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Musician Liam O Maonlai Pays Tribute to the Restoration of the Naomh Gobnait & Late Poet & Crewmember Danny Sheehy

21st June 2019
The Naomh Gobnait under restoration in Spain this week The Naomh Gobnait under restoration in Spain this week Photo: Alex Blackwell

Musician Liam Ó Maonlaí says he believes the late Kerry poet Danny Sheehy would have “relished” the Irish-Galician project to restore the naomhóg in which he had his last sea trip before he died two years ago.

Ó Maonlaí, who was one of the four crew on board the Naomh Gobnait when it was hit by a wave in the river Minho estuary, has also spoken of how his mother, the late actress Eithne Lydon, had a “premonition” about his trip.

Sheehy, Ó Maonlaí, and fellow crew, Kerry musician Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich and Padraig Ó Duinnín, founder of Cork’s Meitheal Mara project, were swept ashore after the capsize on the evening of June 9th, 2017. Sheehy did not recover and died.

The four had been participants on Iomramh an Chamino 2017, which had left the Spanish port of La Coruña in late May of 2017, bound for the Portuguese city of Porto.

During the three preceding summers, Sheehy and Ó Beaglaoich, Liam Holden and Brendan Moriarty had rowed the naomhóg from Ireland to Spain – as documented by filmmaker Dónal Ó Ceilleachair - and were joined latterly by musician, Glen Hansard.

The naomhóg was taken into storage after Sheehy’s death, and now Buxa, the Galician Association of Industrial Heritage, is sponsoring its restoration.

“Danny would also have loved the fact that the boat is being honoured,” O Maonlái told Afloatthis week, noting that it marks a “connection that the Galician and the Irish people value a great deal”.

Ó Maonlaí first rowed with Sheehy when he was a 15-year-old during his time in the Kerry gaeltacht. After the “camino by sea” was completed in 2016, Sheehy invited the fellow musician to join the naomhóg for a week the following summer.

“I thought that was brilliant and I’d love to do that,”Ó Maonlaí recalls. “Meanwhile ,my mother was diagnosed with cancer and she got wind of this, and she didn’t want me to do it at all – west of Ireland woman, she had a premonition, and she really did not want me to go out on that boat”.

“And she said ‘why are you doing it, you’re just looking for trouble,’ “ Ó Maonlaí explains.

“And I said ‘c’mon Mam, you know’, you can imagine the conversation. But as she was ill and as it got closer to the time, I said I’d just do a day,” he says.

“ And so the day came, and we went out and then a wave came...”

His mother was “grand about it” afterwards, and it was not really spoken about again before her death in October of that year.

“ It was one of those things that actually was an intimacy between us,” he says.

The Hothouse Flowers co-founder and member of traditional group Ré also recalled this week how a “three quarters-full” wine bottle and a glass was found in Sheehy’s bag after their belongings were also swept ashore.

“It was like Danny left us with the bottle and the glass to drink in his memory..and that we did, with Máíre, his wife, and his friends and the crew. We sat around and we sang the odd verse of a song, “Ó Maonlaí says.

There is a tradition that a naomhóg or currach which loses a crew does not return to sea, and initially, there was talk of burning the boat, according to Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich, a close friend of Sheehy’s and one of the original camino crew.

However, Prof Manuel Lara Coira of the University of La Coruna, and president of Buxa, the Galician association of industrial heritage, secured support for it to be rebuilt.

Prof Lara explained that he had visited the Aran islands, loved Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran film, and followed the Camino by sea – or “Naomhóg na Tointe” (naomhóg of the tents) as it was nicknamed when The Irish Times and other media reported on it.

When he saw the naomhóg coming into La Coruna, he said he felt so moved that he thought “my heart might jump out of my breast”. He admired the courage of the crew, and resolved to drum up support to have Naomh Gobnait rebuilt.

Prof Lara said he hopes to row in a traditional regatta in Spain later this summer, even at the risk of blisters on his hands and “other places”.

Liam Holden, Padraig Ó Duinnín and Brendan Moriarty have been working on the naomhóg rebuilt in northern Spain for the past fortnight, and plan to finish the work in the autumn.

Prof Lara said it will continue to be exhibited at the Galician Museum of the Sea, where a special exhibit on the Camino voyage opened earlier this month. Dónal Ó Ceilleachair’s documentary, The Camino Voyage, had its premiére in Vigo,

Ó Beaglaoich said he would like to see the naomhóg being displayed in the Irish College in Santiago de Compostella and believes the State should consider buying the building for cultural use – similar to the Centre Culturel des Irlandais in Paris, France.

Published in Historic Boats
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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