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Howth’s Balscadden Bay Evokes the Ghosts of W B Yeats and The Ginger Man in Tuesday’s Super-Moon

8th April 2020
With a moon like this, anything can happen……spooky thoughts are evoked by Tuesday’s super-moon over Balscadden Bay in Howth at a location of exceptional literary associations With a moon like this, anything can happen……spooky thoughts are evoked by Tuesday’s super-moon over Balscadden Bay in Howth at a location of exceptional literary associations Photo: Patricia Nixon

We’ll begin by making it clear that this remarkable image of Tuesday night’s super-moon over Balscadden Bay in Howth was taken at 2041hrs by a Howth resident within the prescribed two kilometres of her residence, using a carbon-neutral means of transport. And while the moon itself and the cloud with it have probably caused rumours of Unidentified Flying Objects (for they’re regular visitors to the peninsula and had scheduled flights to Mars before the lock-down), another area of interest is the high level of literary associations within this one remarkable photo.

For the little cliffside house at centre has a plaque which claims association with the Yeats family. But while the poet’s often penniless father John Butler Yeats did indeed briefly accommodate his family there around 1880, their two year stay in Howth in the early 1880s was in the harbour-side house where traditional boat enthusiast Mick Hunt and his wife Elaine now live. W B Yeats' sisters remembered it as only crowded, cold and damp, but as anyone who has visited the house today will know, Mick has achieved a miracle of transformation to make it a warm, dry, airy and welcoming place.

But in any case, the more immediate association of that little cliffside house, or the next one along to the right of the photo, is that Gaynor Crist, the original for J P Donleavy’s Ginger Man, lived there for a while in the 1940s when he was a GI Bill student at Trinity College. Many of us find a re-reading of The Ginger Man, so symbolic of our younger days, to be a rather depressing experience today, but nevertheless it reveals that while ensconced on the Balscadden cliffs in a rented house in which the waves moaned and crashed in the cliff caves close underneath, the Ginger Man found he was completely broke and very hungry.

But he noted that one of the beds was covered in a pink blanket. So he took the scissors from the kitchen and cut the blanket into strips, one of which he then modified into a passable resemblance of a scarf. As he favoured tweed jackets and rustic apparel, with this scarf he immediately became the very image a a Trinity sporting pink (the highly-respected TCD equivalent of an Oxford blue), and was thus able to stride with confidence down the the Balscadden Road and along the harbour front to Findlater’s splendid grocery emporium (these days it's Michael Wright’s gastro-pub of the same name), wherein he had no trouble running up a credit list as long as your arm of a substantial and comprehensive order of high quality victuals, which were then promptly delivered to Balscadden by one of the familiar Findlater vans.

It is not thought that the bill was ever paid…..As for Findlater’s in Howth, it is written for ever into local sailing history, for when the Howth 17 class got going in 1898, it was in their sailing instructions that “The time (for starts) to be taken from Findlater’s clock”.

Published in Coastal Notes
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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Coastal Notes Coastal Notes covers a broad spectrum of stories, events and developments in which some can be quirky and local in nature, while other stories are of national importance and are on-going, but whatever they are about, they need to be told.

Stories can be diverse and they can be influential, albeit some are more subtle than others in nature, while other events can be immediately felt. No more so felt, is firstly to those living along the coastal rim and rural isolated communities. Here the impact poses is increased to those directly linked with the sea, where daily lives are made from earning an income ashore and within coastal waters.

The topics in Coastal Notes can also be about the rare finding of sea-life creatures, a historic shipwreck lost to the passage of time and which has yet many a secret to tell. A trawler's net caught hauling more than fish but cannon balls dating to the Napoleonic era.

Also focusing the attention of Coastal Notes, are the maritime museums which are of national importance to maintaining access and knowledge of historical exhibits for future generations.

Equally to keep an eye on the present day, with activities of existing and planned projects in the pipeline from the wind and wave renewables sector and those of the energy exploration industry.

In addition Coastal Notes has many more angles to cover, be it the weekend boat leisure user taking a sedate cruise off a long straight beach on the coast beach and making a friend with a feathered companion along the way.

In complete contrast is to those who harvest the sea, using small boats based in harbours where infrastructure and safety poses an issue, before they set off to ply their trade at the foot of our highest sea cliffs along the rugged wild western seaboard.

It's all there, as Coastal Notes tells the stories that are arguably as varied to the environment from which they came from and indeed which shape people's interaction with the surrounding environment that is the natural world and our relationship with the sea.

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