On this day eighty years ago: Royal Dublin suffered its greatest loss, when in the early morning hours of Monday August 2nd 1943, the clubhouse, considered one of the finest in Ireland, was completely destroyed by fire. A contemporary report noted “…… the clubhouse was built almost exclusively of timber, the structure burned fiercely and there was little hope of saving it. The caretaker Mr. Charles Morris, roused by the meowing of a cat at about 4am, awakened to find the premises in flames. Rousing the other occupants, he made his way down a back stairway. Mrs. Morris and five members of the catering staff made their escape. Mr. Morris had to run a half mile in his stockinged feet to the nearest telephone to raise the alarm…”

Efforts to fight the blaze were hampered by the fact that the tide was out and the nearest effective city water supply was at Clontarf Road.

“   adjoining the clubhouse was the residence of the professional Patrick Mahon, which was also burned to the ground. Mahon, his wife and their four children, whose ages ranged from five years to six months, escaped uninjured…” Note: two of Paddy Mahon’s daughters and families have visited Royal Dublin in recent years.

“… the Fire brigade was engaged for more than three hours before the fire was extinguished…”

From across the bay, the blaze gave the impression of an extraordinary sight, believed to be a large ship out in the water ablaze from bow to stern.

 “…It was an awe-inspiring site, as the great mass of flames shot high into the air and threw long reflections along the water…”

The Impact: The Irish Press reported the following day “…...Golfers arriving for an early morning game at Dollymount, found the clubhouse in ashes and their clubs, balls, clothes and trophies gone. The course and greens were as usual, but they spent the day making sad inquests on the remains of beloved objects found in the ruins….”

“……The clubhouse, described as the finest in Ireland was valued at least £20,000; contents of lockers of 400 members at £8,000; trophies at £500. Indoor accessories represented another £5,000….”

Mr. E.A. Dwyer, captain of the club, confirmed the course was open for play and that a committee meeting to consider arrangements for temporary club accommodation would take place the next day.

At the time it was not known if the competition for professionals on August 12th would proceed. A semi open four-ball arranged for the day of the fire was abandoned.

Gesture by Clubs: Portmarnock and Hermitage made the very generous gesture that Royal Dublin members would be received as guests until further notice and would facilitate them as far as possible with balls and clubs. This much appreciated gesture was followed by nearly all Dublin clubs.

Insurance issues: The Irish Independent reported “…. about 3,000 golf clubs, the property of some 350 members were destroyed in the fire at the clubhouse of Royal Dublin and the question of whether the owners are entitled to full compensation for their loss is exciting interest in insurance circles. Persons who had no insurance in respect of furniture and effects would have to suffer the loss over and above the sum insured by the club…. “

It was reported that “…...Messrs. Elvery & Co. sports outfitters O’Connell Street, were kept busy yesterday by golfers looking for new sets of clubs. From early morning there was a queue and in the forenoon over £100 worth of clubs were sold….”

As all records were destroyed, the Club issued a notice in the newspapers, requesting members to forward names, addresses, and club handicaps to the hon.  secretary.  The committee report to the AGM in 1944, stated “…The enclosed accounts are not presented in their usual form, as all records perished in the fire….”

Royal Dublin Carries On: True to the word of the captain, the promised committee meeting took place. Plans for the temporary clubhouse to be commenced immediately were approved and the plans for the permanent clubhouse were in course of preparation.  A Special meeting of members was held in Mills Hall, Merrion Row on August 23rd, 21 days since the fire, to approve the proposals of the committee.

Members generosity came to the club’s aid; Two members notified their intention of replacing two of the trophies lost in the fire.  This was followed by other members and quite a few of the trophies on display in the clubhouse originate from this time. One trophy survived the fire - the Ashbourne Cup, presented in 1913 by the Hon Edward Gibson (Captain 1903), in memory of his late father Lord Ashbourne.

Professionals Competition: St. Annes GC, offered the use of their clubhouse, then located directly behind the ninth tee box. The competition would start at the ninth tee and finish at the eighth green, The competition went ahead with St. Annes clubhouse HQ for the day. It was won by M. McGuirk (Co. Louth) with a 75, two shots clear of his brother J. McGuirk (Co. Louth) and Eddie Hackett (Portmarnock).  Harry Bradshaw (Kilcroney) drove from the wrong tee at the 14th (5th) and was penalised one stroke.

Unstinted Service: While many members contributed so much during this time, the Committee report to the AGM 1945 states “.…In the absence of a paid Secretary his duties have been carried out by John F Hudson, acting as Honorary Secretary and Honorary Treasurer. The club is under a deep and ever-growing debt of gratitude to Mr. Hudson for the unstinted service he has given over many years …”

Storm Clouds: Unknown to the club at the time, it was shortly to face an existential threat to the viability of the Links as a championship layout. The plans so swiftly and urgently prepared for a permanent clubhouse were not to be realised for another eleven years. During this time the Club dealt with the impact of proposals from the Irish Tourist Board and Dublin Corporation to acquire a significant portion of the links as a tourist resort. Due to the uncertainty the temporary clubhouse behind the first tee was extended.

The plan to acquire part of the links was abandoned and after negotiations with the Plunket Estate and Dublin Corporation, the club emerged from this period with freehold title to the lands defined by the current boundary fence. The club was now in a position to proceed with the design and construction of the long-awaited new clubhouse.

Diamond Jubilee Year: in 1945 amidst all the issues the club celebrated its 60th year in existence. The Diamond Jubilee trophy was inaugurated.  The members responded to the request of the captain Mr. A.E. Prentice to subscribe to defray the cost of the trophy. The highlight of the celebrations was the Gala dinner held in the Royal Hibernian Hotel.

Championship Golf returns: The club hosted a number of championships during this period; the Irish Close 1946 (John Burke); the Irish Amateur Open 1947 (John Burke); the Open Championship of Ireland 1950 (Australian H.O. Pickworth); the Irish Amateur Open 1954 (Joe Carr).

Rising from the Ashes: Robinson Keefe and Devane were appointed architects in 1952 and at a general meeting of members their design was accepted. Work commenced shortly afterwards and the clubhouse was officially opened by An Taoiseach, John A. Costello on October 2nd 1954.

Mr. Pat Harrington (Captain 1952 &1953) presented the aptly named Phoenix Trophy. This was the first competition played following the opening of the new clubhouse.


Peter Finnegan, August 2nd 2023

Memorabilia Committee


Ref:         The Royal Dublin Centenary History 1885-1985 by Frank Chambers and Liam Brown

Royal Dublin Archives

The Irish Times; The Irish Press; The Irish Independent; Belfast Newsletter