He emerged from an intense background in which father’s brother, Frank Flood, had been one of the “Forgotten Ten” associated with Kevin Barry, all of whom had been executed by British forces following hasty Courts Martial during the War of Independence in 1920-21. And in more modern times during the Troubles of 1969-1998, he would have been one of the victims of the May 1974 Dublin street bombings, had he not stopped near his office in Nassau Street for a few minutes to exchange greetings and gossip in typical style with an old friend.
BREADTH OF VISION
But far from being narrow-minded through inherited outlook and close-call personal experiences, he had generous breadth of vision, and was keenly involved in the many aspects of Irish life that facilitated his enthusiastic approach, whether it was through business, sport, the encouragement of youth, or the fostering of truly all-Ireland and international friendships, while always maintaining the vital role of family life.
Yet although he was involved in the detailed administration of numerous activities in Ireland right up to the highest level, he was no armchair sportsman. On the contrary, as a highly-organised person of notable fitness, he enjoyed nothing more than being in the thick of sporting contests. And it was ultimately through sailing that he found his greatest means of personal expression, as it provided the technical challenges of boat maintenance to his perfectionist standards, together with development and tuning allied to the physical and intellectual demands of racing.
It suited, too, that as a high-octane socialiser himself, all of this sport was then followed by the high levels of après sailing conviviality among competitors who may have been at each other’s throats afloat, but were immediately the very best of friends again when ashore.
A HOME IN CLONTARF
His early childhood was peripatetic, as his father was a founding member of An Garda Siochana, posted sometimes to provincial stations. Thus Sean was born in 1932 in Mullingar. But Flood Senr’s appointment as the Inspector in charge of the increasingly important Clontarf Barracks provided the family with a more settled life in leafy Clontarf, and in time when the young Sean went to school at Belvedere, it was in keeping with a family tradition which now spans four generations.
SUMMER HOLIDAYS ON CORK HARBOUR
Another tradition was the annual family summer holiday at the then-quiet village of Whitegate on the east shores of Cork Harbour. This sharpened his developing interest in the sea and shipping, sailing and seafaring, while beginning friendships which in time included fellow boat enthusiasts from all parts of Cork Harbour. Some of them may have had fully-fledged sailing dinghies to inspire the “Whitegate fleet”, who often made do with rowing dinghies fitted with any sorts of sails they could contrive until Sean got himself introduced to the Crosshaven T-Class dinghies.
NAVAL RESERVE INSTEAD OF OCEAN LINERS
However, his interest in seafaring went much deeper than that, as he hoped to make his career in ocean liners or the merchant marine. But his parents diverted this by allowing him to join the Slui Muiri – the Naval Reserve – at the age of 17 in 1949, maybe the youngest-ever recruit, and he rose through the ranks to become a First Lieutenant in 1955.
Meanwhile his father was alert to the possibilities of suggesting an alternative career which would offer his energetic son attractive work opportunities ashore, and he succeeded in this when Sean found himself – at a very young age – in the role of founding Managing Director of the new security firm of Chubb Ireland, a role he was to fill for forty years.
This drew him into Dublin’s national and international business life in a highly involved way. With his perfectly-located city-centre office overlooking the College Park of TCD, he was very active in the historic Dublin Chamber of Commerce which dates its origins back to the voyage of the Ouzel Galley from Dublin to the Levant in 1695-1705. He served as Chairman of three DCC committees, and was also in direct inaugural involvement with the recently-formed Institute of Directors. And in time, he brought his company to the level where he could persuade Lord “Call me Michael” Killanin – already a towering presence in the International Olympic movement – to become the company’s chairman in Ireland.
In sailing, he had been a member of the 1875-founded Clontarf Yacht & Boat Club since 1953, and in 1959 he became one of the club’s youngest Commodores at the age of 27. By this time, he was very successfully racing his second IDRA 14, the turbo-powered Miss Betty bought from lifelong friend Clayton Love Jnr of Cork, and he served for many years on the Council of the Irish Dinghy Racing Association, continuing in that role when it became the Irish Yachting Association in the early 1960s.
As his increasingly international business activities developed with projects such as on-site advising on the establishment of the Chubb operations in Singapore and Canada, he became a frequent flyer when air travel was generally a much more glamorous affair than it is now, and Aer Lingus was a matter of national pride. Their elite corps of air hostesses were very special indeed, and in meeting one of them – Joan O’Flynn of Waterford – while in flight, Sean found the perfect life partner, a wonderful person of quiet yet extremely effective household management and unflappable home-making skills which perfectly balanced his sometimes decidedly frenetic pace of life.
