Displaying items by tag: Tom MacSweeney
#islandnation – "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards."
It was Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, a 19th century Danish philosopher and theologian, who penned those words. His approach to philosophy was to leave the reader of his words to discover the meaning.
The philosophical approach of Kierkegaard relates in my thoughts to the State attitude towards the maritime sphere. Without seafarers and the sea this island nation could not survive. That fact appears to still elude the understanding of many in Government administration. Looking backwards, I appreciate the launch in mid-year of the Government's plan for the development of the maritime sector when Enda Kenny said:
"As Taoiseach, I want to see us reconnect to the sea in a way that harnesses the ideas, innovation and knowledge of all our people, at home and abroad. I want to see us setting out to secure for ourselves and our children the social, cultural and economic benefits that our marine assets can deliver."
Encouraging words at the announcement of the Government's integrated marine plan for Ireland – "HARNESSING OUR OCEAN WEALTH".
But, as Kierkeggard, said: "life must be lived forwards..." so I wait to discover what the Taoiseach meant by those words and to see how the plan is developed into 2015.
Reflection and resolution are traditional at this time of the year, so in pursuance of the thinking of Kierkegaard I reflect on my first year of broadcasting outside of the State service, an experience which has been interesting and which has underlined to me the importance of developing community, by co-operation, through opinion and action. From starting with just one radio station there are now four broadcasting THIS ISLAND NATION fortnightly, in Cork, Dublin and Clare and with, hopefully, more to join "the family of the sea" in the year ahead and two websites, including Afloat.ie
This edition of THIS ISLAND NATION looks back at some of the community-based stories broadcast in the past year.
Fair sailing into the New Year...
#islandnation – I have told my wife that my boat is not an inanimate object, that it does talk to me, which has generated the response that it costs enough, but does it ever explain why?
It may not be capable of vocal expression in terms of the delivery of a voice message, I have responded, but it certainly has an audio capability and a 'feel' to it, which lets me know when she (referring to my boat again) is unhappy with her situation, or the demands which I am making upon her.
When advancing this view to my wife in discussion, it has had less than a positive response and other people, perhaps not of a maritime vintage, do not accept my view that boats can talk, but I remain convinced that boats can and do talk in a particular manner. In the current edition of THIS ISLAND NATION which you can hear here, I am in discussion with Sean Walsh, President of the Old Gaffers' Association, about the love of boats and he tells me that he would not part with his beloved gaffer, Tir na nÓg of Howth.
"I sailed on a gaffer and I found the experience so extraordinary when I sailed on it for eleven years and then bought it and have sailed it for 22 years. My boat is a Falmouth Oyster and she is magnificent. These old gaffers were built for working fishermen and they fulfilled that brief perfectly in the same way as the Galway hookers fulfilled their brief," Sean told me when I interviewed him at one of those great locations for gatherings of the old gaffer, the Poolbeg Yacht and Boat Club in Ringsend, one of the great maritime locations of Dublin..
"Their sea kindliness, their ability, their composure in bad weather and a bad sea is, I found, totally extraordinary and I had never experienced anything like it and they look so bewitchingly beautiful in their full rig with a topsail and mainsail and I was bewitched when I first sailed on an old gaffer and I still am.
"I have been sailing Tir na nÓg of Howth for 22 years now and can never see myself sailing another boat."
There speaks a man who loves his boat.
Ah, if only old boats could talk, but there are sailors and owners, myself included, who believe that boats are not totally inanimate objects, but have a life and can, in their own way, talk to you at sea, letting you know how they feel as they cope with conditions.
What do you think – do boats talk?
John Hollahan accompanies the interview, singing 'If old Boats Could Talk'...
but perhaps they do, at least to some people..... me included.
The song is from the CD 'Songs for The River Men' which was compiled by the local community along the Suir Estuary when the three Bolger brothers, Paul, Kenny and Shane from Passage East in Co Waterford died after their 19ft fishing boat capsized outside Tramore Bay in June of last year. Paul, 49, was a father-of-one, his 44-year-old brother Shane had two young children and their 47-year-old brother Kenny was a single man.
On the programme you can also hear why tyres from a factory which closed down over 30 years ago are arriving on East Cork beaches and why the first-ever Christmas sea swim for charity, which started the tradition, will not be held this year.
The theme tune of THIS ISLAND NATION is 'Sailing By,' with which I led my maritime programme, SEASCAPES, on RTE for over 20 years. Now it sails on new airwaves. I hope you enjoy the programme.
#seascapes – The maritime community in Ireland is a mystery to the vast majority of the rest of the population. Admittedly anyone Irish will sing enthusiastically about how good it is to be entirely surrounded by water. But for most folk among a people who like to think that they're basically rural even if the reality is they're increasingly urban, the sea is seen as no more than a useful barrier, while the coast is only briefly a fun place at the very height of a good summer.
The sea and the coastal interface are not seen as an exciting world in itself, a unique environment which deserves to be explored, enjoyed and utilised in practical and often beneficial ways. On the contrary, the popular view of the plain people of Ireland is that the less they know about the sea, the better. And the unspoken corollary of this is that anyone who seeks to go to sea for recreation is at best a bit odd, maybe even a misfit ashore, while those who work on the sea only do so because they couldn't get a job on land.
Here at Afloat.ie, in its various manifestations over the past 52 years, we've been trying to spread mutual understanding and useful information among the many and varied strands of those who go afloat for sport and recreation in Ireland and beyond. We know this is largely a matter of preaching to the converted. But we also try to do our bit to welcome those who may be newcomers to the world of boats, while remaining keenly aware of the drawbacks of over-selling our sport, our hobby – our obsession, if you wish.
Sailing and boating in Ireland can be rugged enough. Thus the sport in all its forms can only expand in a sustainable way if it attracts people who will themselves bring something positive to the party, for interacting usefully with boats is not a passive affair. And there has been a certain level of success. Over the years, while there was an understandable blip in boating numbers during the recent recession, the graph has been reasonably healthy when it's remembered that rival sport and entertainment attractions are proliferating all the time, while the increasing availability of holidays afloat in sunnier climates makes the promotion of boating activity within Ireland more problematic.
