It's rare in life to meet families who quite literally do anything. But, a family living an hour and a half from my home in Millstreet have quite literally done it all.
As Frank McNally wrote for the Irish Times in 2013 "Thirty years ago this summer. The Sneem Regatta in Kerry hosted a final reunion on home water of what was arguably the greatest Irish sporting family of all time. They were called the Casey brothers. There were seven of them: Steve, Paddy, Jack, Jim, Mick, Tom, and Dan. And to suggest they were Ireland's greatest sporting siblings may, if anything, be an understatement. They were also once dubbed, not without justification, 'the toughest family on earth'."
The toughest family on earth participated in absolutely everything, from bare knuckle boxing, to collective tug of war; from wrestling to boxing, the seven brothers were masters at everything. But rowing is where we pick up our story, and in particular, an adventure rower in London who is taking part in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. Step forward Victoria Carroll, great granddaughter of Jack Casey.
"My great granddad Jack, was the eldest. He got married first, and got the farm. He's the one that stayed in Sneem, and the rest of them went off to America and London and whatever. Then he helped my granddad, who's Noel Casey, who still lives in Sneem now. He went back after my nanny died," explains Carroll.
Noel Casey rowed for a club in London called Vesta and funnily enough, the boat Victoria and her fellow rower are using for the challenge is also called Vesta, a mini homage to her grandfather and great grandfather.
Carroll, like all before her, is absolutely stone mad for an adventure, no matter what the circumstances are. So, she is taking part in a race that consists of starting rowing from La Gomera in the Canary Islands 3,000 miles west to Nelson's Dockyard English harbour, Antigua & Barbuda. Kicking off on December 12th, this journey is supposed to take between 50 and 60 days, but the competitive genes in Victoria says the aim is to break the women's pair record of 50 days, given weather conditions will be on her side.
So, to the main question - why?
“Loads of people have said to me, ‘Why December? Is it not really cold?’ We start in the Canary Islands, which is warm most of the year round anyway, and then we’re going in a southerly and then a westerly direction down to Antigua.
“It’ll actually be quite warm for most of the trip. The other reason why December, is because that by the time even the solos are finished, it will be finished before the storm season starts, which is obviously a big positive. Also, that time of year, what they call the trade winds are the strongest. They’re the winds who have a nice tailwind to help you along, which doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it slightly easier”.
And what if, God forbid, things get a bit messy?
“There are two support yachts that are within (the fleet). All the crews together, they call it the fleet. Going between the fleet are two yachts but the difference between the very first crew and the very last crew could be days and days.
“They try and keep in between everyone. They say they should always be within a day or so of us, normally within hours if something goes wrong. Yes, it could be that if something really goes wrong, we’re stuck out there because once we’re right in the middle of the Atlantic, a helicopter can’t come and get us or anything like that, so we’ve got to wait for the support yacht or another passing boat to help us.”
Apart from the bucket list goals Victoria and her partner are going to be able tick off, the best part is this is also a venture with an incredible charitable aspect. Firstly, to get to the start line, the Vesta Boat and crew needs £120,000. Luckily, Victoria has achieved that initial cost through personal savings and a major sponsorship deal with O'Rourkes, an Irish company which ties the whole thing in together.
Added to that, the more money they get, it means a sizeable donation to a cause close to Victoria’s heart is achievable.
“That’s why we’re trying to cover as much as we can through sponsorship, because the boat and all the equipment is about £60,000, so if we can get all that covered through sponsorship, that’s how much money we can give to charity.
“Anything we get from now on, ultimately it will go through us, but eventually it will all go to charity. That’s what we’re trying to do now, which is great, and we’re in touch. Our charity, London Youth Rowing, they’re absolutely amazing.
“They work with, and this fits in with something that I’m really passionate about as well, because we love rowing . . . Well, I love rowing so much, I want everyone to row, or have a go at it, because it’s just such an amazing sport. I love that it’s so gender neutral as well. Everyone at rowing a club, we’ve all got the same access to boats, all on the same river, apart from Women’s Henley, but pretty much all the races we race the same distance, in the same boats. We’re all in the same clubhouse. It’s just a really great sport from that point of view.
“The only thing about rowing is that it is very white. Predominantly a white sport.”
London Youth Rowing is a charity that tries to get more kids at younger age involved in rowing, they work with inner-city London schools to introduce children to rowing and get them out on the water. They do a lot of mentoring, including career mentoring, and helping them with their school work and their training. They work with young people with disabilities as well since adaptive rowing is a growing sport.
Carroll knows she’s privileged to grow up in a family of sporting icons who provided her with access to rowing. “As a rowing club, we’re like ‘what can we do to try and open this up more to more people in the community’.
“We’re predominantly white at our club, but we would never turn anyone away. An athletic person comes on with all the right requirements and did well and [they would] get in the boat. We want the fastest people, but we’re not getting people coming to us and the people we do get to come say is novices. We’re one of a few clubs that have novices.”
While Carroll gets Vesta and her crew ready for her gigantic adventure of a lifetime, one thing is absolutely certain, the rowing families across Munster and Ireland are behind her, while the seven sons of the strongest family in the world are also looking down, ecstatic the Casey story will get another adventure in the book.