Although Shandon Boat Club was founded in May 1877 the lineage of the club stretches back to the beginning of organised competitive amateur rowing in Cork twenty years earlier. In 1858 Cork Harbour Rowing Club, was founded. Ten years later, in 1868, Queens College Rowing Club was founded by a number of members who left CHRC after a dispute and nine years later that club changed its name to Shandon Boat Club, due to the lack of “college men” rowing with the club by that time.
In 1871 the Cork City Council granted land to Queens College Rowing Club to build a boathouse on the Navigation Wall of the Marina and this boathouse was subsequently knocked and replaced in 1896 by the building still in use today. The new building was designed by the well known Cork architect, James McMullen, who also designed the Honan Chapel in University College Cork.
Following its foundation the club thrived and in a few short years became one of the strongest clubs in Irish rowing winning on many occasions at the Metropolitan Regatta in Dublin (then the equivalent of the Irish National Championships). WD Thornton, “Ireland’s greatest oarsman” according to the Irish Times, was stroke of the Shandon crews during its early years.
In 1899 Shandon was one of the eight founding clubs of the Irish Amateur Rowing Union.
In 1902 “The International Cup Races” were held at Cork marking the climax of the great Cork Exhibition of that summer. The regatta was the greatest rowing carnival ever held in Ireland and the final day was attended by an estimated 80,000 spectators. Shandon was one of 13 clubs to enter a crew in the race for senior eights in which Leander of London beat Berlin Rowing Club in the final.
In appreciation of the hospitality shown by the rowing fraternity of Cork to the Leander members the Leander Trophy was donated by the Leander Club to the Cork City Regatta Committee and was first raced for at the Cork Regatta in 1904. It is reported that Leander Club committed that if any crew outside the United Kingdom ever entered for the trophy, they would send over a crew to defend it. Unfortunately, Leander seem to regard this as more legend than reality. In 1909 this famous trophy was won by Shandon for the first time a success which was repeated in 1914.
The club was also at the fore-front of rowing development in Ireland at this time and in 1907 introduced the first center-seated boat into Ireland. Previously rowers seated alternately one on each side of the boat.
Rowing in Ireland ceased during the “Great War” and was not fully re-established until the early 1920’s. However, although Shandon continued to achieve success at local regattas the days of being a major competitor to the big University and Dublin clubs were apparently over. The driver of this early success had been the club’s most famed member, TC (Tacky) Butterfield who as well as being Captain for a record 27 years was also three times Lord Mayor of Cork and President of the Irish Amateur Rowing Union.
In 1917 the Ford motor assembly plant was established in Cork beside the club. The subsequent closing off of the Marina from the city centre resulted in Shandon losing its advantage of being the nearest rowing club to the city – an important recruiting strength in those largely non-motorised years.
In spite of these challenges, the Leander was won again at Cork Regatta in 1926.
Shandon continued as an active club through the 1930s and 1940s without ever scaling the heights achieved during its first 50 years of existence. In the early 1950’s an excellent men’s eight was formed under the direction of the then Captain, Tom Gregory and in 1953 this crew won the Leander trophy for the 4th and, so far, final time. Even more significantly the crew won the club’s first National Championship – the Men’s Junior (now Intermediate) Eights.
Although the club remained active due to the tireless efforts of some key individuals particularly Mick Collins and Tom Gregory, the next 40 years were generally lean years in competitive terms. A strong Senior Men’s crew did develop in the 1970s but found themselves up against Garda who were then in their unbeatable heyday. This crew, however, produced a group of men who were to provide the foundation for the club’s recovery a generation later in the 1990s. A notable success during this period was the winning of a men’s intermediate double sculling championship in 1983 by Tony Corcoran (partnered by G Wiley of Dungarvan Rowing Club)
By 1990 the club was at a low ebb when a group came together under the direction of long-time members Tom Rose, Mick O’Callaghan, George Costello and Mick Looney with a view to getting the club back on its feet again. Results came quickly with a 3rd National Championship won in 1993 by the club’s Men’s Novice Eight crew. The most significant development however was in junior rowing and particularly in junior women’s rowing. Following the recruitment of an outstanding group of young girls the club had a string of national and international successes in the mid 1990s resulting in seven National Championships. Twelve of these young ladies represented Ireland in international championships between 1996 and 1998 winning two Coupe de Jeunesse (European Junior Championships) gold medals and a 10th place in the Junior World Rowing Championships.
