Presentation to “Old Grouchy”

This is by way of being a humble THANK YOU to the members of the Club for the wonderful, and so much appreciated, presentation and social night on the occasion of my 80th birthday. I recognize all the thought, effort and goodwill that went into the organisation of the night and the masterful selection and assembly of my precious inscribed brass porthole. I further wish to apologise to the membership for my crass, hugely embarrassing late arrival.

 

I have made this in the form of a trawl through some subjective early diving lifetime recollections, never before committed to paper, and offered here to the membership of our “Dearly Beloved” Limerick Sub Aqua Club.

 

Little could I have expected, when I drew my first amazing breath from the device known as an aqualung with its twin corrugated rubber hoses and huge mouthpiece mounted on an ex British War Department (aircraft) 20 cubic feet cylinder, known as a tadpole, that the journey would still be ongoing, some 52 years later, finishing up, (not yet, I hope), with so many of my treasured friends in “The Locke” last Friday evening! Like many of you people reading this (I hope), that journey started many years earlier with breath holding contests among pals, in my case, out in Corbally swimming baths and Dromore Lake. You know, I think that our summers were always sunnier and the Shannon waters were always warmer back then. I purchased my first mask snorkel and fins in 1958 but my first tentative steps or should I say fin strokes into the Atlantic were two years later, under the caring tutelage of my dear friend Mick Moriarty who had himself seen the light 2 years earlier when he and other Army buddies formed the Curragh Sub Aqua Club. My introduction to Mick was through my late and dearly beloved brother in law, and fitness fanatic, Fintan Mullowney, himself an Army officer.

 

Back to that first dive………… who will ever forget their first one? Mine was in a lovely rocky cove just outside Spanish Point in County Clare. I was kitted out with Mick’s latex rubber dry suit and instructed how to breathe from the mouthpiece. This could be a tricky manoeuvre since the twin breathing hoses would fill with water, should you happen to let the mouthpiece out of your mouth. Your next breath would then be a fill of water instead of air. So, the trick was to first invert your head to the left and blow out all the water with all the air that you had left in your lungs, since the mouthpiece did not have the luxury of non return valves. Think about it! I was then attached to a rope tied to my wrist and launched into the deep blue yonder.. The dive (solo) lasted all of 10 glorious minutes to something like 10 meters. There and then myself and my buddies agreed to became country members of Mick’s Club, within which we enjoyed many an exciting excursion to the depths of the Irish Sea and Atlantic Ocean. I also became an associate member of the then flourishing British Sub Aqua Club, I still have my log book and membership receipt signed by it’s legendary diving administrator, Hume Wallace. We later went on to form our own club, known, initially as the Killaloe SAC. later becoming a branch of the Irish Sub aqua Club and finally morphing into or own LSAC.

 

About this time I had the good fortune to come upon a copy of Jacques Cousteau’s wonderful book “The Silent World”, a truly inspiring read for any neophyte diver. I later acquired a copy of his film of the same name. I still have these and have played the film on a few occasions on film nights in the Club. This was all before the advent of popular TV made home movies seem rather drab fare. Speaking of movies, there was a time, in those early days that Mick and myself were the only ones amongst the diving community who were actually filming stuff. Mick had an underwater housing and could claim to have been Ireland’s first underwater photographer. My filming, on the other hand, was confined to the overwater. Nonetheless, I did manage to accumulate a decent variety of footage recording the outings and activities of Ireland’s earliest divers. I have passed these spools of movie film, along with vintage family and other stuff that my Dad had taken, over to the National Film Archive for safe storage and use for posterity. I have already had positive feedback from groups, filmmakers and researchers who have tapped into this recource within the Archive .

 

