The Life and Achievements of Bill Lacy (1930-2010) by W M Nixon
Author: W M Nixon Posted on: 11/2/10 Print Version

BILL LACY (1930-2010)
William Patrick d'Alton Lacy, our Commodore from 1977 to 1979, passed away peacefully on Sunday February 7th after a long illness. His contribution to sailing in Howth had extended over more than 70 years, and he played a key role in HYC's first staging of a fully-fledged World Championship, the 28-nation International Optimist Worlds with 130 boats in 1981.

The Lacy family has a long and interactive association with Howth. Bill's grandfather - also William - was a master stonemason originally from County Wicklow, who was contracted to build the fine church in the middle of the village in the 1890s. By the time of its dedication in 1899, the family building and development company was well established on the peninsula and Bill's father - likewise William Lacy - inherited and actively expanded the business.

Bill Lacy
He was also an enthusiast afloat, a founder member in 1934 of Howth Motor Yacht Club on the West Pier, and later its Commodore. Thus some of young Bill's earliest memories were of time in boats, and his first sailing experience was at the age of nine when he converted the tender for his father's motor-cruiser Rena into a little sailing dinghy.

During the war years (1939-45), William Lacy Senr played a leading role as commanding officer of the Number One Company of the Maritime Inscription in Howth, a notably successful group which captured control of the Hailing Station in Dublin Port during a seaborne night exercise with the Rena. Mick Fitzpatrick, the most junior recruit, led the shore party, and he claims that the Howth Number One Company have not yet officially relinquished control of Dublin Port.

Young Bill meanwhile was at school in Glenstal, and then went on to read engineering in UCD, graduating as a Civil Engineer with exceptionally good marks in mathematics at the early age of 19, and entering the family business. By this stage in 1950 he was helming his own Mermaid with success, and in 1952 did some sailing of the International Finn up to the selection trials for the Helsinki Olympics.

But his other activity was motor-sport, and this was already taking priority, and became his main interest after 1953. His successes included winning the Leinster Trophy, but with marriage to Trudi in 1963 the emphasis returned to sailing as a more family-friendly activity. Howth sailing was developing rapidly at this stage, and Bill teamed up with Otto Glaser and others in the GOLD syndicate (Glaser, O'Reilly, Lacy & Delamer) to buy the Dragon Ceres (Dragon Gold Cup winner in 1947) which they sailed down from Belfast Lough to join the small but very active class of International Dragons then in Howth, which was achieving results to national level.

At the same time, Howth Motor Yacht Club and Howth Sailing Club (founded 1895) were in process of amalgamating, and as Bill was a member of both he was involved in the complex procedure of creating Howth Yacht Club. Sailing was also changing, the GOLD syndicate moving on to join the keen group of International 8 Metre Cruiser/Racers in Howth, buying Debbie from the Clyde to race against Ross Courtney's Fionnuala and Johnny Pearson's Orana, an elite little flotilla of 42-footers which punched way above its weight in class and regional events, and offshore too.

This whetted Otto Glaser's taste for offshore racing, and for 1971 he commissioned Tritsch-Tratsch I, Scottish designer and builder George McGruer's interpretation of a 42 footer for the International Offshore Rule and the Admiral's Cup. She was one of the top boats in the International AC series that year, and Bill Lacy was one of her helms in a fine performance which saw her become the first winner of the Gull Salver for the best-placed Irish boat in the Fastnet.

Bill again played a central part in winning the Gull Salver in the 1973 Fastnet, this time as helm aboard another Howth boat and AC team member, Mungo Park's Tam O'Shanter. However, with a young family - he and Trudi had four children, William, Peter, Alex and Lisa - he reckoned that as he'd more than done his duty on the offshore scene, it was family time now, and he returned to inshore sailing with the Dragon class Ysolde. His interests were many, playing bridge to international standard and putting his mathematical skills to use in working with Chick Brown of Howth and Hal Sisk of Dun Laoghaire in creating the Irish Sailing Association's ECHO national handicap system, which contributed greatly to the phenomenal growth of cruiser-racing at club level. At the other end of the sailing scale, he reprised his Finn sailing skills to be part of the annual Laser Winter series which was inaugurated at Howth in 1974.

His expertise in interpreting the racing rules was also much in demand, and he served on the ISA's Inshore Committee for six years. He was also active in the administration of Howth Yacht Club, moving through the committee ranks to flag officer level, and then becoming Commodore in 1977. This was a particularly demanding time for the club, as decisions had to be made in view of the planned total redevelopment of the harbour, and the process was under way whereby HYC emerged with its modern marina/clubhouse complex during the 1980s.

Despite the distractions of development, there was more sailing going on than ever, and the Lacy family were very much involved in junior sailing in Optimists. Inevitably Bill was drawn into the administrative side of the Optimists, and he ended up in the hot seat, becoming Chairman of the Organising Committee, with Helen-Mary Wilkes as secretary, for the 1981 Worlds which had been allocated to Howth several years earlier.

The Optimist class's global programme takes on the same remorseless glacial speed as that of the Office of Public Works in Ireland, so inevitably the Worlds were shaping up just as the major new development work on Howth Harbour was at its busiest. Which was the irresistible force and which the immovable object would be hard to say, but Bill Lacy and his committee had the perfect solution - suggested by Robert Wilkes - of moving the entire focus of the event to the Howth Lodge Hotel with Claremont Beach becoming a giant launching slip, and it all went very well indeed.

Overall winner from among the 28 nations was boy wonder Guido Tavelli from Argentina. This prompted the comment from his many rival teams that an Argentine is an Italian who speaks Spanish and thinks he's English. But sadly this was the last hurrah of a brilliant era of Argentine sailing achievement, for within a year the Falklands War and the subsequent national economic collapse brought an end to global demonstrations of Argentine sailing brilliance.

Meanwhile back in Howth the club's recovery from the huge voluntary effort of organizing the worlds was quickly subsumed into the next effort - getting an administrative and pricing structures in place to encourage enough members to buy up five-year berths in the proposed marina, thereby providing funding for the construction of the clubhouse which was to be completed by 1987.

Like everything else in Howth, it had to be shown that it could be viable, the standard having been set by those Optimist Worlds. In the Autumn of 1981, Bill Lacy arrived into the clubhouse on the West Pier one evening to find members of the general committee present. They were in serious mood, and he wondered what unpleasant surprise had emerged from the year's main event. He was curtly informed that they were concerned about the problems of financial questions which still lingered on from the Optimist Worlds. Bill exploded with frustration, saying that when an event of this scope is staged for the first time almost entirely by volunteers, some financial strain is inevitable. "Oh no" they said, "there's no insurmountable financial strain. On the contrary, the books have been finalized, and HYC Events Ltd is showing a profit of more than �5,000 from the Optimist Worlds 1981...."

Bill's delight in sailing and the complexities of racing never dimmed, but he was frustrated that latterly his illness had prevented him playing a more active role. But the Lacy family in several generations has followed him into the sport , and the large attendance at both his removal and funeral on Wednesday February 10th at the church in Howth built by his grandfather was eloquent testimony to the high regard and affection in which Bill Lacy and the Lacy family are held in Howth.