History of the Pairs

THE IRISH PAIRS – "the journey"


"In the beginning"
The Irish Pairs Sea Angling Competition was originated by Gerry Flynn of the Irish Tourist Board (ITB) in 1980, when Gerry promoted a UK competition, which saw one pair out of every 30 who competed around the UK qualifying for an expenses paid trip to the Dingle Peninsula in South West Ireland.  The first final was based at the Skelligs Hotel in Dingle and saw some 18 pairs of anglers competing. The event took place over a long weekend. First winners of the championship were Harry Gill and Gerry Horsefield from the Hartlepool area.
The concept of the competition co-incided with the emergence of the Sea Anglers Match Federation (SAMF) and many members of this new organisation were keen to qualify for the event.  Clive Richards, new chairman of SAMF, saw potential to help build up SAMF’s reputation by becoming involved with the running of the event. The first final was run by the ITB with input from the Irish Sea Fisheries who allowed Norman Dunlop and Peter Green to attend and do the pegging and results.
"Welcome to Daiwa"  
SAMF had discussions with the ITB and outlined plans to make the event an open one, lasting a week, with competitors paying their own way instead of winning a place in the final. It was thought that this would help the ITB as instead of just some 40/50 anglers competing there would be many more UK anglers who would like to attend, thus boosting tourism figures etc.

ITB encouraged the idea, and at the same time SAMF approached Daiwa Sports with a view to obtaining sponsorship for the event. Sales Director of Daiwa, John  Middleton attended the second final and agreed to future sponsorship. This sponsorship is still in place and is the longest running sponsorship that the sport has ever had. Daiwa’s contribution is exceptional, not only do they contribute tackle but they also allow us to purchase other items at very preferential rates. This explains why the event consistently boasts a prize table of cash and tackle worth more than £ 7500 each year.

"Joined by the Irish"
Coming up to the 3rd year of the event John Amery had been added to the organising committee and at Easter time Clive Richards and John took their families over to look at beaches that could be fished with an entry of 150 anglers. It was during a session on Inch Strand that they met up with a group of Dublin anglers and got into conversation. This led to an entry from an Irish contingent which continues to this day, and even led to the formation of the Irish Match and Surfcasting Association (IMASA) which was to play an important part in the development of the Irish surfcasting competition scene.
"The Dun an Oir"
That trip also dramatically changed the course of the event because when Clive and John visited the Skelligs to confirm the booking for September they were told that the new management had not confirmed the booking and had in fact booked 3 coaches of French tourists for that date !!  PANIC…….entries were flooding in but we had nowhere to accommodate them. Fortunately a knight in shining armour arrived in the shape of Matt Britton who ran the Dun an Oir (gaelic for 'fort of gold) complex out at Ballyferriter to the west of Dingle. The complex consisted of an Hotel with rooms, restaurant and bar, together with some 20 self catering cottages in its grounds. We were able to do a deal with Matt and in reality this was the start of the Daiwa Irish Pairs ( as it had now become known) saga. The Dun an Oir became legendary, this was in the days  of “ when does the bar close ? …..when the last man leaves” scenario, and with all the competitors based in one central location it became a very social occasion.  Most opted for the self catering cottages and as all were no more than 100 yards from the hotel no one needed a car to get to the bar….many took advantage of this.
"New venues"

On the fishing scene it had been necessary to expand the venues to cope with the greater numbers, and in many cases two beaches were used, with one from each team fishing separate beaches. Venues used were Ventry Harbour, Ballyrannig, Beal Bawn all local to the headquarters and Inch and Brandon Strands which were about 30 miles away. Inch and Brandon could accommodate all the competitors.  First names on the Pairs Shield which SAMF provided were Noddy Farrell and Barry Graves from Southend.


"Catch & return introduced"
By the 4th year we were getting concerned at having fish killed by weighing in at the end of the match and we therefore resolve to instigate a “catch and return “ policy into the competition. Weight was to be the deciding factor so what happened was that we encouraged wives, girlfriends, family members etc to attend the event, then sat them under a brolly on the beach with a set of scales, and when an angler caught a fish he went to them, they weighed and recorded the fish and then immediately returned the fish to the water.
"The Pairs format evolves"
The initial format of the competition was to have 2 days of pegged competition and the rest of the week given over to a specimen fish competition, where the biggest fish of 10 nominated species would pick up a Daiwa reel as a prize. This was to encourage anglers to travel around and enjoy the excellent rock fishing which is available but which cannot be pegged for a match. We had to see and weigh these fish but anglers were only allowed to return their biggest fish of a particular species, and a board in the headquarters listed the current biggest fish so that people knew what they had to beat.
Initially some of the Irish contingent only came down for the weekend, so a competition was arranged on the Sunday, to be based on teams of 4 to be pegged on either Inch or Brandon so that all competitors were on the same beach. The Irish also obtained sponsorship from Semperit Tyres who provided a trophy and a cash input to the event. This sponsorship ran for some 6 years.  By this time the Irish competitors were joining for the week so in the early 90’s it was decided to make the pegged matches over 3 days and they have continued as such since then.

Despite a general conception the Ireland was an angling mecca we found that like the UK if you put 150 anglers on a beach they are not all going to catch 20lbs of fish each. In an effort to get better results we consulted with the Irish Sea Fisheries who agreed that as we were returning all fish caught then we did not have to fish to their size limits ( limits which had been instigated for boat angling as shore fishing at that time was not very prominent).  Suddenly beaches like Brandon and Inch, famed Bass beaches, were turned into flounder venues as the anglers learned to target them in order to do well.