Fifty-two years ago, beginning a process of regular communication among Ireland's recreational boating community was quite a challenge. But it was a very straightforward project compared with inaugurating a regularly weekly broadcast maritime programme for all listeners on national radio in a country notably averse to the sea. Yet it all began 25 years ago, and it's still going strong.
So how do you celebrate 25 years of a niche radio programme, a little Irish maritime magazine of the air? It would be too much to expect a documentary on primetime television. And even an extra-long gala edition on the national radio airwaves at peak listening times might well be counter-productive. So it seems the answer is that the best way to celebrate 25 years of Seascapes on RTE Radio 1 is to publish a book well-filled with some of the key broadcasts with which it has been associated. And as those now-printed broadcasts include a maritime-themed series of the prestigious Thomas Davis Lectures, you mark the anniversary by sending out those as broadcasts again in their own right twelve years after their first transmission.
It may all sound almost devious, a matter of managing to slip the Seascapes celebrations in under the RTE management radar. But those of us who have been banging the maritime development drums for a very long time are well aware that, though the tide is definitely turning, there's still a huge underlying resistance to anything to do with the sea and boats, and it takes an element of cunning to get the message across such that, in time, the people are themselves singing from the same hymn sheet, and thinking it was all their idea in the first place.
But the founder of Seascapes 25 years ago, RTE's Cork reporter Tom MacSweeney, makes your average terrier look like a tired old dog. A sailing and maritime enthusiast himself even though his family had been from a non-maritime background, he had as a child in Cork been inspired by his grandfather's great respect for seafarers, and the vital task they performed in keeping Ireland connected with the rest of the world. He could see the sea all about us, and Cork is the most maritime of cities. So he just kept nagging RTE until they gave him a quarter of an hour once a week back in 1989 to put on a maritime programme for an island nation. And though it has been shifted around in the schedules, it is now a solid half hour every Friday night at 10.30pm, a worthy fulfilment of RTE's public service remit - you really do get a sense of Seascape's nationwide listening community, while podcasts make it more accessible than ever.
The sheer volume of material from all round Ireland's coasts, from our lakes and rivers, and from Irish seafarers abroad, is simply monumental, a treasure trove. So in producing the book (it's published by Liffey Press at €20 with all royalties going to the Lifeboat Service), they'd to wield a fierce scalpel. And though it includes the complete set of Thomas Davis lectures from twelve years ago, it's still of manageable size (in other words, you can read it in bed), while giving a good overview and flavour of the kind of material Seascapes broadcasts, and what we might call the house style.
In Tom MacSweeney's days of producing and presenting it from 1989 until he retired from RTE in January 2010, it has to be agreed that very occasionally the nagging which got Seascapes its slot in the first place sometimes spilled over onto the airwaves in the programme itself. Okay, we all know that Ireland is not as sea-minded as it might be. But things are slowly improving in this, and they might improve more quickly if the maritime movement relied more on the path of gentle encouragement and inspiring example rather than constantly reiterating the tedious refrain of "the government should do this, the government should do that....."
From time to time, I have to confess I thought the worst possible thing was to get the government involved at all, having seen what the official encouragement and enforcement of the Irish language had achieved since the establishment of the state. There'd be occasions when you'd think the best way to turn the Irish into a nation of doughty sailors would be to declare seafaring illegal. The people would have taken to boats in their droves....But nevertheless the tide is slowly but definitely turning, and in today's less frenetic atmosphere of businesslike maritime promotion and development, we're becoming more comfortable in our relationship with the sea.
Man of the sea. Rear Admiral Mark Mellett DSM on exercises with the Naval Service off the Cork coast.
So it was entirely appropriate that, in the launching of the Seascape's compendium Sailing By, the main speaker in both the Cork Harbour Commissioners' building on the Friday night (November 28th), and in the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire on Monday, was Rear Admiral Mark Mellett DSM, our most distinguished navy man, who has risen to the august heights of Deputy Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces.
If you requested Central Casting to provide an Irish Admiral who conveys the expected air of competence with the necessary gravitas and presence, while still having that essential Irish twinkle, then they'd send you Mark Mellett. We'd most of us heard of his steady rise through the senior ranks, but for many of us in the National Maritime Museum on a damp December night, it was the first experience of seeing Admiral Mellett in a professional and public capacity. For people from a very wide range of interests and activities in the maritime sphere, it was very encouraging – we feel we now have a spokesman who can ably represent us at every level, however formal or high powered, while at the same time retaining the human touch.
Top people at the launching of the Seascapes book Sailing By are (left to right) Cllr Marie Baker (Cathaoirleach of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council), Rear Admiral Mark Mellett DSM (Deputy Chief of Staff , Defence Forces), Marcus Connaughton of Seascapes, and Richard McCormick, President of the National Maritime Museum. Admiral Mellett is being presented with the book The Atlantic Coast of Ireland, as he already has his own copy of Sailing By – he wrote the foreword.
His enthusiasm is palpable, and he provided a foreword for the book which speaks from the heart, yet provides a practical and businesslike outlook. In fact, that was the flavour of the evening in the National Maritime Museum, as it was hosted by Richard McCormick, the recently elected President of the National Maritime Museum, and the speakers included the Cathaoirleach of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Cllr. Marie Baker, and Tom McGuire, head of RTE Radio 1, who knows better than anyone just what has been needed to keep Seascapes on the airwaves for 25 years.
Most of all it has of course been the sheer dogged determination of Tom MacSweeney working on his own as producer and presenter in RTE's Cork studio, followed by his successor Marcus Connaughton, who came in as producer when the Thomas Davis Lectures were added to an already almost impossibly demanding schedule in 2002, and stayed on to become presenter eight years later.
