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Death of Sailor–Poet Danny Sheehy of Kerry after Currach Accident in Portugal

11th June 2017
Voyage with a purpose – Danny Sheehy’s currach making purposeful progress through the Hebrides during the first of his pilgrimage voyages, delivering an Irish Bible from Kerry to the Abbey founded by St Columba at Iona in Scotland Voyage with a purpose – Danny Sheehy’s currach making purposeful progress through the Hebrides during the first of his pilgrimage voyages, delivering an Irish Bible from Kerry to the Abbey founded by St Columba at Iona in Scotland Photo: Mark Tierney

In recent years, the voyaging of popular sailor-poet Danny Sheehy on the coasts of Europe in a Kerry currach has earned him many friends and admirers, even among those who have never personally met him, as his engaging personality and warm enthusiasm have been conveyed into many lives through several television documentaries.

His sudden death after an accident with the boat at the River Minho, on the northern border between Spain and Portugal, brings to a tragic end an unusual odyssey which began several years ago. It started when Danny and friends rowed the boat – which he had built himself - from Kerry north along the west coast of Ireland and then across turbulent waters to Iona in Scotland.

This was for a typically Danny Sheehy mission to provide the gift of an Irish Bible to the abbey there. Iona Abbey may originally have been founded by St Columba in 563AD, but its contemporary library lacked a copy of the Bible in Irish. The Kerry poet and his friends remedied this gap in the collection by personally delivering an Irish bible with a voyage reminiscent of the original expedition by Columba from Derry to Iona.

Typically, he did not simply row (and occasionally sail) directly back home the way he had come. Instead, he completed the return to Kerry by making it a round Ireland venture. Since then, Danny and a wide assortment of friends - including people as diverse as Holywood music Oscar winner Glen Hansard - have rowed the boat from Dublin along the ancient pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. They did it via a series of coastal passages, with noted long-distance sailor Paddy Barry accompanying them with his Frers 45 cutter An Seachran for the cross-channel sections to Wales, then Cornwall, and finally across to Brittany.

danny sheehy2The Kerry currach uses a bit of sail power in the final approaches to Iona. The late Danny Sheehy is forward by the mast. Photo: Mark Tierney

Once there, the little boat was able to continue on her own over a couple of summers, rowing right round the coast of the Bay of Biscay until northwest Spain was finally reached, and there the Kerry naomhog was conveyed up to the great cathedral in Santiago itself.

This year, a new chapter was being added to the odyssey with a passage down the west coasts of Spain and Portugal, and it was at the River Minho, with a crew including singer Liam O Maonlai of the Hothouse Flowers aboard, that the boat capsized.

The crew of four all ended up in the sea, but managed to get themselves to the nearest beach, though in a shaken state. It was after they’d reached shore that Danny was suddenly taken ill, and although rushed to the nearest hospital, he died soon after.

Our heartfelt sympathies and condolences are with his family and many friends and crewmates. Danny Sheehy was a very special person who greatly enriched our perception and understanding of Ireland’s relationship with the sea, and of life in the west and particularly in Kerry.

WMN

danny sheehy3Poet, sailor, boatbuilder, inspiration – Danny Sheehy RIP

Leave a comment

7 comments

  • Comment Link regina flynn 28th July 2017 posted by regina flynn

    We, a group of walkers from Galway were at the Cathedral in Santiago when Danny & his crew arrived complete with currach, music & poetry. It was memorable. Sincere condolences to Danny's family & friends on their loss. He is surely singing in heaven. Rest in Peace.

  • Comment Link Frank Callery 21st July 2017 posted by Frank Callery

    Sailing for the Land of Hy-Brasil
    (Don an fhile is mairnéalach, Danny Sheehy)

    You are sailing towards that star, so bright, so far —
    The loadstone of the soul knows where you are.
    You have sailed this way before,
    Through the dreams and through the lore,
    The waters, wild and magical and old,
    The legends of its whereabouts, oft told.

    There are no charts to mark your fateful course;
    Your eye can't see the stars in that gale force, 
    But you're steering by the heart
    Out beyond the wildest parts
    Of an ocean where your dreams are yet unborn;
    With hope, that calm will come before the dawn.

    Chorus
    Sail on, sail on, mo chroi!
    Across nine waves, where you’ll be free;
    Like a mystic legend on the hidden shore
    You name will print the sand, add to the lore,
    Of the sailor’s ancient tales that touch the heart
    In that magic of the sea, you’ll be a part.
    Your oar, the measure of the strength that brought
    The vision of the light your sailing sought.

    O look, beyond the mist that wraps your craft,
    The mist that looms before, and seals your aft.
    But the peaks that rose before
    Will greet your ardent stare once more
    And the coun will open suddenly and wide
    And your prow will reach the sands beyond the tide.
    — Raise your oar and let your beating heart be still 
    You are near the golden strand of Hy-Brasil. —

    Chorus
    Sail on, sail on, mo chroi
    They are waiting, can you see?
    The fairy queen you wove into the tale
    She has seen you spar and recognised you sail
    In a silence they will stand and wait until
    You foot has touched the sands of Hy-Brasil
    And the mists have closed behind, the drioch fulfilled.
    And you are welcomed to the land of Hy-brasil. — © Frank Callery, July 18th, 2017.

  • Comment Link Cian OSullivan 15th June 2017 posted by Cian OSullivan

    What a tragedy ! Danny was such a warm hearted individual and a talented man. My condolances to all the Sheehy family and Danny's many friends.

  • Comment Link Desi Wilkinson 13th June 2017 posted by Desi Wilkinson

    RIP Danny my friend. Had the pleasure of your company many times and rowed with you once. - thinking of all Sheehy family at this terribly sad time.

  • Comment Link John Mullins 12th June 2017 posted by John Mullins

    Had the pleasure of enjoying a couple of presentations during a Gaeleagras week in Corca Dhuibhne some years ago. What a man! What a person! Irish culture and the people of West Dingle were enriched by him. We are all somewhat diminished by his loss.

  • Comment Link matthew fitzmaurice 11th June 2017 posted by matthew fitzmaurice

    awfully sorry to lose a great kerryman and obviously a gentleman
    i hope all his friends are well .Condolences to his family

  • Comment Link matthew fitzmaurice 11th June 2017 posted by matthew fitzmaurice

    awfully sorry to lose a great kerryman and obviously a gentleman
    i hope all his friends are well .Condolences to his family

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