Over Twenty One Years
This article was written by Tom Shakespeare for a booklet commemorating the Irish Sub-aqua Club's twenty-first anniversary. Tom was one of the founding members of the Club.
It hardly seems creditable that twentyone years have passed since the Irish sub-aqua Club came into being at a public meeting in the Shelbourne Hotel in 1956. Schoolboys outnumbered the adults nearly four to one. Those same schoolboys are now in their early thirties! Tempus fugit, one wonders where they are today and what they are doing.
Like most novelties, the first flush of interest quickly died away. The cost of equipment and its non-availability in Dublin put paid to the aspirations of many a bright-eyed cherub who saw himself exploring the depths in all the panoply of the 'Frogman'. Some people already diving looked with mistrust on this invasion of their private domain. Visions of bus loads of divers disgorging at all their favourite places blanched many a weathered cheek.
A committee was formed, officers elected, the baths booked and the club struck boldly out into its first year. Interested people around the country heard the news and contacts were developed. Paddy Allen in Bandon was one notable name at this time, who was all 'get up and go' about diving. Paddy had a Sladen suit, a suit which was on issue to the Royal Navy Divers during World War Two and after. It had a solid helmet and a canvas suit which with weighted boots. Horrific by our present day standards, but Paddy put the suit to excellent use. Brian Pim, who served for many years as Hon. Treasurer, purchased, at unbelievable cost, a breathing set in Healy's of Dame Street. This set was manufactured by the German frim Draeger. The breathing valve can be inspected in the collection of valves and pieces which the author has assembled in the ISAC Clubrooms in Dublin.
In its early years the activities of the Club in real diving terms were restricted by lack of equipment, suits and hardware and then lack of compressors. Air was available from Irish Industrial Gases, courtesy of of John Swan, who was in the Medical Division. The air available was at 120 ats./1,800 p.s.i. only. Leave the bottles in on a Monday or Tuesday, pick them up on a Thursday or Friday. You could get them the same day if you could get around the 'feller' but this was restricted because of 'numbers'. It was fairly common to call back for cylinders and identify the owners of all the cylinders awaiting collection. Should a strange cylinder show up all and sundry would want to know the owner, where he came from etc., etc. He would be contacted and invited to join the Club, generally at the Iveagh Baths, as club-rooms were a misty dream.
Committee meetings were generally held in somebody's home. The Minutes, when read now at this distance in time, seem almost childish in their content. Nonetheless the motives were sound and the methods reasonable. Tony Bishop served as Club Chairman with great panache for many years.
The first Club aqualung was bought in early 1958. It was a Siebe Gorman single 40 cu. ft. cylinder and the same companies version of the French Mistral. It was then a twin hose single stage valve of wonderful simplicity. To the present day no valve, on average offers more to the sports diver. You could realistically take it apart between dives and expect it to operate perfectly. The valve complete with cylinder and harness cost £36, about £250 in present day values. There was a reserve fitted to the cylinder valve, but it had an unfortunate record of not working. During the same period individuals started to purchase their own air sets.
They were investments of major proportions for the people concerned. Names coming to mind in the forefront of the big spenders are Cedric (Killarney) Bowmer, Paddy (Kilkee) Hughes, Billy Crowley and Hugh Quigley.
Wet suits were unknown at this time. Dry suits of the 'Admiralty' pattern were available for those who could spend the money and endure the squeeze you suffered from about 20 metres on. These suits presented major hazards to the foolhardy when used in depths over 25 metres. Beyond this depth you went as stiff as a board. The movement of your arms and legs became progressively restricted the deeper you went. The reason was that the air in the suit was at 1 athmosphere and the water pressure on the dry suit compressed it to the point of immobility. The attendent loss of buoyancy was very dangerous if you were diving in deep water on a cliff face. If you started to sink and could not jettison your weight belt you just kept going. It never happened in actual fact.
Some divers have the experience of getting a fabulous tattoo by means of 'blood blisters' forming in cavities of knitted underwear. You can imagine the pattern left by an Aran jersey complete with cable stitch. I will not attempt to terrorise or scandalise the reader by describing the attempts that were made to to build constant volume suits, i.e. exhaling air into the suit to avoid the pressure or the arrangements entered into to overcome the loss of buoyancy problem. In general terms the diver who wanted to go deep did so in a collection of clothing that brings to mind the image of 'Johnny Forty Coats'.
From the foregoing it will have been understood that the amount of air diving was limited. The result was that a very great deal of breath held fiving was done by all. In fact some would not use an aqualung, one Rory Breslin was a case in point. The result would seem to be that these divers had a higher level of general poise or elan in the water than those sophisticates who followed in equipment laden later years.
