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Remembering Seafarers Who Saved the Nation

19th November 2010
Remembering Seafarers Who Saved the Nation

City Quay in the centre of Dublin can be a cold place when the wind whips upriver from the open sea.

There was a 'bite' in the wind as I stood there in late November last year, recording the sounds of remembrance. Men, women and children stood in front of a monument where, on most days, traffic pours past and the great majority of people in those vehicles may not realise they are passing a hallowed spot which remembers men without whom this nation would have ground to a halt. This nation may be in a state of "economic war" at present, it was in a real state of war when those men died.

Every year, on the second last Sunday of November, this gathering takes place, when the men of the Irish mercantile marine who lost their lives at sea during the Second World War are remembered. Mass is celebrated in the City Quay Parish Church. Then there is a short walk to the Seamen's Memorial where wreaths are laid. That is followed by tea, coffee and a chat in the parish hall where it is a time of memories for former seafarers and their families. Friendships are renewed as the "family of the sea" gathers. In the afternoon, there is another Memorial Service St. Patrick's Cathedral.

These are poignant occasions which, in recent years, have been extended to embrace, remember and honour all Irish seafarers who have died at sea. The Maritime Institute of Ireland organises the event. Its Cork Branch also holds a remembrance service in November.

The month of November is an important one in the history of Irish maritime affairs.

It was on November 14, 1984 that the then Irish Government, a Fine Gael/Labour Coalition delivered a shattering blow to the Irish maritime industry. They put the national shipping company, Irish Shipping, into liquidation.

Those who took that decision have since put distance between themselves and the maritime sector. Garrett Fitzgerald was Taoiseach; Alan Dukes was the Minister for Finance in the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government which made that controversial decision, putting the first Irish State company into liquidation. Seafarers who had rallied to the call to help save the nation when the company was set up in World War Two were abandoned to their fate. Politicians did not want to remember that, at a time when neutral Ireland was being denied vital supplies by warring nations, seafarers saved the nation from disaster. The politicians who ruled the nation in 1984 abandoned them.

Shortly after they abandoned Irish Shipping, the Government was quick to rescue Allied Irish Banks and protect shareholders over the consequences of rash investment in insurance. Banks were more important than seafarers. It seems that not a lot has changed today in the attitude the Government takes towards banks, in comparison with the way it treats the people of this island nation.

• The Annual National Commemoration Services for Irish Seafarers will be held at 11.30 am this Sunday, November 21, in the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, City Quay, Dublin. Wreaths will be laid afterwards at the Irish Seaman's National Memorial on City Quay. There will also be a memorial ceremony of Evensong at 3.15 pm in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.

• This article is reprinted by permission of the EVENING ECHO newspaper, Cork, where Tom MacSweeney writes maritime columns twice weekly. Evening Echo website: www.eecho.ie

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