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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album