Royal Western Yacht Club of Ireland

The Royal Western Yacht Club of Ireland was established on February 6, 1827, and was granted the Admiralty warrant in 1832.In answer to a memorial address to His Majesty William IV by the members of the Western Yacht Club, the Lords Commis­sioners of the Admiralty replied on January 16, 1832, that the club might have for its flag either a red, white, or blue ensign, with such device within as the club might point out, but the introduction of a new colour to be worn by British ships could not be sanctioned by their lordships.

On February 6, in the same year, the right to wear a white ensign with the distinguishing device of the club was granted, the club flags being thus described : Ensign, ‘white with red cross, a crown in the centre surrounded with a wreath of shamrock, and a union at the head of the ensign.’Burgee, white and red cross, with the same device.’This Irish club’s most successful seasons seem to have been in the mid fifties, when sport and sociability went hand in hand, after the best traditions of a sporting and hospitable land.

At the zenith of their club’s career the Royal Westerns appear to have acted as peripatetic yachting missionaries, holding Corinthian matches and fleet manoeuvres in Dublin Bay, regattas at Belfast and Galway, exploiting the Isle of Man, where Douglas owed at least three regattas to the enterprise of the club’s officers, and even temporarily planting their burgee in the land of the Saxon, at Barrow.

The Royal Western’s material resources were considerable, and not only was there a clubhouse at 113, Grafton Street, Dublin, but the members could claim a station-yacht at Kingstown, the Owen Glendower, a cutter of 123 tons.

The year 1858 was a sad one for the club, as the warrant granting the use of the defaced white ensign, which was dated February 6, 1832, was withdrawn. The privilege had previously been in jeopardy, when in 1842 the Admiralty decided that the use of the white ensign should be restricted to the Royal Yacht Squadron, which club apparently always flew the white ensign, though whether plain or defaced is not quite certain. A picture of Lord Anglesey’s cutter Pearl, 130 tons (launched in 1821), shows a white ensign with a crown in the fly, and without the St. George’s Cross.

General leave to wear the white ensign was accordingly cancelled in 1842, and the Royal Thames Yacht Club was ordered to discontinue its use. Apparently, however, the defaced white ensign worn by the Royal Western Yacht Club of Ireland was overlooked, and hence the subsequent pother. Nine years later, in 1853, the whole ensign question was reopened, but it ended for the time being in the Royal Western being allowed, under the special circumstances of the case, to retain the defaced white ensign. This exceptional favour caused considerable irritation amongst the members of the Royal Yacht Squadron, and they protested against the extension of their own exclusive privilege to the Royal Western Yacht Club of Ireland, on the ground that, there was, they said, the greatest difference between a body of gentlemen, who, to be qualified, must needs possess yachts, and a club which any person might be admitted to on paying the paltry annual subscription of one guinea. However, the Royal Westerns remained in quiet possession of their privilege for the next five years—in fact, until  1858, when, the Holyhead Yacht Club having applied to be made ‘Royal,’ the Royal Yacht Squadron once again raised very strong objection to the white ensign, either plain or defaced, being granted, or its continuance in use being permitted to any club other than itself. Accordingly the warrant was withdrawn from the Royal Western Yacht Club of Ireland, and the club was notified to that effect by the Admiralty in June, 1858, but it was authorized to wear the blue ensign, bearing the same device as had hitherto appeared on the white ensign. Later on, the Admiralty agreed not to withdraw the original warrant until December 31, 1858. Meanwhile a memorial had been got up by the Royal Western, deprecating the ‘marked disgrace of being deprived of a flag carried and worn by them for twenty-five years,’ and a ‘time-honoured and dearly prized privilege.’ The memorialists concluded with the covert threat that the club would be dissolved if the prayer were not complied with. The Admiralty met this appeal with a curt refusal.

Subsequently, however, some Members of Parliament interfered in the matter, and the committee of the Royal Western made a further appeal, to which the First Lord’s Secretary replied that, the House of Commons having called for the various papers in the case, no answer could be given until Parliament had settled the matter. All this dispute provoked much bitter feeling, difficult to realize when viewed through a long vista of years, particularly when it is remembered that, after all, the privilege of wearing the white ensign at the time of the dispute was more imaginary than real, for until June, 1864, the white ensign was only one of the three ensigns flown by His Majesty’s ships and vessels of war, the red being senior, white next, and blue last. When, however, in 1864, the white ensign was made the ensign of the fleet, the privilege of flying it by any club was greatly enhanced.

Eventually the Royal Western Club became first moribund, then extinct.

In 1862 the Lords of the Admiralty granted the warrant for carrying the blue ensign and the title of Royal Western Yacht Club of Ireland to the Queenstown Yacht Club, established in 1860, which consequently struck the red ensign and became known by the new designation, or rather as the old Royal Western Yacht Club revived, many of the yacht-owners having been members of the old club, and in the following year it obtained a Queen’s Cup. Thus terminated the dispute as to the right of the Royal Yacht Squadron to be the only club permitted to carry the white or St. George’s ensign. It is usually considered, however, that the direct lineal descendant of the old Royal Western of Ireland, and heir to its Corinthian traditions and practices, was the Irish Model Yacht Club, established by William Cooper (‘Vander­decken’) in 1857, which became in 1864 the Prince Alfred Yacht Club, and later, in 1870, the Royal Alfred Yacht Club.