Aodhán Kelly

Editor of Web Publications
London School of Economics
Teaching and education
BA (History and Economics)
M Litt

Reminisces about his journey from Rhetoric House to rowing the Atlantic
At the start of 2012, I pushed off from the western shore of Morocco with five other men in a small rowing boat. Our challenge was to break the world record for rowing across the Atlantic - Barbados was our intended destination. The expedition, which we named Atlantic Odyssey, proved to be the adventure of a lifetime in more ways than one.

Unfortunately I never got a chance to lounge on the white sands of the Caribbean sipping cocktails while gazing out at the ocean I had just crossed. Rather, after 28 days of rowing, I found myself on the cold steel deck of a Taiwanese cargo ship after being plucked from a tiny inflatable life raft far below. We had completed 80 per cent of our crossing and were on track for the world record when we were irreversibly capsized by a freak wave.

After rowing 12 hours a day for a month, in shifts of two hours on and two hours off, I thought my mettle had already been fully tested by overcoming a distance of 2,000 nautical miles with huge ocean swells, difficult currents, squalls, sleep deprivation and an exponential numbers of cuts, bruises and muscle strains. Those challenges are now dwarfed in my mind by the enormity of what it took to get through the 14 hours that separated the capsize and our rescue.

We spent ten days together on the cargo ship bound for Gibraltar returning over the ocean we had just covered through our own physical exertions. This was enough time for us to debrief and clear our thoughts before the mobs of family and the press that awaited us on the dock. None of us had really known each other a year beforehand but we had all been brought together by a common aim and we now know each other on a level that can’t be described.

I began rowing at the age of 10 in Neptune Rowing Club in Dublin and by the time I started the Atlantic at 26 I was a veteran of many national championships as well as earning places on a number of Irish national teams. But it was during my time at Maynooth that I first discovered the existence of ocean rowing and resolved to “try that myself someday”. I doubt anyone in Rhetoric House took me seriously at the time.

Maynooth had always appealed to me as a university and I decided not to let the lack of a rowing club become a deciding factor in my application. Rather, myself and a few fellow Neptune members decided to set up a club in the college ourselves during our first year. A club which now sadly seems to have vanished, but one which I would love to see revived. I managed to continue rowing throughout my time there and even picked up a few intervarsity titles for the college on the way - which was truly enjoyable.

The university was also a place in which I was fortunate enough to pursue my other major passion - history. After finishing my undergraduate degree in 2006 I spent two years completing an MLitt in history with Professor Comerford as my supervisor. Despite finishing my degree at a difficult economic time I eventually managed to find myself an interesting job in the UK as an editor in a publishing company creating digital learning resources in history for universities. This in turn led to my recent appointment at the London School of Economics in web services where I’m also relishing the opportunity to pursue my interest in history through its various events and societies.

I met a lot of wonderful people during my five years at Maynooth. They now form an important part of the support network which has helped make my pursuits a reality be they on or off the water - and for that I am very grateful. Those people always ask me the same question about the Atlantic, “would you do it again?” Despite the terrifyingly close call I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed the experience - the spectacular things that I saw out on the ocean, the funds raised for my charity Plan International and the lessons I have learned about myself, about people and about life. The answer to the question is - maybe.