Greg Denieffe writes from England,
Lovely Derry on the Banks of The Foyle - by J. J. McCready c. 1920
I know a wee spot, it’s a place of great fame
It lies to the North, and I’ll tell you its name
It’s my own native birthplace, and it lies on Irish soil
And they call it lovely Derry on the banks of the Foyle
In August 1924, the Tailteann Games was revived in Ireland. The fact that rowing was one of the sports included, coupled with the fact that the Olympic Games had recently been held in Paris, gave rise to the participation at the Games of the Australian Olympic eight.
Murray Bridge Rowing Club from South Australia had been nominated for the Olympics by a panel of selectors chosen by the State Associations to represent Australia, on condition that they met any challenges on the Port Adelaide course. Having won the 1922 and 1923 King’s Cups (Interstate Championships) Murray Bridge were the form crew, but doubts over their rowing style and the fact that the Olympic regatta was to be raced over 2,000 meters, whilst their King’s Cup victories were over three miles (4.8 km), led to their conditional selection.
The race to finalise selection between Western Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and the South Australians was held on 9 March, 1924, on the course stipulated by the selectors. An epic struggle ended in victory for the Murray Bridge crew by a canvas (deck) and so their Olympic selection was confirmed.
The crew were nicknamed the ‘Murray Cods’ and whenever they raced; they had a small stuffed Murray cod tied to the bow of their boat. According to the Club’s website, they wrote to the Stewards of Henley Royal Regatta, with a view to racing there, as preparation for the Olympics. “A return letter politely informed the crew they were not welcome to participate, because with the exception of Sladden, all were working class and only gentlemen rowed in Henley on Thames”.
The crew travelled to France with the rest of the Australian Olympic team and on arrival they had to row their boat 37 miles (60 km) to their training camp. It is not surprising that the crew underperformed at the Games: on the day of their heat, in which they finished second to Italy but ahead of Spain, they rowed their boat 26 miles (42 km) from their boat house to the course on the River Seine. In the repêchage they finished third behind Canada and Argentina, but ahead of Belgium. Canada went on to win the silver medal behind the USA crew from Yale. Dr. Benjamin Spock, seven-seat in the victorious USA crew and his 1956 letter to ‘Rusty Wails’ comparing the 1924 crew with that of 1956 was the subject of a six-part article on HTBS in May 2011.
After the conclusion of the Olympic regatta on the 17 July, the Australian eight travelled to Ireland to take part in the Tailteann Games, held in Dublin between 2 and 18 August. As part of the Games, a four-day regatta was held over the Islandbridge course in the west of the city on the non-tidal River Liffey.
The races were arranged in two sections, National and International. In the former class there were events for senior and junior eights; senior, junior and under-age (under 21) fours; and senior and junior sculls. The International section was for the winners of the National senior eights, fours and sculls who were to race the Australian Olympic crews.
In 1924, rowing in Ireland was finally getting back to full strength following the War of Independence and the Civil War. All the usual fixtures were restored and there were two outstanding senior eights: City of Derry Boating Club (CoD) and Bann Rowing Club; that dominated the most important regattas. City of Derry won at their home regatta and at Dublin University, but was narrowly beaten by Bann in the Irish Senior-Eights Championship. They met again in the semi-final at the Tailteann Games and Derry emerged winners by half-a-length. The following day, they won the final rather more easily, beating Citie of the Tribes by 2½ lengths. The senior fours was also won by the Derry club and the senior sculls was won by C. T. Denroche, Lady Elizabeth Boat Club. These crews would now face the Australian visitors on the final day of the regatta in the International races.
British Pathé in a film titled Irelands Sporting Festival 1924 appears to show both crews posing for a group photograph. It then shows the Australian Oarsmen at work on the Liffey and is quickly followed by a shot of the Australian crew posing on the bank with their oars.
IRELAND'S SPORTING FESTIVAL
T. F. Hall in his 1939 book, History of Boat-Racing in Ireland describes the races between ‘CoD and the Cods’:
The International Fours race was first on the programme and fast and powerful as were the Australian visitors, Derry soon had their measure. Australia went for the race at the start and with an early lead looked like scoring. Derry held them, half a length astern, to half-way and then made their first real effort. Well backed by his crew, R. S. Bolton spurted and steadily the Australians came back. At the Wood the boats were level and then came Derry’s second effort, and, as it proved, the decisive one. Slowly Derry went ahead to lead by a quarter-length at the enclosure. Australia, however, were not done with and down the straight spurted strongly only to find their opponents replying in kind. The Australian effort died away and Derry drew out at the finish, good winners by three quarters of a length.
