From the Limerick Leader archives: Mariner Pat Lawless given hero's welcome

Grainne Keays


Grainne Keays

A MASSIVE hero’s welcome awaited Limerick yachtsman, Pat Lawless, as he sailed up the Shannon Estuary thirty years ago, having single-handedly crossed the Atlantic in the 26-foot yacht, the Iniscealtra.

Sponsored by the Limerick Leader, Pat was the first Limerickman to have successfully completed this feat in both directions.

Having set out from Newport, Rhode Island, USA, his gruelling voyage took him 31 days to complete.

In 1986, at the age of 60, Pat had solo sailed across the Atlantic to Newport, Rhode Island from Limerick. Then, in 1987, he sailed from Newport back to Limerick.

Two years later in 1989, at the age of 62, he set off from Ireland with a dream to sail around the world. He was rescued 1,200 miles west of Cape Town by a Norwegian freight ship, having suffered storm damage.

But, on his glorious return two years earlier, waiting on the jetty at Tarbert on his return in 1987 were upwards of 100 of Pat’s family, friends.

The most enthusiastic welcome came from Pat’s wife, well-known florist Nancy, their six children, Helen, Jim, Pat, Dan, John and Peter and their granddaughter, Evelyn.

Though somewhat weather beaten, Pat looked remarkably slim and fit as he leaped from his craft to warmly embrace Nancy, according to the Limerick Leader report from the time.

The voyage was not without its hiccups, readers were told. Just three days into his journey, Pat encountered the first of two storms he was forced to endure - but which spooked him somewhat, but not much.

“That worried me alright,” was his rather understated description of his feelings on the occasion.

The first to greet Pat as he entered the Shannon Estuary was Brian Cullen from Killaloe, who landed his small seaplane close by.

Having made excellent time during the entire trip, averaging 100 miles per day, the final hurdle proved to be the most difficult.

The wind suddenly dropped after the Iniscealtra entered the estuary and, against a strong tide, progress was halted.

With nightfall fast approaching, Pat reluctantly accepted a towline from a powerboat sent out by the Limerick Leader to greet him.

Operated by local men, Sean Hogan and Chris Normoyle, the boat also had Pat’s nephew, John Lavery, and Limerick Leader photographer, Owen South.

A rousing cheer went up when the two boats rounded Cook’s Point on Tarbert Island.

On arrival, Pat said: “The whole thing would have been worth it for the greeting I have had from my family and friends here tonight,” adding that his happiest moment of the entire journey was when the green shoreline of Ireland came into view.

Nobody knew Pat better than his beloved Nancy who responded rather skeptically to Pat’s declaration that he was “completely satisfied”, having made the crossing in both directions.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he tries an around-the-world attempt in 1989,” she observed.

Her words were prophetic and it was not long before Pat was off on other adventures.

On July 24, 1996, the Leader ecstatically reported that Pat, at the remarkable age of 70 years, had completed his “solo circumnavigation of the earth” the previous day.

It had taken him three years and a brush with death during a storm off the coast of Chile but Pat was again greeted by rapturous wellwishers as he set foot on home soil.

In expressing his heartfelt thanks to the people of Limerick for their enduring support for his adventures, he concluded in his own understated way by remarking: “No man is an island.”