditional regatta and this year took place for the 228th time. Rivals Oxford and Cambridge were invited to take part in the celebration of lake rowing in Killarney along with Atlantic coastal Seine crews from south Kerry, normally seen on salt water, to mark the year of the Gathering.
Coxed by local oarsmen, Raymond Coffey of Fossa for the Oxford blues and Mikey Joe Burns of Workmen for the Cambridge blues, it was the first time the English crews rowed the traditional six-man wooden boat, the standard of the Killarney regatta and it was a dead heat.
Muckross boat club, the most historic club on the lakes, displayed the barge used to ferry Queen Victoria on the lakes during her 1861 visit.
The unique Killarney race boat was designed and made in Oxford. “The type of boat is unique to the lakes of Killarney and known as the ‘Killarney Sixes’, wooden in structure, wooden oar and fixed seat. The boats were actually originally designed and built by Salters in Oxford,” festival spokeswoman Valerie O’Sullivan said.
Yesterday, also for the first time, the lakes of Killarney played host to a Seine boat – normally the preserve of the south Kerry/west Cork coast.
Based on a traditional fishing technique, the Seine boat was crewed by 13 bare-chested men who completed a tour of the lake in just 30 minutes.
Fáilte Ireland's Declan Murphy said the festival was "a unique event" and it honoured the "spectacular outdoor setting of the lakes of Killarney.
"It is a magnificent event, tying in the history, heritage, culture, and tradition of rowing and tourism which has such a long association with the town and its people," he said.
The festival began with a bugler's blow, by trumpeter Morgan Foley in echo of the first verse of the poem The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls, written by the great Victorian poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, in 1848 after a visit to Killarney. Deputy mayor of Killarney, Michael Gleeson, quoted the poem.
Giles Vardey of Oxford boat club said it had been a privilege to take part, while Tobias Garnett of Cambridge said it was “unbelievable” to find six rowing clubs in one town, each with “wonderful oarsmen and women who have represented Ireland at world level”.