Eight Bells: Dave Irish

Published on December 1st, 2020

Dave Irish passed peacefully on November 30 with his family at home in Harbor Springs, MI. He was 83 years old.

From an early age, Dave was in his element on the water. His early jobs included teaching sailing and working on boats in what was then his family’s sideline business. He attended Michigan Technological University, then Michigan State University, where he found the sailing team more to his liking than the classroom.

In 1958, Dave fell in love with a young school teacher, Ann Kennedy, who had recently moved north from Ann Arbor. That same year, he entered the US Air Force through the Aviation Cadet program and was commissioned as a navigator. Dave and Ann were married in May of 1959 in Ann Arbor. Dave was stationed in California, then Massachusetts. He left military service in 1960 to return to Harbor Springs and care for his ailing father.

Back home, Dave was widely known in the resort sailing community, and with the help and encouragement of boating friends he founded the Irish Boat Shop in 1961, and over the past 60 years built into a successful, thriving business with three locations in Northern Michigan and a team of almost 100 employees. When he stepped down as Chairman of Board in 2017, his daughter Susan Irish Stewart succeeded him.

Dave liked messing around with boats; he particularly enjoyed the company of people who owned and played with boats.

Dave was a competitor, competing in numerous national and world championship events. He was valued and well-liked for his ability to think strategically, to lead, and to do anything, on any boat, in any weather. He loved racing to Mackinac and achieved Old Goat status in both the Bayview and Chicago Yacht Club races, signifying completion of over 25 editions on each lake.

Although competitive, Dave was always willing to share his knowledge and bring others along. It was rare to see Dave racing without a “junior” on his team, often driving the boat. Of his long list of accomplishments, I think he would say bringing up young sailors was right at the top of that list.

Dave understood that sailboat racing depends on sailing schools and yacht clubs. A founding member of the Little Traverse Yacht Club, he helped purchase the first clubhouse in 1968. In 2019, he played a similar role helping the Charlevoix Yacht Club construct a new clubhouse on Lake Charlevoix.

Both sailing communities benefited from his unflagging support for youth sailing, and Dave personally mentored many young sailors who have participated at the highest levels of sailboat racing.

He served the sport’s national governing body, US Sailing, for 25 years, then spent 16 years on the Offshore Racing Council which merged into the International Sailing Federation (ISAF), where he served for many years as a Vice President and Executive Committee member.

Service to community characterized his life ashore, too. Dave served Harbor Springs as a councilman and as mayor. An early environmental activist, Dave was a founding member of the Little Traverse Conservancy.

Dave was an avid outdoorsman and competitive athlete. He was a ski instructor at Boyne Highlands, then Nub’s Nob in the 1960s, and prided himself on owning skis of every description. Throughout his life he enjoyed ski league at Nub’s Nob, Nordic ski racing, heli-skiing, and backcountry skiing. When not skiing or sailing, he was a cyclist, runner, and late-in-life triathlete.

Dave is survived by his wife Ann; sister Ann Wilderom; daughters Tracy (John) Texter, Susan (Gary) Stewart, Perry (Rich) Hodgson, and son Colin (Carrie Maxson) Irish; 11 grandchildren, 4 great-grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews.

Those who wish to honor Dave Irish’s memory may do so by donating to the Little Traverse Conservancy, the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation, Little Traverse Sailors, Sail Charlevoix (Lake Charlevoix Mariners), or the charity of their choice.

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