They're two very different people. Tom is so involved and enthusiastic that occasionally his own personality, opinions and attitudes cloud the issue. He's a complex man with many interests, not least of them being a national Vice President of the St Vincent de Paul Society. But as regular visitors to Afloat.ie will know, he continues to broadcast his own maritime programmes through community radio, and he's a much-sought-after speaker on sea matters. Recently, he gave a sold-out talk - How Stands Our Island Nation? - to the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association in the Poolbeg Y&BC, and while he had the usual serious message, it was leavened by his sharp wit, with the laugh of the evening being provided by his reading of the pained official letter from an Irish Lights Manager complaining about the sheer incompetence and slovenly carelessness of Brendan Behan when he was employed as a painter renovating the St John's Point lighthouse in County Down.
That said, it was a telling lesson in the importance or otherwise of maritime affairs in Ireland's national and cultural life in times past, that the story of a noted playwright making a complete hames of painting a lighthouse was something you knew would register more readily with a general audience than anything of more direct nautical interest, and it is an awareness of the need to reach out gently to the general public which sets the tone of Marcus Connaughton's presentation of Seascapes.
He arrived in the job first as producer, and then as producer/presenter, with no personal baggage in maritime matters. His background was in music production and public relations, and a couple of years ago he brought seventeen years of research and writing to a successful conclusion with the defining biography of Rory Gallagher. But gradually he has become absorbed in and intrigued by the world of boats and the sea. As one of the speakers on Monday night put it, one of the most quietly impressive peformances you'll see is Marcus – who is by no means a small man – sidling into the crowd at some maritime gathering, armed with microphone and recorder, ready and willing to give a voice to the voiceless.
Man at work – Marcus Connaughton records the memories of Alan Martin and Jimmy Carthy of the Dublin Dockworkers Preservation Society
Tim Magennis (left) President of the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association, with Marcus Connaughton. Once upon a time, they were work colleagues in the PR Department of Bord Failte
The book launch begins to become a party – Con Murphy of the National YC (left) and Brian Craig of the Royal St George YC getting their copies of Sailing By signed by Marcus Connaughton in the National Maritime Museum. Photo: W M Nixon
The changeover to a new presenter was fairly gradual, but very marked in one thing – he changed the signature tune. When Seascapes started in 1989, they simply borrowed the music which precedes the BBC Shipping Forecast, Ronald Binge's "Sailing By".
"Sailing By" in almost any form is the sound of syrup being poured over sugar lumps, but some folk loved it, so the change to the brisk tone of Simon Mayer's The Reel Thing wasn't universally popular, even if welcomed by those of us trying to cut down on the sucrose.
Yet it's surely an appropriate 25th anniversary sweetener that the published compendium of Seascapes stories is titled Sailing By, and the cover is a fine photo of the renowned pilot cutter Jolie Brise sailing by the Fastnet Rock. It was taken by Brian Carlin of Tralee, who subsequently went on to be the award-winning photographer aboard the Volvo 65 Team Vestas, which unfortunately managed to do some excessive impactive navigation off Mauritius during the Volvo World race last weekend. It was certainly not the photographer's fault, but it heightened the sense of an Irish maritime community worldwide that at Monday night's gathering, Marcus was able to tell us that not only was Brian all right, but that in contacting his father to say so, he requested that the message be passed on to Seascapes as soon as possible.
One of award-winning photographer Brian Carlin's studies of Jolie Brise sailing by the Fastnet Rock. Photo: Brian Carlin
The top moment – it's 2005, and the Seascapes team are on board Asgard II as she leads the Dunbrody of New Ross, and the Jeanie Johnston of Tralee, in the Parade of Sail at the Tall Ships visit to Waterford. Photo: Dave Osborne
As for Marcus's own special recollections of his years with Seascapes, we allowed him six and he ranked them: (1) Being on Asgard II in Waterford with the Tall Ships in 2005, (2) at sea off Hook Head with Martin Colfer amidst enormous schools of lively dolphins, (3) in Galway during both Volvo visits, (4) being far up his beloved Munster Blackwater beyond Ballinatray at the top of the tide, (5) celebrating 25 years of the Killybegs Fishermen's Association at a monster party in the great Donegal port, and (6) being in the renovated National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire when it was re-opened by President Michael D Higgins.
Presidential thoughts of the sea and seafaring in Ireland – Seascapes interviews President Higgins after he has re-opened the restored National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Margaret Brown
Seascapes was of course broadcast as usual last night at 10.30pm, and Marcus Connaughton will be signing copies of Sailing By in Waterstones in Cork this afternoon from 2.0pm to 5.0pm. The first of the six Thomas Davis lectures from 20012 – Paddy Barry's lyrical account of sailing round Ireland – will be broadcast on Friday December 19th, and they'll continue weekly until the final one on February 6th, which is my own item about why most people in Ireland think sailing enthusiasts are so odd. As mentioned at the Glandore Summer School in July, I've changed my mind about some aspects of that, and I'll probably have changed it yet again when Marcus provides me with the space for further thoughts on the matter on Seascapes some time after February 6th.
But meanwhile, happy birthday to Seascapes – you provide a wonderful example of genuine public service broadcasting.
#islandnation – On this edition of THIS ISLAND NATION podcast I question Government policy towards two aspects of the marine sphere and ask how much confidence can be placed in the much-hyped plan to create Ocean Wealth writes Tom MacSweeney.
Several times the operation of Howth Harbour in County Dublin has been raised with me and on the programme I interview a young marine engineer who claims that the Department of the Marine has, for the past three years, been obstructing his attempts to start a marine engineering repair business there which could create jobs. But, the Department doesn't want such a facility in Howth, he claims. So what is the reality of the Government's promise to create more maritime jobs, if the Department responsible for the marine sphere is not in tune with that plan?
Add to all of that the situation in which nine offshore islands, which don't speak Irish, find that the Minister for the Environment has decided to cut off funding for community development offices on the islands and you might just wonder what is going on in this island nation? The money involved is €600,000 – not a lot in the context of overall Government spending and the Islands' Federation, the Chairman of which I talk to on the programme, maintains that the ending of support for the creation of jobs on the islands and the provision of other essential social and technological supports, could create depopulation on some of them, off the Cork and Western coastlines.
Such is the way aspects of the maritime sphere are being treated these days.