The International Eights race followed a couple of hours later. Gaining courage from their four’s meritorious victory the Derry crew went to the start full of confidence and made full use of the experience of the earlier race. This time they got the start and held a slight lead to the bend rounding which bad steering by Australia nearly resulted in a foul, but Derry sportingly gave way, thereby losing a quarter-of-a-length. This they recovered in the straight to the Wood and at the half-way mark the race was won. The pace was telling on the visitors who became short in the water and Derry were never afterwards in danger, ultimately winning by one-and-a-half lengths in 6 minutes 12 seconds.
The Australian eight showed one change from the crew that raced in Paris; G. Tucker replacing W. Jarvis in the three-seat. W. H. Pfeiffer, who also raced in the Australian four and eight, beat C. T. Denroche in the International Sculling Race bringing home a Tailteann Games medal similar to that shown in a previous HTBS post.
Hall also reported on the celebrations that followed racing:
In the evening the Australian crews were entertained to dinner at the Metropole Restaurant by the Irish Amateur Rowing Union. Mr H. J. Anderson (Galway), Vice-President, occupied the chair and a very pleasant evening wound up a successful four days’ rowing. Replying to the toast of “Our Guests,” Mr C. A. M. West, Manager of the Australian Olympic crew, stated that they had thoroughly enjoyed their visit and their races. On behalf of the crews he heartily congratulated the winners on their rowing and, in memory of the occasion, he presented to the I.A.R.U. the boat in which the Australian eight rowed. The Union subsequently presented the boat to the City of Derry B. C. whose representatives had so worthily upheld the honour of Irish rowing in these memorable races.
In an article printed on Monday 18 August, 1924, The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the Irish Games, covering Athletics, Cycling, Rowing and Lawn Tennis. The Australian’s defeats in Paris and Dublin were put down to the crew being too old (the average age was 32) and reported that their manager had announced that the crew would probably disband on its return home. Perhaps the greatest source of material on the Murray Bridge trip to Paris is that held by State Library of South Australia. The family of the Australian coxswain, Bob Cummings, donated his diary, photograph albums and memorabilia to the library and has given permission to the library to feature the items on the library’s website. On pages 78 to 81 of his diary, Bob wrote about the trip to Ireland as follows:
Off for Ireland. Had a wonderful trip through England & Wales to Holyhead on way to Ireland very pretty. London & Midland & Scot – Express arrived Holyhead 3p. Boarded boat sailed. Blew & rough as -. 937 pasgrs on board. Standing room & 2 thirds were sick, myself nearly not quite. Very rough trip arriving in Kingstown Ireland near Dublin. Irish Games Committee met with car. Staying St Pats College Drumcondra. Beautiful living like lords treating us goodo.
Saturday Aug 2.
Opening Irish Games. Great display by Aussie led the athletics America next. Great show equal to Colombes. Bands plenty. 20,000 people. Irish v scotch “shinty” good game.
Aug 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th.
Having glorious time. Training on the liffey at Neptune shed. Good. 4s. 8s race on the 16th. Have been several shows all fair. College great. Strike over. Can see results of great war, ruins in street. Several tours were O.K. have been several. Howth Capt O’Toole at the lake.
Aug 11th 12th 13th 14th 15th 16th
Still having good time in Ireland. We were beaten in racing 4s by ¾ length Derry from North & were beaten again in the 8s by 1½ lengths. Had a great dinner on night after racing was over.
We packed up for home.
Left Dublin. Some of our chaps had a nasty motor accident, capsized hurt one or two, in our taxi we ran over a dog, all going to station. The crew left for Belfast. Had a day’s look around there nice big place. Left for Glasgow at 9p
Having left home on the 8 May 1924, the Men from Murray Bridge finally arrived home on the 30 September. The adventure was over. In his diary, ‘Bob’ Cummings finishes his record of competing at the Games (page 71): Had hard luck did our best.
South Australia (Traditional)
In South Australia I was born
Heave away, Haul away
In South Australia ‘round Cape Horn
We’re bound for South Australia