Jo English obituary: Inspiration to a generation of sailors

She co-managed Sail Cork, the sailing school based in Cobh, with her husband Eddie and the couple also brought groups on chartered boats in the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas for 20 years

Born: January 29th, 1965

Died: April 8th, 2024

Jo English was a sailor, a sea swimmer, a professional caterer and amazing cook, a mother of two and an optimistic, enthusiastic person who made friends wherever she went.

She co-managed SailCork, the sailing school based in Cobh, County Cork, with her husband Eddie until shortly before her death at age 59.

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“For almost 20 years the couple also ran SailCork’s “sunshine yachting holidays”, bringing groups on chartered boats in the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas. She became adept at cooking exceptional meals in the galleys of boats, shopping for fresh supplies at local markets and booking evening meals in the best restaurants along their routes. Antigua, the British Virgin Islands, Grenada and the Grenadines were her favourite destinations.

“I did the teaching and Jo did the catering. We enjoyed it and made great friends with people who came on the boats,” said Eddie English.

Although her original training was in catering, Jo brought her excellent administration and business management skills to running the sailing school with her husband, who set up SailCork in 1974 and remains the head instructor.

“She did the work of two people. We are in the dark without her,” Eddie added.

The couple met through mutual friends at a party in January 2001 and married within the year. Two years later, she gave up her job in Brennan’s catering emporium in Cork City to join Eddie at the helm of SailCork, which offers courses in yachting, dinghy sailing and powerboating in Cork Harbour and on the south coast of Ireland.

A fast learner, she first completed all the sailing courses the business offered – often with Eddie as the instructor – and also took over a lot of the administration, dividing her time between the business and rearing of their two children, Aisling (20) and Eamonn (18).

The family home on East Hill in Cobh – overlooking Cork Harbour – was an open house, with friends and international sailing instructors regularly enjoying Jo’s hospitality and delicious home cooking.

Royal Cork Yacht Club admiral Annamarie Fegan, former minister for the marine Simon Coveney and former Water Safety Ireland CEO John Leech were among the many people who paid tribute following her death. SailCork said she was a strength and inspiration to a generation of sailors and power-boaters and to a large team of instructors.

The eldest of seven children of Noreen and Connie O’Connor, Jo grew up on a farm in Fairyhill near Kanturk, Co Cork. After her secondary school education in Scoil Mhuire in Kanturk, she studied hotel and catering management at Galway Institute of Technology from 1983-1986. Soon after graduating she moved to work in hotels in San Francisco for two years, staying with her brother, Donal, who was already based there.

Back in Ireland, she worked in the Blarney Park Hotel. In the mid-1990s, she opened her own cafe and deli, The Bluebell Nook, in Mallow. Her sister, Trish Gallagher, who worked with her in the cafe for a time, said Jo had a great relationship with her regular customers.

“The cafe was renowned for its freshly filled doorstop sandwiches. She always knew what her customers would have and people remember those days very fondly,” said Trish.

Adventure beckoned and in the late 1990s, she set off on her travels again – this time across Europe and on to Thailand. Upon her return, she worked for a time in catering department of the Mercy Hospital in Cork and then as a manager in Brennan’s catering emporium in the city.

She later became a daily sea swimmer at Cuskinny Bay in Cork Harbour. The group of women in their 50s became known as the Cuskinny Open Water Swimmers or COWS for short. Family holidays were spent cruising on boats with friends on the south coast of Ireland or off the coast of Spain.

Although her life revolved around sailing and family life, Jo remained very close to her siblings and parents, often hosting gatherings in Cobh where everyone could meet up.

“She was always looking out for us all and put everyone else first,” Trish added.

At his wife’s funeral, Eddie said: “Some people tell me I’m unlucky – but I consider myself very lucky. I’ve had the most wonderful 22 years with my best friend, my lover, my wife and my business partner. She was absolutely everything to me.”

Jo English is survived by her husband Eddie, their children Aisling and Eamonn, her mother Noreen, her siblings Donal, Niall, Bernard, Trish and Kevin. Her father Connie and her brother Dominic predeceased her.

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