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Not Enough People Listen to the Sound of the Sea

28th December 2016
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A ship at Marina Point in Cork Harbour A ship at Marina Point in Cork Harbour

When I changed tack in my journalistic career and moved, after nearly 30 years from mainstream reporting to specialising in marine matters, I was told by a number of people that I would be “wasting my time” because it was a “lost cause”….

Sometimes, I have to admit, it has seemed like that … but overall I don’t regret the decision I made.

My interest in maritime matters began, in journalism, through first getting to know fishing communities in the coastal areas, sometimes unfortunately because of reporting tragedy… Their resilience, determination, loyalty and belief in the value of what they did, impressed me and underlined the difference, in my view, between the coastal, rural communities and the spread of urbanisation in Ireland, driven by State policies. 

The late Dr.John de Courcy Ireland once envisaged for me, in a description I have never forgotten, a group of men, attired in suits, standing on a cliff top in glorious weather, the sun shining on the seascape behind them … the surface of the sea dappled superbly as the waves lapped the shoreline and then he stressed, I said, Tom, “behind them…” Because they had their backs turned to the sea and were looking inwards, towards the land … Their focus was not on what the sea which surrounds this island and what it has to offer this island nation… … They had no thought, appreciation, or understanding of what the sea offered, he said, how essential it is to this small island on the western edge of Europe … Their thoughts were “inward looking” – not “outwards..”

And such their national policies have been, reducing the biggest economic resource this nation has to a lowly place in their priorities while they concentrated on what they termed “direct foreign investment…..” placing the nation’s dependence on outside factors, rather than nurturing its greatest resource……

“Those on the cliff top,” Dr de Courcy told me, “were the politicians and, the planners, the elite who thought they know what Ireland should be… but who were blind to the sea…”

I have thought, often, of those words and I consider them again now, as another year turns … one ends and another begins….and I wonder where the maritime sphere is in the national psyche.

My initial contacts with the fishing communities spread into knowing lifeboat people, boating people, sailing clubs, angling clubs, rowing clubs,, to island communities, seafarers and their organisations, dock and port workers and the wide myriad variety of the maritime community - groups, clubs, people, places, events and even including some politicians who understand the sea, though I cannot say that all do and the same applies to some decision-makers who understand the role of the sea, but not all.

And in my own profession of journalism, well it is also one where not enough understand the sea or its vital role in our national, island life.

The national media, with a small few exceptions, does not adequately report the maritime sphere….. which is why, despite being told that it was “a lost cause..” I will continue to do so… because I believe that appreciation and understanding of the sea is vital to an island nation…

Not enough people listen to the sound of the sea and that includes the State, industry and the media….

Ireland’s history recounts that some eight or nine thousand years ago the first people set foot on this island…. and they had to come across the sea….

Ignorance of history is one of the most negative attributes of modern man.

For a moment, imagine if we did not have ships, seafarers and ports, where would we be as an island people…….?

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