Carrick on Shannon Rowing Club
Man with a Blade
Mary, who stroked the young school girls crew from 1969 to 1971 was one of those rare people, with a natural gift for rowing and a complete dedication to the sport she loved.
Mary and her friend, Joan Masterson, took up sculling in the Autumn and Winter of 1970 in an old 'rum-tum' loaned by the Garda Boat Club, (which incidentally was founded by a Carrick oarsman, Jim Maguire). In 1971 Mary and Joan competed in the Women's Junior Double Sculls event at Groningen and Amsterdam International Regattas in Holland. As both girls had not reached their fifteenth birthdays they were 'giving' three to four years to their rivals.
At Groningen they won their heat and got a bronze medal in the final; a feat never fully recognised by the I.A.R.U. At Amsterdam, the entry for the Women's Junior Double Sculls came from 10 nations, headed by the dominant force in rowing, the East European countries. Again the Carrick Double reached the final, but had to settle for fifth place. In September of 1971, Joan's family moved to Limerick and then Mary made her big decision to go it alone as a single sculler.
When Mary Reynolds made her traumatic decision to keep on sculling, she also got her priorities in the correct order; classes, study and rowing. Her pioneering spirit dispelled the myth that one could not be involved in sport at a high level and not be successful in exams; in her case the Leaving Cert. Her training was regimented insofar as her social life was nil, excluding Christmas and Easter holidays. Each morning, she trained with a six to eight mile run, breakfast, classes and at 4pm she was on the water. Even during her exams, she kept up this routine. She sat for six subjects for her Leaving, obtaining 5 A's and 1 B. Her pioneering outlook set a standard that can never be surpassed in any sport.
Her dedication to her chosen sport prompted Mr Joe Murphy, who was then living in Carrick, to buy her a boat and a set of oars. Her rowing equipment was paid for by Mr Murphy in November 1971 and was ready by March 1972. Garda Boat Club took the boat from London to Dublin, free, as they were bringing over a new boat for their own club. Her coach brought the boat from Dublin to Carrick, where it is still being used. Mary's gratitude to Mr Joe Murphy was to have the boat called 'Murphy'. So the sculling boat 'Murphy' now being used by the young people now rowing and not then born, cost the club NOTHING.
In the 1972 season Mary had her first outings at Cork and Fermoy Heads-of-the-River, winning at both venues in the Women's Open event. Victories at other Irish Regattas culminated at the trials held at Athlone Regatta in June to represent Ireland in the Home Countries International in July. That was the first year that two events for women were included in the Home Countries International; Single Sculls and Coxed Fours. Those two sections of Women's rowing were to become official Irish Championships in 1976 followed by all Championship categories in later years. The host country for the 1972 International Championship was Ireland and the venue was Blessington Lake in Wicklow. Mary, rowing for Ireland, had to settle for second behind the British Champion, representing England, the great Jean Rankin. It was a creditable performance for the club's first ever green vest.
In 1973 Mary had set her sights on going high on the international rowing ladder. Having been unbeaten on Irish waters, she entered the Nottingham International against the best in Britain and some Western European nations. Winning her heat, she was drawn on the outside lane in gale-force wind conditions, she was beaten by the British elite Champion, Elisabeth Lorrimer.
As Mary was now recognised as unbeatable in Ireland, only two other girls had the courage to challenge her in the trials, which she won easily. The venue that year was Nottingham for the Four Countries and when the Carrick 17 year old discovered that England's representative was the champion, and old rival, her determination to win became obsessive. Training for over six hours per day, she was confident though nervous. With Wales and Scotland tailed off at 400 metres, the race became a duel between Ireland and England. Mary having established a lead over the first 200 metres, Ireland's women's sculler went on to win by a massive four lengths with the British Champion a very disappointed person. However Liz Lorrimer was sporting enough to congratulate Mary, describing her as the greatest oarswoman in the British Isles. That was Ireland's first major international victory in Women's Senior/Elite rowing and it was pioneered by a young Carrick girl.
In 1974, with exam pressure holding up and having to train alone in Dublin, she decided to ease back on her rowing, to compensate for that by non-stop rowing on the Shannon during the Easter and Summer holidays. But Lady Luck deserted her that year, as her coach was seriously ill in hospital during her Easter and early Summer breaks. Perhaps some of her confidence waned, with the loss of her coach and she had to settle for second place in the Home Countries in Wales.
She decided to let up on rowing in 1075 and then got down to a hard training program for 1976, possibly with a glimmer of hope of selection for the Montreal Olympics, the following year. Unfortunately for Mary, a new rowing star was born from her old club, in the person of Frances Cryan. Frances had been influenced by Mary's dedication and her great pioneering spirit for Women's sculling in Ireland. It's a tribute to a small club like Carrick that two girls from the town brought 14 Irish Championships back to the West from 1973 to 1986.Mary went on to become the first lady Vice President of the Irish Amateur Rowing Union and later the Hon. Secretary of the Executive Body. Again, a pioneer whose name and achievements will never be forgotten by the old genuine rowing fraternity.