#islandnation – In the maritime context there are probably several answers to that question, varying from legal to illegal, to elements of sex for sale to sailors at ports around the world, interpretations of the life of the sailor with a 'girl in every port' and so on. There is also the derogatory term "fish wife," often cast around in arguments between husbands and wives.
The value of women in a maritime context is one of the subjects in this fortnight's edition of my radio programme, THIS ISLAND NATION, to which you can – and should – listen above. Jim McLaughlin from University College, Cork, questions the failure of maritime history to recognise women as an integral part of the fishing industry and to appreciate the role of fishermen's wives, such as the tough women of the Claddagh in Galway. He says they have been ignored. The Galwegian women were so good to their fishing husbands that they met the boats on arrival back from the fishing grounds, carried their men ashore from the vessels on their backs, then filleted the fish and sold the catch.
Now there are women of substance for you!
Joe Varley, a Dublin man who has done an extraordinary amount of research work on maritime history, adds in the programme that another aspect of maritime history which has been ignored is that of smuggling. Rush in North Dublin was a great place for it and there's smuggler's cave on the coastline between Loughshinney and Skerries which was used by Jack Connor, a 'romantic and swashbuckling character' who was popular in then 'high society,' according to description and it contains treasure he stole. It is reputed to be guarded by a green serpent, but has never been properly located. Anyone with information, let me know please!
On the programme too you will hear beautiful music and song of the sea performed by the fishermen and fisherwomen of Newfoundland and Labrador, 'fish wives' certainly, but of a highly respectable and dedicated kind. They are part of a group which has toured the world called "Sea People," formed after the Newfoundland cod fishery collapsed in the mid-90s and who dedicated themselves to keeping alive the memory and traditions of the sea.
Those are the kind of people we need. Listen to them here and enjoy the sound of the sea.
Until next week, the usual wish of ..... "fair sailing" ........
#islands – On Thursday, October 9, not enough TDs turned up in the Dáil to create a quorum for the business of our national Parliament. The Opposition accused the Government parties of being responsible and of showing lack of commitment to the affairs of the nation.
One of the affairs of the nation to which the Dáil shows lack of interest is the maritime sphere.
The Government is particularly culpable in this regard and is ignoring two reports which it commissioned on the maritime sphere and coastal communities.
I wrote last week about this neglect, questioning in particular the Government's dilution of maritime affairs by moving them into several departments.
This attitude is underlined by the manner in which it has refused to give time to discuss the Oireachtas Committee report on coastal and island communities which was presented to them in January of this year and the CEDRA Report which also made recommendations about maritime affairs.
The Oireachtas Committee which examined and reported on the Islands and Coastal Communities made a request for a national conference to be held by Departments with responsibilities in the maritime sphere. It also called for a debate in the Dáil and Senate on the issues it had highlighted of neglect and failures to support these communities. The Committee highlighted, amongst other issues, that State 'governance arrangements' were "not the best working model."
The Government has not given debate time nor have any of the Departments with involvement in the marine sphere done anything to organise a national conference involving those in the marine sphere to debate the issues. There were more than 30 recommendations in the report, ranging from maritime tourism to the seaweed industry.
Since the report was delivered the State company, Arramara, was sold off by Udaras na Gaeltachta. Questions have been raised about this, the sale has been subject to a lot of criticism, but there has been no Dáil or Senate debate on why another maritime resource, the property of the people of the nation, was sold to private interests. This was done despite the objections of seaweed growers who have alleged that their livelihoods were being destroyed.
Another maritime report by a Commission set up by the Government, which has been ignored since it was delivered, is the CEDRA Report (Commission for Economic Development of Rural Areas) which concluded that there should be 'plan-led' development of Ireland's marine territory to support economic targets and goals set out in the Government's Ocean Wealth Plan. It challenged the Government's commitment to this plan and whether it will, as a result, be effective.
The Chairman of CEDRA, former Kerry footballer and analyst Pat Spillane, did not know that the State company, Arramara, was being sold off by Udaras na Gaeltachta when his Commission recommended that the Government must set up "a regulatory development framework for the State's seaweed sector, both wild and cultivated," which would have economic and employment prospects for national benefit.
Neither did the Chairman of the Oireachtas Fisheries Committee, Andrew Doyle, T.D., know about the Government's agreement to sell off this State company and national resource, when his Committee made a similar recommendation to that of CEDRA's.
Both of these recommendations by State-appointed review bodies, were ignored by the Government. Is this not a clear indication of disregard for the maritime sector?
There are a lot of unanswered questions about how and why this sale was carried out and the effects it will have on the seaweed industry, such as why employment and potential economic benefits were ignored, as were those for whom it provided a livelihood.
Why has this sale not been made an issue for debate in the Dáil? Where are TDs and the national media in challenging aspects of it and asking for explanations?
The public reaction of the CEDRA Chairman to the Government's lack of response to his Commission's Report, which also made recommendations, as did the Oireachtas Committee, about the development of marine tourism and marinas, suggests that the Government's real commitment, away from the public relations spin, may be lacking.
In contrast to the frustration of lack of sufficient p Government focus and commitment to the maritime sector, there is the determination of people like Caitlin Ni Aodha from Helvick in County Waterford. In January of 2012 Caitlin stood on the quayside at Union Hall in West Cork when the Tit Bonhomme trawler tragedy occurred and her husband, Michael, and members of the crew died.
Caitlin Ni Aodha from Helvick in County Waterford
In the latest edition of my fortnightly half-hour radio programme, THIS ISLAND NATION, which you can hear here, I talk on the quayside at Howth to Caitlin as her new boat is launched, a 23-metre prawn freezer. She says that over the last few years she had learned a lot about life, about how good things happened, tragedies occurred, but life had to go on and it was important to do the best one can in life:
"People suffer tragedies, everything is not always easy. Michael and the Tit Bonhomme will be with me for ever. Every day I think of them, but I must do the very best I can with my life."
