Celtic Challenge is a Bi-Annual Rowing Race across the Irish Sea from Arklow in Ireland to Aberystwyth in Wales a distance of about 90 miles.

026 Aberdyfi Team, 3 miles to goThe boats used are fixed seat Celtic / Pembrokeshire longboats, All-Ireland one design boats, or wooden Irish skiffs; all of these carry 4 rowers and 1 Cox at any one time.  Teams comprise 12 men or women or 6 men and 6 women.  Veteran teams (all team members must be over 40) also take part.  No rower may be under the age of 18.

The event starts in Arklow in Ireland and ends when boats cross the harbour entrance in Aberystwyth.  Dependent entirely on the weather conditions an ideal scenario would be to start to row on Saturday afternoon, arriving in Aberystwyth on Sunday morning – this can mean a very early arrival on Sunday morning for the fastest teams, any time from 6.00 onwards.  The boats arrive over a number of hours during the Sunday morning; the fastest boats now take about 15 hours and the slowest up to 24 hours to complete the event this is assuming that the weather conditions are perfect.

021 Arklow ladies crossing the lineSpectators are welcome to come down to the harbour from early Sunday onwards.  There will be plenty to see.

If there is going to be any substantial delay in start times, or they are brought forwards or even cancelled in the event of bad weather, we will endeavor to inform BBC Wales and Radio Ceredigion of the fact.


In 1988 members of the Aberystwyth Lifeboat Crew formed the Aberystwyth Rowing Club and the following year decided to do a sponsored row from Arklow to Aberystwyth to raise money for the local Hospital Scanner Appeal. Raising over £3,500, the row took 22 hours to complete in the Pembrokeshire longboat “Draig y Mor”.

In 1991 the Club undertook another sponsored row from Ireland to Wales, in the new Longboat “Seren y Mor” cutting the time taken to 19 hours 55 minutes, raising £3,400 towards the new RNLI Lifeboat Station at Aberystwyth.

After these two Sponsored rows by the Aberystwyth Rowing Club a number of other Rowing Clubs expressed an interest in taking part in a race from Arklow to Aberystwyth so the idea of Celtic Challenge was born.

The first Celtic Challenge took place in 1993 with 8 boats taking part six from Wales and two from Ireland, both from Arklow; the winning time was 17 hours 55 minutes by an Aberystwyth Men’s team in the Pembrokeshire Longboat “Swn y Mor” with the first boat from Arklow arriving in a time of 20 hours 27 minutes, a very good time considering the wooden Irish skiff was much heavier than the Pembrokeshire Longboats. A Ladies team from Aberporth in Ceredigion took a time of 26 hours 10 minutes to complete the race in worsening weather conditions and arrived at the Harbour entrance to be greeted by cheers from a large crowd that had gathered to see them finish the race.

Subsequently, successful Challenges took place every two years until 2001.  This race had to be cancelled because of restrictions imposed during the foot and mouth outbreak. It was decided to re-schedule this race for 2002.

In 2002, the fifth Celtic Challenge, 14 boats took part and the winning time was 14 hours 46 minutes by the Arklow Rowing Club Celtic Longboat “Celtic Venturer” beating an Aberystwyth team by 47 seconds.

Unfortunately the 2004 race was called off after all the teams had assembled in Arklow.  This was due to a sudden unpredictable, worsening of the weather in Arklow which would not have permitted the necessary weather window needed for all teams to complete the race.

In 2006 four teams from Ireland and thirteen teams from Wales took part in the event. The winning time was 14 hours 43 minutes in “Smoke and Mirrors” an All Ireland class boat from the Bantry Bay Rowing Club; the first Celtic Longboat, a team from Aberdyfi, completed the race in a time of 14 hours 53 minutes. The slowest time taken was 18 hours 59 minutes by a Ladies team from Aberystwyth.

CELTIC CHALLENGE 2008 was planned to take place on Saturday 3rd May 2008 (May Day Bank Holiday weekend) with 13 teams having entered for the event; three teams from Ireland, nine from Wales and one from England. The makeup of the teams were, five Men’s teams, five Mixed teams, two Ladies teams and one Veteran team.

The wind and weather pattern did not allow the race to start on the Saturday so it was decided to postpone the race for 24 hours. On the Sunday morning the Weather forecast was much more promising so it was decided to go ahead with the race with an afternoon start.

The start was split so that the Ladies, Mixed and Veteran teams started at 14.00 with the Men’s teams starting at 16.00.

The sea conditions at the start line were slightly choppy but did not affect the start, but by the time the Teams had rowed the 9 miles down to the South Cardinal Buoy at the bottom of the Arklow Bank the tide had turned producing a moderate swell. This caused many of the Rowers on the Support vessels to suffer from Seasickness. After about four hours of Rowing a number of the teams decided to pull out of the Race because seasickness had laid up most of the Rowers on the Support boats.

At the end of the Race only five teams remained to cross the finishing line, it had been a Real Challenge.

The next Celtic Challenge will be held on Saturday 3rd May 2014.


Celtic Challenge 2006

A new record time was set for the 2006 Celtic Challenge Rowing Race from Arklow in Ireland to Aberystwyth in Wales. This years race was 2 miles longer than the previous races in order that the Arklow Bank was  safely crossed by all the Support boats.

Fourteen boats set out from Arklow in two groups on Saturday 29th April, the slower first group comprised the Aberystwyth Womens team, the Aberaeron Veteran mixed team all the other Mixed teams and the St. Michael’s Mens team who were rowing in a traditional heavy wooden Irish skiff, this group set off at 14.31. Unfortunately the Ferrycarrig Rowing Club mixed team from Wexford had to return to Arklow as their Support boat suffered serious engine problems.

The second faster group of  boats set out at 16.00  and after crossing the Arklow Bank   it was a tightly contested race  between the boats in the first group and the  second group during the hours of darkness.

It was the first time that an All Ireland One Design skiff had entered the race and the Bantry boat “Smoke ‘n’ Mirrors”  crossed the Finishing line at 06.43 on Sunday morning putting in a new   Record time of 14 hours and 43 minutes.

Final Race positions

Team Type of Boat Elapsed time Final position

Bantry Rowing Club Men All Ireland Skiff 14hours 43 minutes 1

Aberdyfi Miscellaneous Celtic Longboat 14hours 53 minutes 2

Arlow Rowing club men Celtic longboat 15hours 01 minutes 3

Aberystwyth men Celtic Longboat 15hours 17 minutes 4

Dale mixed Celtic longboat 16hours 21 minutes 5

Aberystwyth mixed Celtic Longboat 17hours 12 minutes 6

Neyland Men Celtic Longboat 17hours 34 minutes 7

Aberdyfi mixed Celtic Longboat 17hours 42 minutes 8

Hazelbeach/Wiseman’s Bridge Celtic longboat 17 hours 55 minutes 9

Aberaeron Veterans Celtic longboat 17 hours 59.52 minutes 10

St. Michael’s men Irish Skiff 17hours 59,54 minutes 11

Llangwm mixed Celtic longboat 18hours 23 minutes 12

Aberystwyth women Celtic longboat 18hours 59 minutes 13

Ferrycarrig mixed Pembroke longboat returned

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