A Paddy Barry book launch is like no other writes W M Nixon. In fact, as with just about everything to do with this extraordinary man of the sea and the hills, a Paddy Barry book launch is unique unto itself across the entire spectrum of social gatherings anywhere in the world.
The setting was new to many of us - the hospitable Teachers’ Club on Parnell Square in the heart of Dublin’s north city. Our teachers, you’ll be glad to know, look after themselves very well. But they look after their guests even better. And there, right at the urban epicentre of the real city, the attractive Georgian town-house was packed to the rafters with people who exuded the outdoor life, whether it be on lone mountain-top, remote moorland, distant island, or rolling ocean, great people all there to celebrate Paddy Barry.
There were also many from the world of Irish culture in its broadest sense, particularly Irish Gaelic culture. And there were notable representatives of the international civil engineering profession, for Paddy Barry in his exceptionally busy existence has interacted with many people’s lives and many interests, and continues enthusiastically to do so.
But as he was going to turn 75 this month, he reckoned a stock-taking was in order, and the result is a book of 37 chapters which takes us on a whirlwind tour of a life well lived and still being well lived at full throttle, a courageous life of great adventures seen through despite setbacks which would have stopped many lesser men.
It’s a very high protein read. A professional author could comfortably make half a dozen books out of it. But as ever, Paddy is in a hurry to get on with it in a tale which sees an early episode in his sailing career being an involvement with fellow-engineer Mick Cotter in partnership in a trapeze-using International 505 dinghy. They raced this wonderful sailing machine with the Dublin Bay fleet, but also cruised extensively, including going entirely unaccompanied from Roundstone out to the Aran Islands. And then, in the days when the Rose of Tralee contest was seen as a festival of opportunity, they took the 505 along with them behind the car to Tralee, with the happy notion that it might prove to be something of a babe magnet.
But soon Paddy was developing his lifelong love for Galway hookers, and having found the mighty St Patrick of maybe 1911 vintage mouldering away in the tiny harbour of Goleen in West Cork, of all places, he eventually got her home to his back garden in Monkstown where patient wife Mary - like the boat, she’s also a saint - had to live with a boatyard and a huge boat in the decidedly compact back garden. Meanwhile, her husband somehow found the time and energy between day jobs like building the Poolbeg chimneys to undertake a massive re-build.
In such circumstances, being a neighbour of Paddy Barry needs somebody special, but as ever Paddy is lucky as his neighbour these days is the ever-special Carrie Crowley, who gave us an entertaining account of what it’s like living next door to such a clan, and also revealed that although she’s not a sailor herself, Paddy’s new book “So Far, So Good” (the comma is everything) is itself so fascinating that she read it from cover to cover, and proved that with quoting some of the choicest episodes from it.
So if you want find out about the incredible voyages of the St Patrick and how Paddy came to the mountains as well, you’ll just have to buy this book – it’s only €20 - and get reading. But try to pace yourself, for it really is very high protein and the narrative rattles along to tell things like how Paddy navigated the Arctic Circle with Jarlath Cunnane in Northabout and how, after the sad loss of St Patrick when she broke from a mooring in Glandore, Paddy realized the insurance wouldn’t remotely cover a re-creation of this very special boat.
So he went in a different direction completely, and bought a boat desined by German Frers of the Argentine, a slightly out-dated alloy-hulled 45ft offshore racer from the Adriatic, which he reckoned would do well in ice cruising. The many successful mountaineering voyages since to high latitudes and steep and icy place by Ar Seachran, with her forgiving alloy hull, have amply demonstrated the good sense of his judgment.
And a sweet touch for a Galway Bay traditional boat enthusiast is that Ar Seachran is designed by a Galway man. German Frers is descended from Argentine national hero Patricio Lynch, who was originally Patrick Lynch from Galway, but was press-ganged into the Royal Navy, where he made good his escape by leading a successful mutiny aboard a captured French warship which he and his motley crew sailed to Argentina, where their liberated vessel became the flagship of the nascent Argentine navy.
This remarkable line of descent means that any owner of a Frers design not only gets a boat designed by a Galway man, but they also get a boat designed by Che Guevara’s cousin. This was just the sort of info which hit the button at this week’s party in the Teachers’ Club, where the highly representative assembly of outdoorsmen buying the new Paddy Barry book by the armful included Jarlath Cunnane and Jamie Young from far Mayo, Dr Mick Brogan of Kinvara and Ballyhaunis, Gary MacMahon of the Ilen Project in Limerick and Baltimore, and Johnny Rooney and Fionan de Barra of Dublin with many others from Paddy’s huge selection of crew and friends built up over the years.
And that’s only the sailing people. The mountain men and women were there in strength too, and they certainly add a new dimension, as Paddy found when one of them helped him to dry out the St Patrick at Poolbeg on the falling tide to re-anti-foul her before yet another sailing/mountaineering expedition.
They’d about four hours before the tide would have fallen enough to let painting commence, so the mountaineer suggested they go off and climb one of the nearer Wicklow mountains to pass the time. For normal mortals, that would be a day’s work and then some. But the two boyos went off and scaled the peak, then came back and painted those acres of bad mor underbody, and then floated her off as the tide made, finishing their day by putting St Patrick back on her mooring. With Paddy Barry, you pack a lot into just one day.
So Far, So Good by Paddy Barry at €19.95 Published by Liffey Press, Dublin is available to purchase via Afloat's Marine Marketplace click here.