It is not possible to maximise opportunities from the sea without a strong maritime culture. The Government and its officials could follow that approach to improve their attitude towards the fishing and marine industries. They could also listen to and benefit from hearing the determination of the man in charge of the State's newest naval vessel, Lt.Cdr.Tony Geraghty of the L.E.Samuel Beckett, on the programme. He outlines his determination to demonstrate the public the value of investment in the maritime sphere through the new ship. The ship is a positive State commitment, but the Government generally needs to do much more to show it appreciates that is responsible for the entire welfare of an island nation and to cherish all of its people equally.
Until next week, the usual wish of ..... "fair sailing" ........
Twitter: @AfloatMagazine @Tom MacSweeney
#islandnation – This month, Caitlin Ni Aodha, widow of the Skipper of the Tit Bonhomme who drowned in that trawler tragedy in West Cork, talks to us on the pier at Howth in County Dublin as she launched the new fishing boat she has bought about how she feels returning to the industry and overcoming the grief and tragedy.
The Commander of the Navy's newest ship, the LE Samuel Beckett, Lt. Cdr. Tony Geraghty, describes his role and how the ship causes him some concern when it goes quiet and uses the alternative electric motors instead of diesel to save fuel.
And we have reports from the RNLI and the Irish Water Safety Association.
This Island Nation is now broadcast fortnightly, the next programme will air on Community Radio Youghal and on other stations around the country during the week commencing the 20th of October.
#islandnation – Why is it that women have been written out of the history of the Irish fishing industry and that in Ireland we ignore the economic opportunities which can be obtained from associating with pirates?
Those are two of the fascinating questions which arose at the symposium about the Irish Sea held in the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire on Saturday.
The "History, Culture, Environment" of the Irish Sea and whether it should be considered a place, a sea, or a connecting corridor of social, economic and trade importance between the people on both sides of the sea, would that seem a topic of general or limited interest to you?
It should be and what emerged during the day-long symposium was fascinating.
For example, they liked their smugglers in Rush in North County Dublin, so much that in the 1800s the Revenue could only get one man to remain in the village for any length of time before he was chased out, as the locals preferred the smugglers. But why, Joe Varley of the Institute asked, when presenting research done by Maighread Ní Murchadha about the Irish Revenue Boatmen from 1684-1766, do we Irish not make more of the opportunities which the maritime history about smugglers now makes available?
"I think we are a bit behind in the way we develop that. You go to Devon and Cornwall there is every escapade, whether real or made up, about smugglers. There are Smugglers' Coves, Smugglers' Inns, festivals about smuggling and they all attract people into the areas, so there is a great commercial potential. So why in the various parts of Ireland where there are smugglers' traditions, is that not used?
"They loved their smugglers in Rush. There were seven Revenue Boatmen in Skerries, seven in Portrane, eight or nine down in Malahide, all around the same area, in the 18th and early 19th centuries, which was the golden age of smuggling, but always just one brave soul in Rush and he wasn't very welcome! Indeed the locals weren't very welcoming to the Revenue generally and used them for their own purposes. In some areas those who operated as smugglers even gave them accommodation in their own homes as lodgers, so they would know when the Revenue were out on patrol and they could time their smuggling for when the Revenue were ashore!"
So, just think of all the opportunities around the coast to benefit from historical smuggling – not mind you the current type we have seen in recent years with drugs smuggling!
In the 18th century Rush (pictured below) was regarded as a "Smugglers' nest." One of the most well-known smugglers from there was Luke Ryan, born locally in 1750. He emigrated to France and obtained a commission as a Lieutenant in Dillon's Irish Regiment. After some time he returned to Rush and began operating as a smuggler between Ireland and France.
From 1775 until 1783 France sympathised with the Americans during the War of Independence and the French government commissioned Ryan as the Commander of a privateer, The Black Prince, which for several years plundered English ships around the English coast. In 1782 English forces captured Ryan and he was convicted in the Old Bailey in London on charges of piracy, smuggling and treason and condemned to death. He had a charmed life, however. Ordered to the gallows four times, four times he was reprieved. At the conclusion of the war, the French intervened on his behalf and secured his release. Unfortunately, his nest egg, some £70, 000, a lot of money at the time and which he had amassed from smuggling and privateering, was appropriated by French bankers. He died in a debtors' prison in 1789, where he was detained for a debt of £200.
Another Rush smuggler was Jack Connor, a native of Wexford, who practised his trade from what was known as 'The Smugglers' Cave,' located between Loughshinney and Skerries. Described as a "romantic and swashbuckling character," he was popular in high society and it was believed his cave held rich treasures taken during smuggling, but that it was guarded by a green serpent. The cave has never been properly located!
WOMEN CARRYING MEN ON THEIR BACKS
The women of the Claddagh in Galway were so powerful physically, that they often met their men at the boats when they came back from fishing and carried the men ashore on their backs, as well as setting the prices for the fish, cleaning and selling them.
"They were big, powerful women, the Claddagh women," Jim McLaughlin, a political geographer and social scientist, who has lectured at UCC for over 25 years, described them when he made the point that it was strange, because the fishing industry depended upon them, that women had been written out of its history.
"In old photographs you can see fish piled up on the pier, the women cutting and filleting them, the men in black suits who were the merchants looking on, ready to buy the fish."
But the women were disregarded as lower-class because they were doing the tough, dirty job of filleting the fish, blood and guts around the place and they were considered a bit wild. So is that where the 'fishwife' derogatory term came from?
"Women who worked in a men's world were considered of dubious background and quality and were crossing barriers. They were treated badly and their story should be told, perhaps starting with the photographs from around the fishing ports, but there is a huge job of research work and I don't see too many people rushing to do it, but women have been badly treated in the history of the fishing industry."
Professor John Brannigan of UCD's School of English, Drama and Film, one of the organisers of the symposium said he was surprised that, as Ireland had such a wonderful maritime heritage, we have no developed sense of studying that history. Maritime history is not an academic subject, whereas in the UK there are well-developed centres of maritime heritage.
"I am curious why that is the situation when people like to live by the sea, there is a clear value commercially from the sea, which is all very important to an island community which we are in Ireland, so there is a vast amount of research work to be done."
