Following WM Nixon's review of the launch of Paddy Barry's book So Far So Good, An Adventurous Life last September, artist and Round–the–World Sailor Pete Hogan recommends the memoir of the Irish sailor who has followed St Brendan’s wake both actually and metaphorically.
France has its hard men, like Eric Taberly. England has Bill Tilman, sailing to mountain and ice. Ireland has Paddy Barry and he has written a super memoir of an adventurous life.
I’ve known Paddy since around 1984 when he was preparing to take his hooker Saint Patrick across the Atlantic to New York. Which he went on to do. I have followed his sailing exploits ever since. They are so many that I am unable to list them here but they are all listed in this absorbing memoir which he has written.
Paddy, grows up in Cork and Dublin of the 40’s and 50’s. He hits the workforce in the early 60’s, describing those hard times and good times in Ireland with sympathy and balance. He does not complain but gets on with the job and lives life to the full even if, in those frugal days, things were different. This is not a tirade against church and state. Courtship, marriage and family are deftly handled. Overseas work as far afield as San Francisco and Malawi are sketched in.
Building projects in Ireland read like a fascinating social history.
Gradually boats and sailing start to become more important in his life. In 1973 he buys the hooker Saint Patrick, the eureka moment, surely an imaginative, momentous and courageous thing to do. It sets him on his path and is to dominate his life for the next 29 years.
The Saint Patrick’s restoration, all of her adventures, her rebuilding as well as her sad end, are related. But Paddy does not look back. Sailing continues to dominate his life and he develops an interest in mountaineering. Tilman-like he finds mountains in inaccessible places and climbs them or brings along others to climb them.
The Northwest and Northeast passages, numerous trips to the ice, the re-enactment of the Shackleton crossing to South Georgia are just a few of the highlights of the book. The full list is impressive indeed.
Paddy writes in an understated, modest style. Sometimes the self-effacing humour is lost in the understatement. His engineer’s sensibility aims for accuracy of detail and completeness rather than exaggeration or hyperbole. The achievement is glossed over and he sets his sights on the next adventure.
He follows in St Brendan’s wake both actually and metaphorically. It is not stated but it is obvious that Paddy’s voyaging is the pilgrimage of his life, the expression of a deep spirituality. Paddy’s quiet demeanour and earnest style inspires a wonderful band of followers to embark on his voyages with him. Hard men, (and they are usually men), they all get a mention and a compliment. Thus it must have been for St Brendan and his faithful band of acolytes as they sailed forth on their quest.
It is easy for the single hander to sail off on an adventure in any sort of vessel to any destination no matter how foolhardy or ill prepared. The single hander has only themselves to consider. To recruit a full crew, some of whom have never sailed before and bring them over the horizon requires a much higher level of responsibility and leadership. To bring them back home safely is a requisite. To still be on speaking terms with one another is an added bonus. This Paddy consistently achieves, voyage after voyage and the crew are happy to sign up for the next adventure.
The Irishness of Paddy and his achievement is a consistent leitmotif of the book. He sails forth as an ambassador for the sailors of Ireland. It is important to go as far as the sailors from any other nation have gone but also to have the craic and do it in a proud Irish style. To go yachting is not really in the Gaelic tradition but Paddy and his crew embrace it. They bring their music, smiles and cead mile failte to distant lands and peoples living on the edge.
‘So Far so Good’ by Paddy Barry deserves to take its place on the book shelf beside the ‘Navigatio’ of St Brendan and ‘Across Three Oceans’ by Conor O’Brien.
I recommend this book thoroughly as a testament to Irish voyaging, cruising and adventuring. Paddy announces his retirement in the final pages of his book. Henceforward he will confine himself to the bays and hills of his beloved Connemara. He will be a hard act to follow.
Buy a copy of the Paddy Barry's So Far So Good, An Adventurous Life at €19.95 here