I first dabbled in the business of Diving Equipment importation when I decided to undertake the bold step of buying my initial equipment from one of the prime manufacturers of diving gear in Great Britain at the time, Submarine Products, manufacturers of Sealion demand valves (regulators), slimline cylinders and distributors of the famous French Tarzan (in reality Beuchat) products. When some more of the lads decided to plunge into purchasing their own equipment, I agreed to tap into my contact with Commander Oswell, owner of Submarine Products and imported stuff for them as well. Heretofore diving equipment was being mainly purchased through a large sports shop in Dublin or in many cases, by guys picking up gear when travelling abroad. I found myself having all the strife and hassle of bringing in gear for others and getting nothing out of it, so I started bringing in gear, taking a commission and building up a stock. In 1962 I set up Atlantic Watersports and based it in Fintan and sister Betty’s home where I was living at the time. The business involved importing gear from Britain, France and Italy and travelling to clubs etc and selling direct to divers around the country, very often selling the very gear off my back, anything to get the Brian O’Learys and Mike Orths of their clubs using my products. I also appointed a network of agents within clubs as far apart as Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Galway and Waterford to promote and sell my gear on a commission basis. In the meantime I had crossed over to selling wet suits and even skis to water ski, surfing and sailing people all over the country, again tapping in to the right people to act as agents for me. I could not possibly have done all of this without the sterling assistance of my sister Betty, who still found time while raising a young family herself to take care of so much of the hard slog in the business. This was all part-time with me. I managed to hold down a full time job in employment with Irish Cement. Eventually, some years later, an “offer which I couldn’t refuse” came through from the full-time, Divers Supply Company in Dublin, to merge my business with theirs and take up a directorship in the new joint company. Many years later, 1980, to be precise, I was prevailed upon to step back into the diving business to fill a perceived need in the market.This time I was assisted by my worthy wife Nora, so, under the name of Aquasub, I plunged into the market again, tapped into some contacts and again involved myself in the importation, sales and distribution of diving gear to divers, general sports and diving shops, again on a part time basis. I operated this business for a period of some 8 years importing products from places as far apart as Switzerland (dive watches), Austria (suits). Finland (Suunto products),France, Italy and USA and Great Britain. I even brought stuff in from Japan but dealing with my first consignment of Tabata gear proved to be too tricky, so I didn’t try that again.

 

My travels, hawking diving gear about the place, introduced me to some wonderful people and divers often invited me to join them on many an exciting dive. Ah, the memories! Travels abroad introduced me to some true legends of early diving, most prominent, I suppose, being George Beuchat, friend and colleague of Cousteau (no, regretfully, I never did meet him). He came up with the original concept of the wet suit, the compensator mask, the jet fin, and the arbalete spear gun. I had the pleasure of spending a weekend in his company with his family, diving off their boat in Marseilles with his son Paul, himself a Moniteur Nationale and 2 beautiful daughters, (nicknamed Les Animals), I still have the photos and movies to prove it! I think that Paul may have been a wee bit apprehensive at first before taking this “unknown quanity” from Ireland diving but I am glad to say that we worked out to be good buddies, I greatly valued his compliments at the time. I was later introduced to the entire French national spear fishing team who were in the Beuchat factory, checking out some spear gun modifications.

 

 

From Drop Box

In Paris in 1966, having first paid an official courtesy visit on behalf of CFT to CMAS headquarters, I made it my business to visit the factory of the famous Fenzy, horse collar buoyancy aid (ABLJ), I met Mons. Fenzy. and we got on so well together that he agreed to give me solo distribution rights of Fenzy for Ireland. This proved to be a wonderful coup at the time. Some years later I met and got the same concession from the inventor of the American Sea Quest stabi jacket and direct feed system, Charlie Jehle. I had been following trends in the U.S. at the time, (subscription to Skin Diver magazine) and observed how popular the stabi. jacket was over there, I felt certain that divers in Europe would follow suit before very long but I met with huge consumer resistance when I imported some of these jackets which were not too different from today’s units but since they eliminated the need for the mini cylinder, which was in universal use at the time, divers felt very insecure without their alternative air supply, not trusting the direct feed concept. For a while, I think that I was the only one in the country diving without the mini bottle.

 

 

1969 saw me in the Aeolian Isles in Sicily, as manager, (Mick Moriarty was skipper) of the Irish Spear fishing team at the World Championships (known as the Blue Olympics), the Italian team were staying in a nearby chalet in the Olympic Village, their star man Massimo Scarpati had become the World Champion, he posed for a picture for me, holding the trophy. Later his sponsors Mares, whose gear I was handling at the time, begged this picture off me at a diving trade fair in Munich and went on to use it for some of their promotional material. Then there was another time while on holidays with the Club Mediterrane in Spain, I met and dived with the famous, at the time, diving author Guy Poulet.

 

In 1981 I had been importing the internationally famous Dacor gear directly from the USA and experiencing considerable difficulty with customs, so Dacor suggested that I might care to operate through their British distributor at the time, Dacor G.B. I agreed to visit their factory in Padstoe in Cornwall in April of that year, only to find myself in the middle of a very delicate situation where, only that morning, the European Sales manager for Dacor, Jack Bohmrich and the owner of the company the legendry Sam Davidson had paid a surprise visit to the factory, in order to show the British manager the door, on account of some financial irregularities. However the two Americans brought me out to lunch and treated me very well but I can tell you that nerves were very much on edge and I learned some extraordinary things about the diving business that morning. As an aside, Sam Davidson himself explained to me how he had named the brand Dacor as a clincher for the Davidson Corporation, geddit? Da Cor.

