Irish Sailing Hero Donal Hickey

Irish Sailing Hero Donal Hickey

Life of Donal

Kinsale Sailability Volunteer

Donal lives just outside Kinsale and is a integral member of Kinsale Sailability, making sailing available for people with disabilities. Volunteers like Donal make a world of difference in the lives of people that can achieve so much more with a little support.

What brought you in to the world of sailing and boating?

I grew up on Roaringwater Bay in West Cork. At that time local boats were used to transport all sorts of things to the islands (fodder, cattle, seaweed for fertiliser, sea sand and gravel for building). My father had a wooden boat known as a “sand boat” that used oars to propel. He brought in sand from the foreshore … it was allowed then. She was dismantled in 1964.

How old were you when you first sailed?

My first boat was a motor boat at age 28, I could slip my lines and head out alone or with friends any time. I didn’t give up on sailing altogether, I crewed in Cork Week a couple of times and it was fantastic experience, because I have a competitive edge and I loved the thrill.

What is Sailability ?

Sailability is a 32 county initiative that provides the opportunity for children and adults with disabilities and disadvantaged children to participate in the sport of sailing. I organise the local Sailability with Kinsale Yacht Club who provide a series of sail training sessions that offer a gentle approach to give a child with additional needs the opportunity to prepare themselves for the ‘main steam’ training programmes. This can involve a qualified instructor giving 1:1 instruction to the participants.

A fear of water can be the first challenge. The goal is to help young sailors to build up their confidence and join a fully inclusive environment with all the members.

Some of our participants have now progressed not only to the open club junior sailing programme but also to a qualified instructor within the programme.

How did you get involved?

I was asked to volunteer one day and saw the benefits that young people gained. Ten years later I am still passionate about creating a safe and fun sailing environment.

Do you have any advice for a club that wants to provide Sailability?

Decide what you CAN cater for and grow from there. If you can provide for people with vision impairment, limited hearing, autism or other learning disabilities you can start there and then look at creating facilities for people with physical disabilities perhaps.

How does Sailability help the family of a disabled sailor?

Sailing is inclusive and people of different abilities can sail a boat together involving EVERY one of the family at the same time – parents love it.

What are your future goals for Sailability?

I hope that the programme becomes available to a much wider audience geographically through the cooperation of a company; more government support; and more recognition with a registered identity.

If you are inspired by Donal’s story or interested in getting involved in Sailability at your local club go to OR Contact Ciaran Murphy on or call 087 8800744 to find out more about Irish Sailing’s Disability Inclusion Training for all volunteers and instructors. You can also volunteer at the Watersports Inclusion Games in 2019. Get in touch with Ciaran to register your interest.

The Irish Sailing Watersports Inclusion Games 2018 won BEST EVENT 2018 at the Cara Inclusion Awards hosted by Sport Ireland. WOO HOO!!