"Mr Amery the politician"
By the late 80’s the input from Central Fisheries was withdrawn, as they quite rightly stated that the event was a success and the SAMF committee were quite capable of running it.

By the mid 80’s John Amery, who had become SAMF secretary, had been organising the event and in those days SAMF booked Ferries, Accommodation etc. as well as running the competitions.  The event had continued to receive some financial support from the ITB but in the late 80’s they wrote to say that they were going to cease this support. John  took it upon himself to write to the then Irish Prime Minister, Charlie Haughey, who had close ties with Dingle (he actually owned one of the Blasket Isles) and point out the input that the event made to the Irish economy at no cost to the ITB, and at Charlie’s instigation support continued, and that year he sent his Minister of  Tourism to present the prizes!

Support continued in a limited way right into the early 2000’s.

"Move to measure and return"

Catch and release remained our mantra, but one problem we had was that it needed woman/man power to attend the 8 sets of scales on the beaches and the number of assistants available gradually declined. So we took our next major step and introduced “measure and return”. Each competitor had to have an official SAMF measure and had to act as steward to the adjacent angler. The fish was measured, recorded, returned. Strange at first but quickly became accepted. To stop anglers targeting small fish a block minimum size of 18cms and smallest hook size of No 4 was introduced.

1995 was a tragic year as we had one of the competitors, Nigel Robinson of Hemel Hempstead, killed when he fell down a cliff face on one of the specimen hunts. Nigel was an experienced rock climber who had equipped himself with ropes and harness but unfortunately something went wrong whilst he was climbing alone and he slipped to his death. SAMF runs an annual Nigel Robinson Memorial Match and funds raised go into a special fund that can be used to assist families etc in emergencies. Fortunately we have not needed to utilise the fund.  Please do remember that fishing from the rocks or climbing rocks, particulalry when its wet, can be very dangerous and should never be attempted alone.
"The Smerwick Harbour Hotel"

In 1996 we had the disappointment of losing the Dun an Oir headquarters. Many of the cottages were sold off to private buyers who did not want to let them out and the hotel was closed, later to be converted into luxury apartments. 

This meant a change of headquarters and we moved to the Smerwick Harbour Hotel, owned by Brendan Houlahan who also had Wine Strand Cottages a couple of miles away and which we had always used as overspill for the Dun an Oir cottages. We therefore lost part of the social aspect as the headquarters needed to be driven to.


"New Blood"
In 2002 John Amery stood down as organiser, having done 20 fantastic years in the job, and the task was taken on board by Nick Haward, who by co-incidence had taken over from John as secretary of SAMF for a short period in 1994 to 1997.
Nick decided to move the headquarters into Dingle town and established The Dingle Bay Hotel and its 'Paudies Bar' as the headquarters and utilised some of the many self catering cottages that had sprung up over the years. The advent of the Internet meant that it is nowadays much easier to book ferries and accommodation and many competitors do so however with the great support of Trident Homes competitors can still book accommodation through Nick as event organiser at extremely competitive rates.

Nick has expanded the match venues by successfully adding Ross Beigh, which is opposite Inch, and Cappaclough beach into the programme. Continuing this idea saw Banna Strand fished for the first time in 2008.  These venues have really strengthened the event and introduced a greater variety and quality of fish.


Measure and return just using the length of the fish in the early days, like any new system, had inevitable shortcomings; a 36cm cod, which would weigh about 11/2 lbs would be beaten by two 18 cm whiting, weighing about 2 oz each, and Garfish because of their length became a target species. SAMF has further developed the system by producing a length to weight chart to convert the given length of a certain species to a weight which overcomes this problem. The Pairs, always keen to trim and move ideas forward further developed its own modified chart which is used with great success and little complaint - and all fish count!

"Now even the 'beauties' go back"

Nick is a fervent catch and return enthusiast and the advent of digital cameras and then phone cameras enabled him to make further inroads towards the ultimate goal of 100% fish return. This new technology enabled the expansion in conservation into the specimen fish competition, which runs throughout the week. The fish is placed on an official measure and photographed; optional witness cards are also supplied to all competitors for optional use [particularly useful to those without cameras or phones]; in any event the event allows and accepts either digital or witnessed evidence to ensure the specimen fish can be returned safely to the sea.


Over the last 5 years or so the number of anglers attending the Pairs with their primary focus being the specimen hunt has continued to grow. An extremely ‘bonny’ Scottish contingent lead the way and it is with great pride we at The Daiwa Irish Pairs have seen our conservation ideas taken ‘back home’.

"The future remains bright"

The Pairs has come a long way and 2009 will be its 28th. Year on The Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry. The ongoing success of the Pairs is the result of a collective and dedicated effort [both past and present] and during the last 7 years from the current hardcore Committee, of Darren Smith, Alan Smith, Jim Gross and Ian Hewitt, headed by Competition Organiser Nick Haward.


Like Nick, who during his term has been responsible for the move into Dingle, the final development and push into 100% fish return, and the move into the ‘new’ venues of Ross Beigh, Cappaclough and Bana Strand, Darren Smith has been a prime mover in the further development of the Pairs: Darren has been responsible for topping and tailing the Measure and Return System, developing and organising the computer based results system and now, in 2008 by piecing together and organising the Web Site.


One fact is sure: The Daiwa Irish Pairs is the single most successful saltwater match and specimen angling week in the UK and we as part of the current ‘team’ are very proud to be part of it!



The above history is a collective piece put together by past and present organisers and committee.