Wallace Clark: Yachtsman and adventurer who sparked a revival of sea-rowing boats

The death of the charismatic author, businessman and adventurer Wallace Clark brings to an end a life lived with vigour and panache. Clark was known in the yachting world as the semi-professional yachtsman who commissioned the Aileach – the first full-sized replica Hebridean war galley to be built for over 300 years. However, back in his native Ulster he was more celebrated for his classic volume Sailing Round Ireland, which still sellsi well more than 30 years after publication. By the time the Aileach was launched at Moville, Clark was 65, yet he still slept on bare planks in the open air alongside his men when skippering the 16-oared craft from Ireland to the Outer Hebrides.

Born in the village of Upperlands, Co Derry in 1926, Wallace Clark came from an energetic family of mill owners, almost all of whom worked in the family linen mill, founded in 1736. A broth of a boy with a hungry eye for naughtiness, Clark was still a child when he was given his first dingy. After Shrewsbury School he joined the navy shortly before VE day, leaving three years later. A year's hard tack on a bumboat trading cattle to Africa followed, after which he reluctantly returned to take up his mill duties, working there, often in marketing, until past his 65th birthday. The firm still trades.

In 1957 he married June Deane, and the couple had two sons, who became respected writers; Miles died young, while Bruce works for The Economist. In 1961 his friend, Lord MacLeod of Fiunary, contacted him after the Church of Ireland agreed to finance the building of a curragh (a leather boat) to recreate the voyage of St Columba from Derry to Iona 1,400 years earlier. Clark regarded his skippering of the boat to Iona as being a highlight of his life. He was greeted on Iona by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, and shortly after piloted a similar craft, the Brendan, on the same trip for the historian Tim Severin.

In 1979, according to his tale, he had a vision of a galley sailing down the Sound of Mull and decided to build the first replica seen in the Hebrides since the last one was commissioned in 1707. It was not an easy task. Although by his own estimate over 4,000 such craft had been built, nobody really knew what they looked like. He undertook measurements from many of the carvings of the vessels before defining his brief to her designer, Colin Mudie.

The Aileach was launched to considerable interest in 1991, sailing to the Faroes two years later and generating so many questions that a number of galley conferences evaluating her performance took place. This summer over 30 newly built traditional sea rowing boats are expected to be entering regattas in Scotland. When told of this revival, of which he was in many ways the instigator, Clark chortled, "Well I hope you are all having lots of good parties; that's half the point!"

Perhaps Clark's most testing period was during the Troubles, when for seven years he acted as a company commander in the Ulster Defence Regiment after playing a key diplomatic role in the dismantling of the notorious B-Specials, for which he was awarded an MBE in 1970. His later book on his work in these roles, Brave Men and True, caused raised eyebrows after he indicated that he held no malice for some, though not all, of his enemy warriors in the IRA. His other notable books included The Lord of the Isles Voyage, Sailing Round Ireland and Sailing Round Russia (written with Miles).

Maxwell MacLeod

Wallace Clark, businessman and adventurer: born Upperlands, Co Derry 20 November 1926; MBE 1970; married 1957 June Deane (one son, and one son deceased); died 8 May 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Food Production / Operations Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a large and well ...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Accounts Assistant is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Executive / Account Manager

£26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company is a small, growing...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Assistant

£12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A leading online retailer in the Home Im...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas