Something in the Water

I’ve just finished Something in the Water – How Skibbereen Rowing Club Conquered the World by Kieran McCarthy. It’s excellent.

You’d see this book on the shelf and be a little put off – how much do we really need to know about Paul and Gary O’Donovan? But this book is only partly about them – it’s about the club, the town and its people and how they built a club and an environment that could produce an Olympic medal willing crew.

The book weaves the story of Skibbereen Rowing Club from its humble beginnings to the powerhouse in Irish rowing that it is now. The author does this by moving back and forth over the time line in a way thay kept me enthralled throughout.

Kudos to Mercier Press as well – as book covers go, this one is beautiful. I do most of my reading on Kindle these days but I was given the ‘real’ book at Christmas and it’ll have a place of pride on the bookshelf. I look forward to dipping back in again in the future.


I rowed for ‘the Bish’ – my secondary school rowing club which is formally known as St Joesph’s Patrician College, Galway – from 1992 to ’97. The Irish Junior National Championships of 1997 feature in this book because it was the first time that Skibb won a national junior championship with a crew of 8 – the premiere junior title. It was nice to relive it but it also stung – we came fourth in that race, just outside of medal contention. We thought we were going to win it – but then I guess every crew thinks that.

Kieran probably didn’t realise but my partner in the bow pairing on that 8 was Alan Martin. Alan – who besides being an incredible athlete, is one of the most genuine and nicest people you’ll ever meet – gets a number of mentions in the book as he rowed in mixed crews that included Skibb rowers and was also the sub for the Irish heavyweight 4 in the Beijing olympics.

The book captures the joy and pain of rowing superbly. How beautiful and calm it can look from the bank, while the rowers’ muscles can be burning and their lungs ready to explode inside the boat. I’m probably not painting the best picture there but it’s a truely wonderful sport. In looking around for some of my old races while writing this, I came across a draft history of the Bish club which included a quote from a former member:

Lest people should think that rowing is all about winning I hasten to disabuse them of that idea. Winning is sweet and is usually only the just return on investment in hard work and discipline.

Secretly I believe that what rowing is all about is being on the river on a flat calm day in early Summer, the boat is sitting up well, the calls of the water birds all about, the smells of growing things in the nostrils, and being part of that camaraderie forged of mutual dependence and trust that is reserved for oarsmen.

Frank Cooke

Thanks Kieran for the trip down memory lane.

St Joesph’s (‘The Bish’) Jnr 8 Crew, 1997. L-R: D. Harty, D. O’Byrne, D. Boyd, N. Concannon, J. Naughton, A. Martin, R. O’Connor and B O’Donovan (me!). Front: K. Hynes (cox).

Some other resources I found while looking back:

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