The Club in its twentyone years has provided a service to the community. This service was noted in the Dublin City Council in a note of thanks given during the early sixties. A number of Club members were on call to the Garda to recover the bodies of those lost in drowning accidents. It became something of an embarrassment for your mother to explain that her son was not a criminal. The frequent calls made by a squad car and her son disappearing with two Gardai left the neighbours with their own views on the subject.
Other aspects of the work were more harrowing. The reaction of parents when a young child was taken from the water was terrible to behold. The details of finding a body in zero visibility are best left to the reader's imagination. This group operated until the Garda Sub-aqua Club came into being.
The Club raised money by its diving activity. Recovering everything from outboard motors to false teeth to camera and reading glasses. Inspecting moorings at sailing clubs or searching for gravel deposits on the east coast all contributed to fund raising. The West Clare coast was covered for Arramarra Teoranta in search for carageen moss and Club divers helped in making movie films in Dun Laoghaire. A pre-historic beast came up from the depths to terrorise the world. When the director saw our lads he made them an offer to replace the beast, two for the price on one. Recovering parachutes in the Liffey or shotguns in the Boyne all added to the list of ventures.
The need for cash arose from the opening of the Club's first 'home' at the basement of 127 Lr. Baggot Street. The Lecture Room was a masterpiece of mural decoration. This was done by Sally Exley, now Mrs. Shaw-Smith. The walls were painted in underwater vistas of divers, jellyfish and seaweed. The pity was that they were directly painted onto the walls and could not be moved when the Club moved on. Sally and her friends also played a part in the Club crest of the Cretan god Glaucus. She produced a number of drawings that were used to produce the pattern from which the spearfishing trophy for the national championships was made. At this time the male model who posed for the drawings wished to remain anonymous.
A second need for cash was the plan to purchase a club compressor. This was to be put on a trailer and towed around the summer diving sites and at last give the divers the freedom they craved. Air on a dive site was the ultimate in a diver's list of needs. The compressor cost £190 from J. G. Fenn(?) Ltd., in Stoke-on-Trent. A lad called Ron(?) Boulton ran a dive shop there in conjunction with a printing and stationary business. The motive power was an ex War Department job, a Coventry Climax engine of 7 h.p. driving a 4 cu. ft. compressor. Both were water cooled. It weighed three quarters of a ton. It was mounted on a trailer by Cedric Bowmer. The mounting job was so effective that it would be picked up by the towbar and manouvered with ease by one man. The unit was sited at various member's homes, notably Brian Pim, Billy Crowley, Hugh Quigley and Cedric Bowmer.
In the broader sphere of diving the Irish Sub-Aqua Club has played a major role at national and international level. It is not generally known that prior to the establishment of the Irish Underwater Council the Irish Sub-Aqua Club was recognised by CMAS as the sole authority for diving standards in Ireland or at least the Republic. The Club surrendered its representation to the Council when it came into being. In the establishment of the Council the club played a major role. Resulting from a number of inconclusive meetings between the clubs then in existence, the Irish Sub-Aqua Club set up a meeting in the Moira Hotel in Trinity Street, Dublin. The club invited other clubs to send delegates to a dinner with a view to agreeing to establish an 'Irish Underwater Federation'. The Club paid all the expenses as a gesture of good will. A subsequent meeting hosted by the Curragh Sub-Aqua worked out the details and elected the first officers. The notion of an executive did not emege until later.
The number of delegates hardly ran to the number of officers required. Hugh Quigley became the founding President and Tom Shakespeare the founding Secretary. The Club qualified the first Leading Divers in the old standard at Valentia. Tom Shakespeare went on to become the first National Diving Officer and to be elected the Council's first four star Moniteur. The Club has a great tradition in the support of C.F.T./I.U.C. the work was carried out by Brian Cusack as National Diving Officer, Joe Murray and Sean Sherridan as AFAS and Technical Commission members respectively.
In recent years the Club moved from its Baggot Street rooms and languished homeless to be given a temporary roof by the scouts in Fitzwilliam Lane. New rooms were acquired in Parnell Square. these necessitated a major overhaul, generously assisted by the landlord, the I.N.T.O., who allowed the Club rent for materials to do the work. Ted Spendlove, Joe Murray and many. many others made Herculean efforts to bring the overhau; into 'concrete' form.
The Club has expanded the social side of its activities in recent years. Major prizes have been won in the Saint Patrick's Day Parade as a result of hard work and dedication by the members.
All in all, the members, past and present, can be proud of the twentyone years of the Club's existence. The message to the world must be that the Irish Sub-Aqua Club is alive and well, or in more colloquial terms - 'I.S.A.C rules O.K.'
Tom Shakespeare, 1977