In Spring 1962 a meeting took place at University College Galway (now NUIG) at which the UCG Sub Aqua Society was formed. It was registered with the college authorities as a society rather than a club because at the time clubs were not permitted to have mixed-sex membership. Present at this meeting were Jim Doyle, Peter O’Beirn, Tom McCarrick, Kerry McConn, George Ryder and Peadar Canavan. This was the first meeting of any significant number of people interested in this new sport in Galway, although Christy Dooley had done “hard-hat” commercial diving at the docks and was known locally as “The Diver”.
Peter O’Beirn and Tom McCarrick travelled up and down to the Curragh Club to learn the art of snorkelling and scuba diving and pass on what they learned to the others. Initially the College authorities insisted on chaperones if any female student was involved in these activities, and eventually they decided that this new adventure sport was not a safe activity for any young student to be involved in and disbanded the Sub Aqua Society entirely in late 1962.
But the underwater bug had taken hold and those involved went off and formed Galway Sub Aqua Club in early 1963, consisting mostly of the same people.
The Early Days
The original “diving suits” consisted of woolly jumpers, long johns, pyjamas and tracksuits, tied with twine to slow down the flow of water. As the summer of 1963 progressed the first suit-making materials arrived from England and by the end of that summer three handmade suits were in existence; 4mm neoprene, hand cut, glued and taped. George Ryder bought the first commerically manufactured suit, a Typhoon, and this served as a pattern for many others in the years to come, in suit manufacture operations on kitchen floors around the town.
During that first summer the club activities were mainly snorkelling. The first “official” outing was to Carraroe in September 1963 when Kelly’s cottage at the Coral Beach was rented for a week. Val Kennedy, then a member of the Curragh Club, brought along scuba gear and the first GSAC scuba dives were performed. John Hailes (Curragh) and Ronnie Hurley (Limerick), were also present. In December 1963 George Ryder and Peter O’Beirn purchased Drager Aqualung sets in Hely’s in Dublin for £36. This included a 50 cu ft bottle, twin hose regulator, back-pack and tool kit. These were the first sets of scuba in the club and got their first “wetting” on the Sunday before Christmas 1963.
The original divers were trained in the Curragh pool and built up a lasting rapport with that club that continued for many years. After a while GSAC looked for a certification body to give formal recognition to the training and found the recently-formed CFT organisation, becoming a member in 1965, the first club to join after the original 5 founding members. The first external exams for Galway divers took place in Bullock Harbour, Dublin in May 1965.
Search And Recovery
The first recorded body search by the club was in the Clare River near Miltown Co. Galway, in 1964. The same year the first successful recovery occurred on Lough Corrib, near Kilbeg, when the bodies of two men were taken from the lake. Search And Recovery activities continue to this day. Some of the technology has improved significantly from the bicycle lamps wrapped in plastic bags that were used on the first searches, but the search patterns and techniques and the basic principle of service to the community remains unchanged from the earliest days.
Galway Sub Aqua Club has been involved with the recompression chamber in UHG Hospital since it opened in the early 70’s, an association that continues today. The need for a recompression chamber on the West coast was raised as a concern in club committee minutes as far back as 1965 and a fund was started some time later. It was quickly realised that the costs involved were out of the reach of voluntary subscriptions and fund raising, so the Western Health Board was approached by various parties and eventually did decide to buy and install a chamber at the Regional Hospital in Galway (later renamed UHG), with divers from GSAC operating the chamber on a voluntary 24×7 rota for both diving-related and other medical hyperbaric treatments.
The original chamber was decommissioned a few years ago at the end of its 30 year working life and replaced by a new state-of-the-art chamber which is again supported by GSAC operators.
The plaque on the pillar near the entrance to the new chamber commemorates the now late Dr. Peter O’Beirn, founding member of GSAC and first director of the Hyperbaric Medicine Unit at UHG, and all other chamber volunteers and staff down the years. You can see other images of the new chamber in this Facebook photo album.