Veteran boatman launches his story of colourful life that wasn't all spent at sea


A skipper told me once that on the day he walked ashore for the last time he had a greater fear of the sea than on his first trip around Cape Horn. But while cats may have nine lives, many a seaman has had twice that.

One of them surely must be George O'Brien Kennedy, the naval architect and boat-builder who is as well known on our west coast as he is on the Shannon, where he pioneered the hire-cruise industry.

Now this distinguished designer/yachtsman and worthy humanitarian has written his autobiography. Covering 85 years, the tome of 400 large pages is entitled Not All At Sea. To describe him as the man who designed thousands of yachts, including the well-known IDRA 14 and the award-winning Kerry cruiser, would be an understatement, because this book deals with his war experiences in Britain (he worked on the design of the Spitfire), his adventures and his personal travels.

His 10 years in India building vessels makes enchanting reading, as does his description of unusual cars which he owned.

O'Brien is both frank and funny. We hear about his unusual romances, about his understandable blunders. At times there is too much detail, reflecting his microscopic interest in minutiae. In his latter years he acted as a marine surveyor, working widely in Ireland and Britain, and, significantly, played a part in the selection of Kilrush, Co Clare, as the location for a marina.

What is most extraordinary is the man's phenomenal memory.

Well illustrated, with some 40 pages of photos and yacht/ship drawings, Not All At Sea by George O'Brien Kennedy, FRINA, is published by Morrigan Books of Killala, Co Mayo, and is available in bookshops, specialist marine outlets or directly from Morrigan, post free, at (096) 32555 or email,

Still at sea . . . This time last year Mayo-man Jarlath Cunnane was packing his bags and preparing to take a plane in pursuit of a small boat which he had shipped out to Argentina. Cunnane was builder of the Tom Crean and a member of the Irish Antarctic Expedition which attempted to retrace the Shackleton Antarctic rescue across the Southern Ocean.

The film of that re-creation, and of the background to one of the greatest survival stories in the history of exploration, is being shows on Telefis na Gaeilge on Christmas Day. Filmed by the intrepid Mick O'Rourke, produced by John Murray and directed by O'Rourke and Donnchadh O Briain, Ealu O Antarctica: Ar Thoir Shackleton is a one-hour documentary.