 

The Aladin was diving’s first computer and it also met with great scepticism when I unveiled it to Irish divers. I had been introduced, at a trade show in Cologne round about 1986, to it’s inventor Karl Leeman by Beuchat, and secured the Irish distribution rights for UWATEC products, which was Aladin’s mother company in Switzerland. I really had a big job in trying to persuade Irish divers to place their trust in this new- fangled instrument. I remember giving Pat McCoole, nationally prominent at the time and Terry Southgate in Cork, 2 Aladins and asking them to put them through their paces, evaluate them and write a report. They liked them and reviewed them favorably, I then secured a full two page spread for the reviews in Subsea. This helped considerably to boost divers confidence in the computer and now, who would dive without one?

 

At other times it was great to meet up with Ron and Valerie Taylor, world renowned diving filmakers and shark experts, when Pat McCoole brought them to Limerick for a CFT conference. Ditto, the equally renowned and glamorous Tanya Streeter, world record free diving champion, also a mega TV star in diving circles. Tanya was particularly charming and found loads of time to talk about snorkeling techniques to our big junior membership. Then there was Horace Dobbs, the internationally famous dolphin specialist through his books and TV programmes, he was another lovely personality whom we introduced to Limerick divers and indeed non diving audiences. I enjoyed a few dives in Kilkee with him.

 

Enough of the name dropping now!

 

In 1982, in company with Jimmy Connors and Fintan Mullowney we started the Limerick Snorkelling Centre, based in St. Enda’s Sports Complex. This was a most interesting venture, totally different to operating within a sub aqua club. I suppose that it could be seen as a forerunner to our modern day dive centers but without the bottles. We attracted a surprising lot of busy business people who did not want to join a club although many did in fact see the light and subsequently joined LSAC. Funny story……….. We were living in the outskirts of the city at the time and used to keep all the Centre’s fins snorkels and masks in a couple of big rubbish bins, handy for transporting and rinsing out. Well, one particular week we, the family were going away for a few days and I asked our neighbour, the late Michael Reddan to put out our rubbish for collection. Yea, you guessed it, the wrong bins went out. In spite of frantic rubbish tip searches we never found our gear, so that was the end of the Snorkeling centre.

 

My Goodness, I have blathered on so much about my commercial diving activities that I seem to have digressed from the actual diving itself. Well, you see, this makes the very point which I should like to mention at this time, all this travelling, selling and even some little administration activity with CFT (I was honoured with the Presidency in 1969), left me with remarkably little time for association within my own club, there were times indeed, when I was spending more time outside it rather than within but I was always there for LSAC whenever I was needed. We had a great old club, (and still have, of course) in those early days. Some years our membership was running to 80 or 100 men women and children. We always had a great female membership, spearheaded by the late Joan Brislane. Joan, whose husband Duggie was our first Chairman, was everything in the club ,blessed with a wonderful orgnisational ability, she possessed quite a fiery temper and many’s the row that she and I had. We were pals at the back of it all. She was in the water for the club’s first official outing in Kilkee where, of course, we met up with Mr. Kilkee himself, Manuel DiLucia. He and I have been firm friends and close diving buddies ever since! A trawl through the Club’s memorabilia will reveal a flavor of much of what went on in the Club in those early days. Talk of female club membership brings me to the present day and it is so great to see the likes of Emma,Theresa, Eimhear, Rose, Suzy and many more taking such an active part in the Club’s diving activities. I mentioned children earlier, well this is an area of the Club where we seem to have fallen behind others but with the young Ryans, Orths and Enrights we must be headed in the right direction.

 

I sincerely hope that you, the readers of this blog will gain even half the pleasure which I have had in racking my old brains and not be too bored by the self indulgent recollections of this Grouchy Old Fart. I will finish by wishing you all, the Best of Good Diving for the rest of your active lives and hope and trust that you all will gain even half as much pleasure and treasured memories as I have been privileged to enjoy.

 

Go Raibh Maith Agaibh!

 

“Time it was and what a time it was,

A time of innocence, a time of confidences,

Long ago it must be, I have a photograph,

Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left to you” Simon and Garfunkel, “Bookends”