Athlone Boat Club is one of the oldest rowing clubs in Ireland and records show that it was founded in 1835.
Professional people who were introduced to rowing at university and some officers from the local garrison who may have rowed in the U.K. were most likely to have been involved at that time. The first club house was adjoining the town bridge on the site of the Father Matthew Hall which later became Athlone Library. In April 1870 a report in The Westmeath Independent stated that Athlone Boat Club had a balance of twenty eight pounds left after erecting a new 60 feet long boat house and the purchase of a new four oared outrigger. They also sought permission from the local council for a new slip.
The steel hooks that held the rafters of the old boat shed can still be seen protruding from the wall of the bridge. The club operated from this premises until 1900 when it was forced to move to its present location further upstream to make way for the construction of the Father Matthew Hall. The new club house was once again a metal structure and was constructed by Concannon Contractors from Coosan. It survived until the midsixties when it was replaced on the same site by the present premises. Completed in 1967 it was mostly built by the voluntary labour of club members and friends.
During the late 19th century pleasure rowing on the Shannon was very popular in Athlone and the members also took part in competitive boat races at regattas organised by Lough Ree Yacht Club. A report in The Irish Times shows that Athlone competed at Galway regatta in 1868 and commented on the outrigged boats used by the Athlone and Galway crews. Following the malicious destruction of their boats in 1876 the club collapsed and seems to have been out of action for a number of years.
It is recorded that Athlone Boat Club purchased two four oared boats and four skiffs in 1901 which would indicate that the club was in a healthy state at that time. Club records show that Athlone regatta was held on 15th August 1917 which dispels the myth that the club ceased to exist during World War 1. In 1924 a collection was made in the town and new trophies were purchased which were competed for at the annual regatta in July of that year. The cups included Athlone Grand Challenge Cup, The Garrison Cup, Lyster Cup and The John Lennon Cup and these are still competed for today.
The fortunes of the club continued to progress until 1939 when competitive rowing ceased due to the war years. In 1945 Athlone Boat Club hosted the I.A.R.U. Senior Eights Championship of Ireland for the first time. The regatta was held below the weir wall on the 3rd. July and the championship was won by Trinity, stroked by Norman Furlong who later practiced as a doctor in Athlone for many years. The Senior Eights Championship was also raced at Athlone regatta in 1957, 1975 and 1983. Several other championship events were held at Athlone regatta over the years.
Apart from Athlone Boat Club itself St. Mary’s Secondary School (later to become Marist College) became involved in competitive rowing in the 1940s. The club provided free use of their boats and club house and the late Bro. Benignus as well as looking after the school crews also acted as official coach to the Athlone.