On the way back into Dublin on the DART from Dun Laoghaire I could see occasionally the Dublin Bay sailing fleet on the water for Saturday racing. But quite regularly it was cut off from vision by the high walls around the track and at stations. Unfortunate for a railway running alongside the Irish Sea.
Scientists have not been able to come up with a reason for a dead two-headed dolphin that washed ashore in in Izmir in Turkey, only the fifth known case of conjoined twins in dolphins. The rate of conjoined twins in marine mammals is less than one percent.
US NAVY SACKS MISSILE DESTROYER OFFICERS
The US Navy is continuing investigations into the situation that emerged aboard its missile destroyer, the USS James E. Williams, part of the 6th Fleet operating with the US Africa Command. The ship's Commanding Officer, Executive Officer and Command Master Chief, effectively the entire command leadership, were fired from their posts in a rare move, while the vessel was at sea, as a result of what has been described as "an on-going climate investigation." The ship departed her homeport of Norfolk on May 30 for an eight-month deployment.
FIRST FOR IRELAND BY RADIO OFFICERS
Since its foundation in 1994, the Radio Officers' Association, for the former 'Sparks' of the sea waves, has grown to 400 members worldwide. For the first time, Ireland has been selected for a re-union of its members. This will take place in Dun Laoghaire on the weekend of November 21/22.
WHAT DO 'YACHTIES' WANT?
Fáilte Ireland is examining the coastal infrastructure in Ireland to find out what the expectations of sailors are. The tourist industry organisation has begun a market research initiative on consumer preferences for sailing, focusing on the infrastructure, facilities and services required to make Ireland a more attractive destination for sailing amongst domestic and overseas sailing enthusiasts.
LIMERICK A SLAVE PORT
While Ireland was never known to have been involved in slaving or having slave ships, research shows that in 1784 Limerick was the first Irish port to attempt to develop a slave-trade company. And in July 1718 a Limerick ship transported 96 slaves from Africa to Barbados, while two Dublin-based ships, the Sylva and the Sophia, were recorded slaving in the Gambia in May 1716. Africans being transported to Jamaica on the Sophia revolted, killing all of the crew except the Captain, according to historical reports.
So, a lot of maritime history this week.... Until next week, the usual wish of .....
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Twitter: @AfloatMagazine @Tom MacSweeney
#IslandNation - Readers of this blog have been kind in welcoming me back to the airwaves, for which I am grateful. Community radio on which I now broadcast is quite a big operation about which I did not know a lot until I met the people who run Community Radio Youghal, CRY104FM, in the seaside town on the East Coast of County Cork. At their invitation I returned to the airwaves, broadcasting THIS ISLAND NATION every month and with more development now ahead, thanks to the positive response of listeners.
Every week 2,000 radio volunteers around the country engage with 307,000 listeners, broadcasting from 22 fully licensed stations, in addition to which there are a number of stations at different stages of development. Community radio is a rapidly growing broadcasting sector and a force for community development, identity and expression.
A community radio station is not focussed solely on broadcast schedules, which are subject to the diktats of commercial interests for advertising purpose. So it has a stronger focus on the values and interests of the community to which it broadcasts and can provide a wider variety of broadcasting. It appears to me that it can offer what is missing from mainstream media, newspapers, radio and television - and that is a regular forum for maritime news, information, comment and opinion, related directly to communities. The mainstream media, with a few exceptions, does not give sufficient regular, informed, balanced coverage of the marine sphere.
Transmission of THIS ISLAND NATION as a monthly radio programme about the sea, with the well-known signature tune ‘Sailing By', began earlier this year and interest has grown. ‘Sailing By’ was dropped by RTE as the signature tune for the programme Seascapes, which I had developed and broadcast there for over 20 years.
NEAR FM 90.3 community radio for Dublin North East and Raidió Corca Baiscinn 94.8 FM in County Clare also broadcast THIS ISLAND NATION, as does Afloat.ie on this website. I am hopeful that more community stations around the country will join in broadcasting the programme, for which the plan now, in response to growing interest, is to increase transmission from monthly to fortnightly from next month. CRAOL is the national representative body for the community radio movement.
With modern technology it is quite easy to listen to radio stations broadcasting from anywhere around the country. The app Tune In Radio, which can be downloaded from the Google Play store, is great for listening to radio anywhere. Download it and you have access to all radio stations on Adroid smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops. That includes, of course, those which broadcast THIS ISLAND NATION.
PRESERVING THE NAOMH ÉANNA
After what has been a long battle against what seemed to be the complete disinterest of Government and State agencies in maritime heritage, Sam Field Corbett tells me that his Irish Ship & Barge Fabrication Company has acquired the heritage ship Naomh Éanna – “effectively securing the vessel for the next three months,” he says. “During this period IS&BF will complete the in-depth survey required to calculate the cost of repairing the hull and machinery to compliment the calculations for her refit as a boutique hostel, restaurant, cafe and museum.”
The Naomh Éanna was built by the Liffey Dockyard and launched in the late 1950s. Until 1988, it served as the Galway-Aran Islands ferry and had been operated by CIE. The vessel was purchased by the Irish Nautical Trust and moored at Grand Canal Dock in 1989 after it was decided that it could no longer operate as a passenger-carrying vessel.
Waterways Ireland, owners of the Grand Canal Dock, had determined to scrap the ship, maintaining that its condition was unsafe. WI had little interest in listening to proposals for preserving the ship. There was a debate about it in the Dáil which was told that the underwater archaeological unit of the Department of the Environment did not consider that the Naomh Éanna should be protected and disregarded the fact that it was “an example of the shipbuilding techniques used in the Liffey Docks in the 1950s”. That type of history, according to the Department, did not “justify the expense that would be involved in its preservation”.
Closed minds towards maritime heritage continue to dominate official circles but Sam Corbett refused to give up. Those supporting him had to fight against the attitude of officialdom which sought to exclude several of those who could be considered ‘stakeholders’ from meetings about the future of the ship, according to those who had an open mind the future of the vessel.
Sam Corbett tells me that “the final part of the negotiations” lies with NAMA “who seem close to issuing the three-month lease on the site which will allow surveyors to access the ship and determine her condition.
