Patsy Whelan Shipwright
Patsy Whelan was born in 1932 into a traditional seafaring Ringsend family. Patsy although he is renowned for his shipwright skills he actually always referred to his occupation as a fisherman, the same as his father James, grandfather Patrick and great grandfather Martin. He was the holder of one of the very coveted salmon drift net licence’s (No D849). These licences where guarded with their lives by all their owners in the Ringsend area, as they were not only a means of income but also a supply of healthy food in hard times.
Above: The Wanda ex 1907 British Navy rowing cutter which he converted to do a lot of his fishing.
But not only did he fish for salmon back in the day, he was also one of the first to catch and export mullet to France in the early 1980’s.Seemingly no one in Ireland would eat mullet, as they were regarded as a dirty fish, as they lived in dirtiest of water. He also tried his hand at white bait and eel fishing. Needless to say many stories go along with these adventures, from berthing the boat along-side the Seamrog sludge ship, nearly getting sunk by the wash of the B and I car ferry, trying to stop mullet jumping over the nets by laying straw on the water, to casting nets waist deep on Dollymount strand. But it’s safe to say he was always most content out in the yard making or mending his nets for the next project to earn a few bob.
Patsy will be best known for the wooden boats he built. We have records of over 64 he made between the years 1954 to 1983, including 13 Sea angling boats, 5 yacht club tenders, tenders for Irish Lights ships and 16 east coast racing skiffs. One of the first boats he built in 1958 was the “spray” which had to be manoeuvred out of the first floor window of a building in Skerries. Most of the skiffs where built between the years 1970 and 1983. He had served his apprenticeship in Harry Smiths yard in Thorncastle street. This was in fact the last Ringsend shipyard to close in 1956 .
Article Irish Times 1956 re Smith’s Yard
The last skiff built in the ringsend yards was the Mhaintain of Wicklow and Patsy worked on this as a young apprentice. This must have had a lasting influence on him as he never gave up on the traditional wooden skills of a shipwright. Even when others drifted from the industry and others began to use fibreglass as the material of choice for boat building, he always stuck with the traditional wood.
31’Carvel launch being built in Seapoint tce 1964
He set up his own workshop originally at the rear of 7 Seapoint Tce Ringsend and then later on he had a shed out in Collinstown, close to the airport.
Patsy building St Patrick skiff in Collinstown workshop
Patsy built skiffs for most of the east coast clubs including Bray, Stella, St Pats, Greystones, Dalkey, Dun Laoghaire, East Wall and for most of the sea scout troops around Dublin. A 25’ racing skiff built for Bray RC in 1971 cost 300 pounds and 40 pounds for the oars. Ten years later a racing skiff for Monkstown sea scouts cost 1800 pounds including the oars. Both were significant sums for clubs to raise no matter the decade.
Many if not most of these skiffs are still in use today, testament to his handy work and the respect their owners have for these works of art. During the 1980’s he taught boat building skills in Skerries tech, the VEC Ringsend and in the East Wall community centre. He was instrumental in the building of the Viking ship for the Dublin millennium in 1988 but unfortunately he died before he could see her reach the water. Anyone who met him said he was a quiet gentleman, always had a smile on his face and was very obliging. It was such a shame to lose him at the tender age of 54, not only for his family but for the whole rowing community. Thankfully the traditional woodworking skills were passed on to his son Patsy jnr. He is now the resident shipwright in Dublin Port. Other family members are in involved in East Wall Skiff Rowing Club. I know Patsy would be absolutely delighted to see how popular the East Coast skiff Rowing has become. The preservation of the rowing tradition looks safe and well going into the future. But we have to thank certain stalwart rowing men and women along the east coast who have kept the show on the road during the times when it was nt popular or cool to go skiff rowing. Every club knows who these people are but we can definitely include Patsy Whelan as one of them.