Our Story

The Story and History of UISCE

It all started during the Summer of 1988 in Fenit Sailing Club, Co Kerry.  When Ciarán Ó Murchú, aged 18 at the time, sat in a GP14 sailboat for the first time during his army cadetship adventure training. He knew immediately that he was experiencing a very special moment and that it would change the course of his life.

Having grown up surrounded by the sea and consistent winds in Belmullet, Ciarán could not understand why he had never been in a sailboat at home.  After experiencing the joy and adventure of sailing he made a personal pledge to bring this wonderfully enjoyable sport back to his native town.

The high rate of unemployment and the inevitable doom and gloom surrounding it in the 80s had a huge impact on the young Ciarán. It was one of his life ambitions to inspire people to work and create employment at home. He has also carried out this ambition successfully through the current economic crisis. UISCE remains one of the most respected employers on the Erris Peninsula.

The final ingredient in the pot was his parents. The native speakers encouraged Ciarán and his 8 siblings to speak Irish at home when they were growing up. Ciarán, as a rebellious teenager, found speaking Irish extremely difficult and could not really see the point.  However this all changed, in his early twenties while on an Irish course with the civil service in Connemara. He was suddenly grateful for his fluency and realised what a valuable national asset and part of our culture and heritage the Irish language was.  Following the course in Connemara Ciarán decided to embrace the pride he felt for Irish and decided to spread his enthusiasm and embark on a journey to introduce a “Fun” element to the language. The concept for UISCE was growing – Spórt Trí Ghaeilge.

During the Summer of 1991 Ciarán met a young dynamic engineer from Cobh, John Mc Namara. Both Ciarán and John decided to look at the feasibility of setting up UISCE in Ciarán’s home town of Belmullet.  Four months later they purchased £10,000 worth of water sport equipment based on the results of the feasibility study. There was no turning back now! UISCE was born.

UISCE started its first days in a small house overlooking Elly Bay. The first course was run during Easter 1992 and cost £2 for a day’s water sports.

With the support of Ciaran’s Dad, Gearóid Ó Murchú, a local school teacher, the decision was made to blend the activities with learning Irish. Ciarán was still working full-time as a pilot in the Air Corps at the time and had to rely heavily on his family for support to run the business. Tribute must be also paid to Ciarán’s mother Máirín who worked tirelessly on the course administration at the time. She managed to juggle this while raising his younger siblings – you can always depend on your mammy to help you out in times of need!
In 2000, Ciarán and his wife Máire decided to leave the comfort and safety of their full time state jobs in Dublin and move west to develop Coláiste UISCE. They were  embarking on an exciting journey to establish the first full-time centre working Trí Ghaeilge in the country.

With a budget of £600,000, a huge renovation was undertaken to develop the site and the buildings. The work that was due to take two years was finished within nine months, due to the exceptional energy and dedication of local builders. Today, the result of that hard work is seen in this state of the art centre with 30 bedrooms, 4 classrooms, large professional kitchen and dining room, changing rooms etc. Ciarán and Máire proudly opened the doors of the new centre on the 1st June 2001.

Further development followed. UISCE began to operate outside the summer season. They welcomed school groups, water sport competitors and corporate events from September through until June. UISCE continues to break new ground and as recently as September 2013 we hosted a course of MBA students from Trinity College Dublin.

UISCE has gone from strength to strength since its conception in the early 90’s. Today, there is a skilled and accomplished team at the centre. Many of our staff are past-students, prefects, teachers and instructors of Coláiste UISCE, working together to continue Fís UISCE.

Some interesting Historic facts;-

  • 1740 Riocaird Bairéad (poet ‘Preab san Ól’) and Eoin Cóir (An Irish Satirist) was born and raised on the site where UISCE is based
  • The town land of ‘Barrack was established in the 19th century. During the first world war English soldiers were sent here to take a break in the purpose built barracks.
  • The Irish Coast Guards built a slip way in the 1900’s which is still in use today.
  • UISCE’s original building, an old doll factory called ‘Crolly Dolls’, was set up by Údarás na Gaeltachta in 1938. This initiative was an important part of the community until its closure in 1971. It is the oldest building under the care of the Údarás.
  • The factory opened its doors again in 1973 as a children’s clothes company. Children’s clothing ‘Babygro’ and ‘Childrensworld’ were manufactured until 1983. The building is still known as ‘The Factory’ locally.
  • UISCE charged local children £2 to attend a weekend course in 1992! There were 30 students on courses back then.
  • UISCE purchased the buildings and the site from Údarás na Gaeltachta in 2000 in order to complete the £600,000 renovations. The completed project cost in access of £800,000.
  • Today there are 15 people employed full time at UISCE and the business is going from strength to strength.

Each year I came home bursting with self confidence, amazing memories, heaps of new friends and of course a WHOLE new outlook grasp on the Irish language.

Aaron Kelly