Fermanagh Gold Introduction

The following pieces have been contributed by Michael Clarke, keen yachtsman on Lough Erne.

In 1818 a number of Fermanagh gentlemen set up 'The Subscribers to the Boat races on Lough Erne for the encouragement of Fast Sailing Boats and the Improvement of the Navigation of the Lake'. There is a subsequent and continued history of yacht racing that makes today's Lough Erne Yacht Club the oldest yacht racing club in Ireland. It involved various Big House families, who owned the yachts, and other families, many were employees at the Big Houses, who built the yachts and crewed in them.

Big House yacht owners included the following: Saundersons of Castle Saunderson; the Crichtons of Crom Castle, Tippings of Rosferry, Irvines of Rockport, Folliot-Bartons of Waterfoot, the Massey-Beresfords, and the Richardsons of Rossfad.  Boat building families, usually also carpenters, included Maguires at Bellisle,  Craigs at Crom, Goodwins, and Johnstons, some of whom lived on Lower Lake islands. Ternans on Owl Island, Lower Lake and Cathcarts of the Upper Lake were famous rowing families, as were many who lived on Boa Island, Ireland's largest inland island. Charlie McCabe built numerous racing yachts for the lakes and the sea in Enniskillen in the late 1800s.

Johnston is a very common name in present day Fermanagh. It is a long shot, but the Rod Johnstone who built the first of the famous international J/24 keelboats in Connecticut in 1977 believes that his ancestors came from the north of Ireland.

May I ask folk on the list seeking out family histories to look out for the yachting connection. Especially in the early 1800s when Fermanagh's population was three times that of today, there was a substantial and active fleet, likewise in the late 1800s.

Michael Clarke
21 Jun 1999


Bud Crookes, wartime member 422 Squadron, Royal Canadian Airforce, came back to what was RAF Kiladeas last week for the first time in nearly 60 years, and he reckons he has now solved the  mystery of why 422 Squadron carried the nickname 'The Flying Yachtsmen'.

Bud Crookes was chosen by his returning comrades to join Lough Erne Yacht Club's Commodore, Jorgen Pedersen, to unveil a memorial stone to 131 OTU during a reception at LEYC last week, where a party of returning Canadian and other members of 422 Squadron were greeted by LEYC members and other local folk, including Fermanagh Flying Boat Association members.

LEYC is the oldest yacht racing club in Ireland and it was around in the 1940s when he and others in his Sunderland Flying Boat crew were brought together and trained to work as a team in the war against German submarines at 131 OTU. This major Operational Training Unit was based at RAF Kiladeas, which today is the site occupied by Lough Erne Yacht Club.

Bud is sure that there was also a connection between Club and Squadron in those early days. The Kiladeas base itself was built by Americans, whose commanding officer lived at Rossfad House, home of the then LEYC Secretary Henry Richardson and his wife, Phyllis, who was one of the most successful competitive sailors in the history of LEYC. Today the artefacts of war are all put to peaceful and pleasurable use. As the 422 Squadron guests strolled in the sunset, they saw, where war planes once floated, a fleet of J/24 keelboats finish a race in the bay, spinnakers set, go to moorings that used blocks made for wartime flying boats and crews land from dinghies at a slipway first built for Catalina Flying boats. Peace has fully replaced War.

Michael Clarke 
4 Jun 2000
Historian LEYC

Articles contributed by Michael Clarke, Fermanagh