During these years a significant development was the building of a large new boathouse under the direction of another long-time member John Rose. This freed up the original clubhouse for further development and gave Shandon space for accommodating other rowing clubs on site – in particular University College Cork Rowing Club, Presentation College Rowing Club and Naomhóga Chorchaí (Cork Currach Club).
This burst of activity and success was followed by a difficult period caused by the departure of some of the most active senior members of the club. As a result the club effectively ceased to operate for a number of years. In 2004 a successful attempt was made to encourage new members, particularly a group of experienced young oarsmen, to join. This resulted in a resurgence of activity in the club. Large numbers of junior rowers were recruited into the club, the rowing facilities were greatly developed with new changing rooms and gyms and a large new fleet of boats and training equipment were purchased.
These developments also brought success on the competitive front. The club’s twelfth championship was won in 2009 by David Heffernan in the Men’s Lightweight Sculls. In 2012 the complete refurbishment of the 19th century clubhouse was completed and a 13th championship was added when Andy Harrington and Jack Casey won the Junior Men’s Doubles (2X) Championship. In 2013 Andy and Jack again won the Junior Men’s 2X at the Irish Rowing Championships and also, along with Luke Carroll and Dan Begley, the Junior Men’s Quadruple (4X) Championships. Jack and Andy represented Ireland that year in the World Junior Championships rowing as the Men’s 2X .
Competitive success continued with the retention of the Junior Men’s 4X Championship of Ireland in 2014 and 2015 and the adding of the Junior Mens 2X and Mens Club 1X Championships in 2015. Also in 2015 club member Colm Hennessy stroked the Irish Quad to double gold success in the Coupe de la Jeunesse. In 2014 the club also recorded its highest ever rowing membership having gone from being closed between 2001 and 2005 to becoming the third largest rowing club in Ireland.
In 2016 the club won the Junior Men’s 4X Championship for the fourth year in succession and retained the Junior Mens 2X Championship. 2017 proved to be a frustrating championship year with the club failing to win a “pot” but coming second in six championship finals, four of them by less than 2 seconds. However the year did see developments in club facilities with the erection of a new boathouse for small boats and the purchase of a new fleet of boats including an eight, three fours, three pairs and a number of sculling boats. In addition two touring boats were purchased to support the recently agreed initiative of developing adult recreational rowing in the club.
After a competitively disappointing 2017, 2018 turned out to be the most successful year in the club’s history, resulting in Championship wins in the Mens Junior 8 (the first ever for a Cork club), Mens Junior 4X, Mens Intermediate 2- and the Womens Club 4+. Eleven young Shandon athletes won international caps including four at World Championship level with Jack Dorney, Eoin Gaffney, Luke Hayes-Nally and Alex Byrne representing Ireland in the World Junior Rowing Championships. In addition Jack Dorney won the mens youth sculling section in the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston. A first for an Irish rower. During the year, the club continued to add to its equipment with the purchase of a Filippi eight and Empacher four.
2019 saw a significant expansion in club rowing membership with 145 Shandon rowers registered with Rowing Ireland. This reflected a significant growth in adult men membership. Club members were very successful on the international front with Ronan Byrne winning a silver medal in the Mens 2- at the World Rowing Championships in Tokyo and thus qualifying the boat for the 2020 Olympics. Ronan was elected a Life Member of the club (only the 11th to be so honoured in the club’s history). In addition Leah O’Regan (cox) and Jack Dorney were members of the Irish Mens 4+ which finished 4th in the World Junior Rowing Championships while Eoin Gaffney won a bronze medal at the World U23 Rowing Championships. On the home front, Kevin O’Donovan won the Mens Club 1X at the Irish Rowing Championships. The first Shandon Master’s Regatta was held on the Marina in August.