Killarney has a rowing tradition dating back to the
1800s and old records would appear from the time to indicate that the annual
Killarney Regatta races were the only sporting events of note in the lakeside
town and hinterlands.
Said to be the oldest rowing regatta in Ireland and the oldest traditional regatta in the world, the Killarney Regatta is a proper fixture on Killarney’s summer calendar.
T.F Hall's History of Boat Racing in Ireland makes reference to a regatta being held on the famous lakes in 1830 and the Tralee Chronicle of Monday August 5th 1947 reports that despite the famine, a regatta was held off Innisfallen island on a course to Darby's Gardens, rounding a buoy and returning to the Island, and goes on to describe the atmosphere as follows: "on shore groups of well-dressed people wandered through the delightful passes with craft of every hue in the rainbow swarming around the jutting creeks and angles of the island."
There are currently five rowing clubs in Killarney who compete in this event. They are Muckross, Commercials/St Brendan’s, Flesk Valley and Workmen’s. The regatta is unique as the crews do not compete in the modern, slider boats which you would see in the Olympics or The Boat Race in London but rather in old sixes, which are big, heavy wooden boats that carry, as you may have guessed, six people. Having had experience myself in rowing these boats I can tell you it’s no joke!
Held in O’Mahony’s Point, Killarney Golf and Fishing Club, it’s an event which locals just love and visitors too are always welcome to join in in the festivities. In relation to the local scene, little has changed with the passing of time and today, families remain embroiled in the patronage of the clubs which their fathers and grandfathers supported in years of yore.
A number of different age groups compete in the regatta beginning at underage with U14 boys and girls and continuing right up to the senior men’s and women’s crews.
The crews are extremely dedicated and you can probably bet your bottom dollar that they’ll be training daily from now right up until the regatta itself.
The day begins with the younger crews and ends with the senior crews which are always hotly anticipated clashes to determine who will get local bragging rights for the year. There’ll be food vans and entertainment on site too and it’s a perfect chance to mingle with the locals.
There have been rowing teams from Oxford and Cambridge taking on local boat clubs along with Atlantic coastal Seine crews from south Kerry, normally seen on salt water in the rowing festival.
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. There is a quote Tennyson's 'Babbling Brook' "... men may come and men may go, but Killarney's regatta will go on for ever ..."