“Difficulties regarding a €50,000 bond in favour of Waterways Ireland should they be expected to step in and remove (scrap) the ship should IS&BF efforts to secure funding fail, may be close to being resolved. IS&BF presented Nama with an undertaking by a recycling company experienced in specialist breaking and NAMA are considering this option. We hope to have a decision shortly.
"IS&BF are intent on approaching a number of venture capitalists to invest in the project which is presented as a viable business. How the business plan is received by potential investors will ultimately decide the ship’s fate. We have chosen to approach potential investors who have an interest in supporting Irish heritage and jobs.
“This was the original proposition since we became aware the ship was going to be scrapped many months ago. It has been a long process. Without support it would not have been possible. Indeed, it would have surely been scrapped if it had not been for the direct intervention of TDs Kevin Humphreys, Sean Kyne, Joan Collins, Eamonn O Cuiv, Senator David Norris and Councillors Mary Freehill and Dermot Lacey among others.
"Many challenges lie ahead. However, it’s a great accomplishment to have got this far. The money donated by our supporters will be used to conduct the survey as planned and the reimbursement of this money to the RNLI has been included in the project costings. We hope to be able to invite all our supporters to visit the ship when she is being restored and look forward to meeting everyone then.”
Sam Corbett Field is the man who led the restoration of the former Cork Harbour liner tender MV Cill Áirne which could also have been destined for destruction but is now a floating restaurant on the Liffey in the Dublin Docklands near the IFSC. He is also involved in the operation of barges like the Riasc on the Dublin canals. He is not a man who gives up!
Sam Corbett Field by the Riasc on the Grand Canal
It did not get a lot of public media attention at the time, though it was well-known in maritime circles, when the satellites in the Russian GLONASS GPS system failed for 11 hours last April. It was an unprecedented total disruption of a fully-operational satellite positioning service. As a result, the Russian GPS system was completely unusable to all worldwide GLONASS receivers.
The extent of the disruption has become clear following information released by the General Lighthouse Authorities of the UK and Ireland. GLA readings from their GLONASS receiver in Harwich showed location errors of over 30 nautical miles off the UK coastline.
Apparently the problem occurred because of what were described as “bad ephemerides” being uploaded to satellites. Navigation messages from every satellite requires ephemeris data which is used by the satellite to check its orbital position and information about the time and status of the entire constellation. This data is then processed by user/receivers on the ground to compute their precise position. Less than a fortnight after the first failure, a second malfunction occurred temporarily knocking-out nine GLONASS satellites.
There are, according to information, quite a lot of GLONASS users, including some mobile phone systems. The GLA said that what happened “is a timely reminder that alternatives to satellite navigation are essential”.
The GLA themselves are supporting eLoran as an alternative to GPS for the UK and Ireland. This system transmits long-range position, navigation and timing signals from a ground-based radio network. Its primary use is for ships and others in the maritime sector, but it could provide a back-up for GPS, GLONASS and GALILEO (the long-awaited European system) when it arrives. But eLoran is still proving a hard sell to gain acceptance, according to those in the business.
A Royal Academy of Engineering report in 2011 declared that the UK was becoming dangerously over-reliant on Global Navigation Satellite Systems. Use of space-borne positioning and timing data is now widespread, in everything from freight movement to synchronisation of computer networks. The academy found that “too few of these applications have alternatives should the primary sat-nav signals go down”.
There is a detailed article about the failure of the GLONASS system and the implications for GPS in the September edition of Seaways, the international journal of The Nautical Institute.
BUYING AN ISLAND
There are a lot of interesting things happening along the Shannon, the latest of which is the decision of Clare County Council to buy Holy Island on Lough Derg, which is the largest lake on the River Shannon. The island has links back to Brian Boru. Called also the 'Jewel of the Lough', it is an important historical and ecclesiastical site, covering 50 acres of which four are in the ownership of the Office of Public Works. There are monastic ruins, including a 24m-high round tower, an oratory and church buildings. The island is still used as a burial ground. It is not far from the village of Mountshannon.
DRIFT NETS ABOLITION
The European Fisheries Commission wants to prohibit the use of any kind of drift nets for fishing in all EU waters from January of next year. It would also be made illegal to keep drift nets aboard fishing vessels. It is an all-embracing ban, typical of EU bureaucracy which does not give sufficient consideration before action to the socio-economic effects on, for example, coastal fishing communities, against whom its effects could be discriminatory.
While a ban on the abuse of these nets by big fishing boats from major fishing nations has had some positive effects on salmon stocks and protection of marine mammals, the EU and Irish Governments are ignoring the need, which is clear, for a comprehensive, long-term plan to be devised, with the involvement of local people, for the future of sustainable coastal fishing communities.
As an example of the disregard for coastal communities, the Government has still not responded to the Report of the Oireachtas Committee on Fisheries published last December that called for a Dáil debate and specific attention to be given by Government Departments to the socio-economic problems of Ireland’s coastal and island communities.
WHAT HAPPENS TO A SHIP?
Rarely does the general media report afterwards what happened to a ship aboard which a disaster has occurred. One such vessel was the MV MSC Flaminia, a German-owned container ship which caught fire on 14 July 2012, forcing the crew to abandon ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Three seafarers were killed.
Due to the damage and the cargo she was carrying, no country would give her ‘safe haven’ after the fire was put out. Eventually, nearly two months later, the German government had to respond to the requests of salvage crews and allowed the damaged vessel to be towed into Wilhelmshaven in Germany on 9 September.
The MV MSC Flaminia on fire in the mid Atlantic
In March 2013 she departed Wilhelmshaven for the Daewoo shipyard at Mangalia in Romania, where repairs were carried out. They were completed this July and the Flaminia, a post-Panamax container ship with a capacity of 6,750 TEUs and deadweight tonnage of 85,823 tons, 980 feet long and 130 feet wide, drawing 48 feet when fully laden, has returned to service. The repair work on the badly-damaged vessel included conversion into a modern eco-ship to reduce fuel consumption.