MOVE TO HOWTH
They celebrated sixty happy year of marriage in 2022 with three children – Desmond, Lindajane and Sallyann and many grandchildren – but in those sixty years their life location changed at an early stage. They moved to the superbly-located Roskeen on the Baily in Howth, with mind-blowing south-facing views across Dublin Bay to the Wicklow Hills and Mountains and along the coast all the way to Wicklow Head.
Inevitably this move changed Sean’s sailing focus over time, but his final years with Clontarf had already been on a new level, as he was one of that top group of national dinghy sailors who elected to move into the international 505 Class. He was the only one in Clontarf who did so, and thus he began another lifelong association by joining the Royal St George Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire, as The George was the hub of Dublin Bay 505 racing.
Yet he continued to keep the boat at Clontarf, but claimed that thanks to the 505’s extraordinary speed, it was no bother at all to sail unaccompanied across Dublin Bay to Dun Laoghaire and back to get some top level racing.
He also went international with the 505 Worlds at Tangiers in North Africa in 1965. Then in 1966 when the Irish 505 fleet secured a place in the Worlds in Australia in Adelaide, it was all set up but the nominated helmsman was unable to go at almost the last minute. However, Sean showed the strength and flexibility of his work organisation by a quick re-allocation of responsibilities, and he joined up with still-available crewman Neil Hegarty of Cork and went to Australia instead, making friends wherever he went, particularly with Australian ace Jim Hardy, while vividly remembering the sailing conditions off Adelaide, where at times the ocean a waves were so large that at times most of the other boats were invisible.
This level of multi-tasking around boats would have been enough for most sailors, but he was also involved in the mid-60s in Olympic Finn racing with a view to sharpening up Irish performance in the Olympics, and he carried this enthusiasm to a new level by being a leading member of the Irish Support Team at the 1972 Sailing Olympics in Kiel, where Ireland secured her first straightforward Olympic race win with a victory by David Wilkins of Malahide in the Tempest Class.
At Kiel, he’d played a key role in ensuring that Pat Hughes’ versatile Grand Banks 42 Tara Explorer had voyaged from Ireland to be the Team Support Boat. This was a role in which she succeeded so well that the German Chef de Protocol from the impressive Olympic Village was a regular visitor aboard in the evenings, seeking a sociable escape from the stresses of running what was then the largest Olympic Regatta ever staged.
In his own sailing, having re-focused in Howth Yacht Club from 1966 onwards, Sean moved into Dragons with the well-worn Aletta which he and crewmen Robert Michael and Russell Rafter restored in a prodigious winter’s work. In those days, though, Dragon racing was even more addictive than it is now, and he up-graded his chances of success with the acquisition of the former Olympic Dragon Alphida.
His interests had also been offshore for some years, and despite his continuous busy-ness, somehow when the offer of a crew place for the Transatlantic Race of 1969 to Cork on Perry Geer’s big yawl Helen of Howth came up, yet again Sean had been able to re-structure life so that he could go, following on from early experience racing offshore with former Clontarf clubmate Ian Morrison on the 30 Square Metre Vanja IV.
He was also to race with Cork’s own legend Denis Doyle on the Moonduster of the day. When the crew-boss insisted people bring only minimum weight and let it be known he’d only provided food for a limited time, Sean somehow smuggled a sack of potatoes on board and was the most popular man on the ship when calm descended, and they ran out of the official rations with many miles still to sail.
MORE OFFSHORE RACING
His involvement with cruiser-racing eventually acquired an extra dimension with his own acquisition of the powerful Doug Peterson-designed Half Tonner Country Girl in which he was unbeatable in fresher winds, while his scope was increased through crewing for Otto Glaser in the McGruer 47 Tritsch-Tratsch II and the Frers 50 Red Rock III through the 1970s, logging three Fastnets.
At this time, the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association was going from strength to strength, as too was Chubb Ireland, and Sean brought the two together by providing Chubb sponsorship for the biennial ISORA Week from 1980. Yet far from this curbing his own activities afloat, it encouraged him to organise the use of Ken Rohan’s very special Holland 40 Regardless – still recovering from losing her rudder while leading the 1979 Fastnet – to race 1980 Chubb ISORA Week in Dublin Bay with his longtime shipmates Brian Hegarty and Harry Byrne calling the shots while he concentrated totally on helming. Regardless was the star of the show.
The 1980s saw him becoming even further involved in national administration and campaign management while somehow continuing a high level of personal sailing and racing. Ireland had been involved in the 1957-established biennial Admiral’s Cup from an early stage, but the team management had always been a bit ad hoc.
