History of the Colleen Class

It was towards the end of 1896 that the Dublin Bay Sailing Club selected James Doyle as the designer of their new One Design Class to replace the Mermaid Class and the Half-Raters. Dr W.M.A. Wright, at a meeting of the Club, spoke enthusiastically of Doyle's design - the best of six or submitted by some of the most able and experienced designers of the day. 'They (the new boats) would sail well and present a handsome appearance... they would combine stiffness under canvas, stability, buoyancy, quick-staying powers, be good boats, whether going to windward, reaching or with free sheets...they would also have the additional advantage of being Irish in design, Irish in material and Irish (he hoped) built....'

It turned out to be a most successful design. Not only was there a large and active class in Dublin Bay but there were also fleets in Lough Derg and Lough Erne where Lord Erne and his family were enthusiastic sailors. The owners were clearly enraptured. A surprising number of them were of a class that conferred a certain social cachet on sailing at the time - such as the Viceroy, Lord Dudley, his brother the Hon. Gerald Ward, Lord Mountstewart and the Earl of Lanesboro.

The Colleen's fame spread abroad to distant parts of the Empire, and beyond. In an article published in The Irish Field in December 1905 entitled `With Dublin Bay Colleen on the River Plate', Mr Humphrey H. Hipwell wrote:

'Not only off Howth Head but in places as far asunder as Bombay, Colombo and Yokohama are the Colleens sailed and appreciated - fast and weatherly for their size, fairly comfortable, these excellent little craft have fully justified their existence, combining as they do the lightness and handiness of an open-sea boat with a certain yacht-like grace that endears them to all small-boat sailors.'

They became well established in the Tigre Sailing Club on the Rio de la Plata near Buenos Aires. Hipwell noted that there were seven Colleens in the Buenos Aires club. 'On the stormy and treacherous estuary of the Plate', he wrote, the sea raised by a fresh wind is unpleasantly short. There is a vast inland sea, remarkably shallow. The craft most suitable for use in these waters is a centreboard boat with a small under-body, light, fast and easy to handle - all qualities pre-eminently conspicuous in the Colleens of Dublin Bay.'

In Argentina the class was remarkably successful and survived vigorously until the 1960s. They even maintained the original Dublin Bay tradition of a distinct hull colour for each yacht.

Yachting historian/engineer Hal Sisk, who has researched the class and commissioned the new "Colleen Bawn", visited the Tigre Sailing Club in December 2002, where the introduction of the Colleens is fully recognised as a key component in the establishment of yachting in Argentina.

In 1905, an accident on Lough Erne in which the Viceroy, Lord Dudley, was thrown from his Colleen "Maive", triggered the death of the class in Dublin Bay. So the new "Colleen Bawn" is a sight not seen in Dublin Bay for almost a century.

Origin of the Name
"Colleen" is the anglicised spelling of the Gaelic "cailín", meaning girl. The "een" is the feminine diminutive as in Maureen, Kathleen, Eileen. When, at a meeting of Dublin Bay Sailing Club, a suitable name for the boat was being canvassed, DR Wright suggested that the Irish word cruiscín (meaning a little jug of whiskey) would be most appropriate. However, in deference to the teetotallers among the membership (then, as now, a heroic minority) he thought better of it.

Many of the first fleet of Colleens were give gaelic names, in anglicised spelling; some were terms of endearment like "Aroon" (dearest) and "Sthoreen" (little treasure). Yet strangely until recently, none had been given the name "Colleen Bawn" (meaning blonde girl), the title of a popular Victorian melodrama in which the heroine is drowned!

World's First One Design?
Most one design classes of the period were only intended to the cheap and cheerful local classes without any expectation that they would endure or spread far afield. The remarkable diaspora of the Colleen Class followed the lead of the Dublin Bay's Water Wag dinghy class of 1887, the world's first one design. Only now in hindsight can we see that the Colleens were truly the World's First International Keelboat One Design!




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