Former rugby player Damian Browne said he was overwhelmed as hundreds of people turned out on Tuesday morning in Galway to give him a hero’s welcome after he completed his marathon row from New York.
The 112-day journey, involving 2,686 hours at sea and over 3,450 nautical miles rowed, was an endurance test that ended in drama when his 6.2m boat called ‘Cushlamachree’ was driven on the rocks near Furbo in a storm in Galway Bay shortly before 1am on Tuesday.
The 42-year old adventurer was rescued by three gardaí as other emergency services were launched and he was taken ashore and reunited with his family.
The former Connacht and Leinster rugby player had hoped to row in through the gates in Galway docks but instead, having spent the remainder of the night with his partner Rozelle and baby daughter Elodie, he sailed into port to be greeted by hundreds of well-wishers.
“I accomplished what I wanted to and I’m safe and I’m uninjured and I have had an incredible reception.
“Up to three days ago, I hadn’t seen a person in 98 days and I had a bit of trepidation about this moment because of the overwhelming nature of so many people, having been isolated from people for so long, and it is just great to be welcomed home by so many.
“I want to thank everyone who has come out to meet me and I want to also thank all the people who supported me online, all the messages of support along the way.
"When I was at my deepest and darkest moments of despair, of which there was plenty, all I had to do was put on the phone and know there was these people connected to me and I didn’t feel so lonely. All I can say, from the bottom of my heart, is thank you.”
His parents Mary and Joe, sister Gillian and brother Andrew, himself a former Connacht rugby player, were among those to welcome him home.
“I feel so proud of him and I’m feeling so relieved and so joyful and can’t believe that he is here with us,” said his mother Mary.
Fergus Farrell, who started out the journey from Manhattan with him on June 14 but had to be lifted after 13 days over health issues, was also dockside to greet him.
Mr Farrell, who survived a serious spinal injury four years ago and had to learn to walk again, said he was delighted that his close friend was safely home.
Damian said that his career as a professional rugby player, which included stints with Northampton Saints in England and Brive and Oyonnax in France, had instilled resolve which served him well on his adventures, which included rowing from Spain to Antigua four years ago and climbing Mount Everest in between the Atlantic rowing expeditions.
“In those moments of darkness and you are facing headwinds for three days in a row and you are going backwards, I have a deep foundational belief that I will get through it and that stems from rugby and everything that gave me. I will always be grateful for that,” he said.
Included among the groups welcoming him home were the rowing crews and rugby teams from his alma mater St Joseph’s ‘The Bish’ College in Galway city, while Connacht rugby director of coaching and his former Connacht teammates such as Tim Allnutt, Johnny O’Connor, Peter Bracken, Christian Short, Ted Robinson and Matt Healy, were also dockside to greet him.
The first man to row from New York to Galway was forced to shore on the rocks at Furbo beach just a short distance from his finishing point last night.
After being forced to land on rocks, Damian called Chris Martin, the Project Empower land support officer, who in turn contacted emergency services who set off immediately.
A journey that started in New York 🇺🇸🇺🇸, 111 days ago, covering a distance of 5000km is coming to an end for intrepid rower, Damian Browne, as he hopes to arrive at Galway Docks tomorrow between 10:30 a.m and 12:30 p.m— Aran Island Ferries (@AranIslandFerry) October 3, 2022
It was incredible to see Damian pass Inis Oírr pic.twitter.com/1U5NAApTAM
Damian said that it was not the finish "he had hoped for" but that he was safe and well, and glad to have finished the journey.
"Unfortunately I ended up on some rocks in Furbo on the north shore of Galway bay at around 1 am, it was a very tense and stressful night," he said.
He had a plan to anchor for the night and row into the port in the morning, but he was hit by strong winds that were causing him to drift off course, so he changed his plan and aimed to try and reach Spiddal or Barna.
However, Damian said that he then realised that he was extremely close to hitting rocks, so he started trying to row back out to sea with the power he had left.
"The boat was hit with the wash from a heavy wave, it turned itself and the wave flipped me over and broke one of my oars," he explained.
Damian managed to crawl onto a large rock that the boat was hitting against, and then got in touch with a friend to get an alert out.
Thankfully, emergency services arrived at the scene shortly after.
First to the scene were Garda Micheál Ó Ráinne from An Spidéil, Garda Vincent Kelly from Indreabhán, and Garda Eoin O’Malley from Carna who found Damian and brought him to safety.
Damian expressed his immense gratitude towards them, and the emergency responders who then looked after him.
Though he is "gutted" to have had to stop just short of his set destination, the rower is now reunited with his family and is looking forward to celebrating his achievement with the people of Galway.
The journey, which has been titled Projected Empower, has raised funds for four charities including the Galway Simon Community, Ability West, Madra, and the National Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation.
Over €44,000 has been raised so far.