This changed completely in 1987 when Sean became Ireland’s AC Organising Chairman, with former Royal Irish YC Commodore Terry Johnson as Team Manager. Outwardly, this seemed an unlikely partnership as they were two very different people, but it worked a dream as they were able to operate in a flexible style with the team – partly made up using shrewdly-chosen charter boats – coming together at the last reasonable moment to hit the Solent like a whirlwind.
Racing against thirteen very hot international teams, they obtained Ireland’s best overall result of 4th overall. But more importantly in the Dubois 40 Irish Independent with lead helm Tim Goodbody of the RIYC, they had the overall winner of the Fastnet Race and and highest score in the series, and it was largely through Sean Flood’s unrivalled networking abilities and friendships in the upper echelons of Dublin business that the support of Ireland’s largest daily newspaper had been obtained for a spectacularly successful campaign.
By his stage in life, many of Sean’s former racing colleagues had moved into a greater emphasis on cruising, and he voyaged extensively in the Mediterranean on Ian Morrison’s Hallberg Rassy 42 ketch Safari and Brian Hegarty’s 36ft ketch Oleander, joining the Irish Cruising Club in 1994.
But his interest in sail training, first evinced when he tried to get the Naval Service interested in using the Erskine & Molly Childers ketch Asgard in a practical way, if anything became stronger over the years. Thus in 1998 when a major Tall Ships visit to Dublin was scheduled, the formidable Sean Flood-Terry Johnson team was re-activated to meet this enormous logistical challenge, and they recruited volunteers from all over the country to make sure that it was run with exemplary smoothness.
The turnover in personnel on Coiste an Asgard, which ran the national sail-training brigantine Asgard II, was a slow business as it involved political appointees. But after 1998’s success with Dublin’s Tall Ships show, Sean Flood was soon on the strength, and found himself involved with Coiste an Asgard and then the Tall Ships visit to Waterford in 2004.
However, he wasn’t so happy with the approach to Asgard II herself, as her administration was ultimately at the whim of the Minister for Defence of the day. Thus while a move to have her spars and rig renewed was successful, the sailing-experienced members of the committee found it impossible to convince the ultimate authority that at more than 25 years old, her hard-worked timber hull was arguably in need of replacement, preferably with a double-skin steel or aluminium version to the same lines.
The debate was brought to an end of sorts in September 2008 when Asgard slowly foundered – without any loss of life or personal accident – after striking some sort of submerged object while voyaging across the Bay of Biscay to La Rochelle, where a specialised shipyard was to give her a three week thorough examination.
Suddenly, it seemed that Sean Flood was the only member of Coiste an Asgard available to answer the wave of media enquiries about the sinking, which he did with good grace and to the best of his abilities. But like his fellow committee members, he had to accept that with Ireland entering the 2008-2009 financial crash, even though the insurance money on the ship was eventually paid, a substantial state-supported sail training vessel was off the agenda for the foreseeable future.
But in his many dealings with other national and international sail training organisations, his networking abilities and persuasive powers had been widely recognized and greatly admired. While Coiste an Asgard may have been re-branded to become Sail Training Ireland, Sean Flood began the final phase of his administrative career as a roving ambassador for the international sail training movement, despite being well into his 70s, and his network of international friendships and connections developed even further.
At home meanwhile, with seriously advancing years, he had adjusted his sailing scope by moving from the competitive Half Tonner Country Girl to the manageable Holland-designed Club Shamrock Rhapsody. Among his close friends in Howth Yacht Club – many of them dating back to his Clontarf days – there were several noted sailors with Club Shamrock experience. So when the business of re-wiring Rhapsody in the club boatyard arose, it became a lengthy – very lengthy, in fact – group experience, involving such longtime shipmates as Neville Maguire, Bud Bryce and Gerry Sargent in a project in which post-work leisurely analytical bar lunches in the club were considered an essential part of the programme.
But while relaxing and reminiscing with old friends played an important role in his latter years, he was always ready to do whatever he could to help along the cause of youth sailing and – in supporting another lifelong interest – supporting the fund-raising for the RNLI.
The sheer variety of activities in which Sean Flood was totally, efficiently, enthusiastically and usually enjoyable involved was almost beyond comprehension, and we hope his family is consoled at this time by the thought that the very many with whom his life interacted beneficially are deeply appreciative of what he achieved. He truly was a life-enhancer, a complete one-off.
Penned by WM Nixon – Afloat.ie