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#islandnation – Having written last week about the lack of national recognition for our maritime heritage I received a press release about the Central Bank honouring John Philip Holland, the Irish inventor of the submarine.
I am pleased to see that the Central Bank has taken such a step but, perusing the media releaseon the Central Bank website, I noted the quote from the Central Bank’s Director of Currency and Facilities Management, Paul Molumby: “This is the first in a new series that the Central Bank will issue to honour Ireland’s impressive scientific and technological tradition.”
Not a single reference by the Central Bank to the great maritime tradition of Ireland in launching the coin about an invention, fundamental to which was the marine sphere.
Mr.Molumby is quoted further as saying that “John Philip Holland’s life and achievements were extraordinary. He played a significant role in the development of submarine navigation and following his emigration to the USA, he designed the first working submarine.”
Indeed, he did, but Mr.Molumby and the Central Bank omitted mention of the marine in the technological development they were honouring.
At least the Bank went to the Marine Institute in Galway to launch the coin.
The Institute issued a press release with the same quotation, but Dr. Peter Heffernan, the Institute’s CEO, did mention at the launch that Ireland has “a strong tradition of innovation and we at the Marine Institute are very proud to maintain that link with the history of marine technology. We named our remote operated vehicle (ROV) after John Philip Holland.”
This ROV honours the legacy of a man who used the maritime sphere for innovation, but the Central Bank in honouring him do not even use the word ‘marine.’
The Marine Institute is using the ROV on surveysof mid-Atlantic volcanic vent fields and new animal communities on the deep canyons of our Continental slope, as well as working on crucial fisheries, environmental and climate changes and assisting in the development of new marine sensor technologies.
The Central Bank is charging €44 for the €15 coin according to the press release.
Am I being tendentious in making this point?
Perhaps, but where there is neglect of the maritime sphere at the highest levels, it should be challenged and the more it is, the more those disregarding our maritime traditions and potential will be forced to change their attitude.
While the issuing of the coin (pictured above) is welcome, I respectfully suggest to the Central Bank that it acknowledge the maritime sphere and note that Holland’s invention relied fundamentally on the marine.
FISH GUTS AND DIESEL AND THE RESTLESS SEA
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a fisherman? With Autumn having arrived and Winter not far behind, life on the ocean wave can be tough, rolling and plunging as the boat hits heavy seas while fishermen struggle with lowering and hauling of nets to catch the fish which we can eat in more pleasant surroundings.
Paul McDonald is a songwriter who wrote much of his work in the heart of Dublin, where he had a cottage in Copper Alley. But he also had experience as a fisherman out of Galway. The song, “Fish Guts and Diesel,” on his CD ‘Crazy Old World’ tells his story of life aboard a trawler many miles out to sea off the West Coast – on the Porcupine Bank. You can hear it on this month’s edition of THIS ISLAND NATION (above), my monthly maritime radio programme that is broadcast on a number of community radio stations.
“As long as I live I’ll never forget the smell of that combination of fish guts and diesel,” he said.
There are some beautiful lines in the song which anyone who has kept a night watch at sea will empathise with:
“Sometimes in the dark as you gaze in the night,
Your mind’s in the stars as your thoughts they take flight
And then a Force Seven brings you back down to earth
And you battle the elements for all that your worth.”
You can hear the song at the start of this month’s programme. As I broadcast it, I could almost see those dead fish eyes which he sings about, staring up at me from the catch hauled aboard. Having been on a few trawlers in my time, occasionally in not-too-pleasant conditions and even though I sail and have sailed in rough weather, I admire hugely those fishermen whose stomachs, I think, must be made of cast-iron to withstand the conditions in which they have to work. I think anyone with an interest in the sea will like the song.
FOREIGN BOATS COST IRELAND OVER A BILLION EUROS
Incidentally, the huge value of fish caught in Irish waters by fleets from France, Spain, Portugal, Holland and the UK, is shown by the figures which the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has released for catches taken last year from around Ireland. The total value was €1.16 billion. That would be hugely valuable to this nation’s economy, but regrettably Ireland’s share of this catch was only 17 per cent in value. The total catch taken from Irish waters 1,040,117 tonnes, but Irish boats were allowed by EU regulations to catch only 23 per cent of this tonnage. These figures prove just how much the EU gets in monetary value from Ireland. Little is heard about this from economic commentators or politicians who tell us how grateful we should be to the EU, but the reality is that the EU gets a lot of money from Irish waters. Our fishing industry, rather than shrinking in size, should be much bigger, with economic and employment benefit, if the riches of Irish waters had not been given away by Irish governments .Tellingly, the summary line in the figures compiled by the Department says that the economic value of €1.16 billion which they quote for fish caught in Irish waters “… represents a conservative estimate.”
BROADCASTING FROM THE COASTLINE
THIS ISLAND NATION is broadcast from the studios of Community Radio Youghal on the coastline of East Cork and the banks of the River Blackwater. I mention on the programme W.M.Nixon’s story about the GP 14 sail up the Blackwater from Youghal, which was reported on Afloat last week. This has raised interest in the sport. The Kathleen and May will be remembered as the great schooner which linked Youghal with the UK and there are many other stories of Youghal seafarers in a town with a great maritime tradition.
Next month, following listener interest, the programme will increase its slot from monthly to fortnightly.
SEAWEED IS NOT JUST A WEED
Also on this month’s programme I talk to The Sea Gardener, Marie Power (pictured above), in Tramore. She grew up on what’s known as The Copper Coast of County Waterford, a fascinating part of the countryside and has been running seaweed workshops for several years on a voluntary basis, even though her professional background is in management and training consultancy. Seaweed is not just a weed she says – and she is very definite about that. Listen to hear more.
HALF THE COUNTER IS FARMED
Nearly half of the fish which the public sees on fishmonger’s counters has been farmed. So Richie Flynn, IFA Aquaculture Executive, told me when I interviewed him. “This is something which should be encouraged for the future of coastal communities right around the coast,” he said, but added that the Government’s attitude towards licensing “is still a problem for aquaculture development.”
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @Tom MacSweeney