Displaying items by tag: Island Nation
It is my belief that there is a ‘Family of the Sea,’ a community of interest uniting maritime people, from those engaged in the sector professionally, to those who take part in marine leisure activities. Bonding these disparate interests together through a focus on the sea and the Irish coastline, the rivers, the lakes, the thread linking to the oceans of the world and what happens on and in them is what I try to do in each fortnightly edition of my THIS ISLAND NATION radio programme. Listen to the podcast below.
When I am preparing the programme, recording interviews, arranging reports, I try to keep this focus which, I hope, results in an interesting half-hour voyage around the maritime sphere of Ireland. It is also why the programme is broadcast here on the AFLOAT website and through community stations which are the voices of local communities and their interests in the maritime sphere. This continues to develop, expanding this ‘community of interest’ which is what I hope to see evolve and is underlined in this new edition of the programme when the head of a company which has been providing travel at sea for over 150 years suggests that an Irish port should be designated as a base for cruise ships. George Barter leads J. Barter Travel and says that the popularity of cruise ship holidays makes this a reasonable possibility.
There would be a lot of competition for that role – including from Dublin, Dun Laoghaire, Waterford, Cork and Galway. Interestingly, Dublin Port has set up its own cruise development and marketing agency, called ‘Cruise Dublin,’ which it says is intended “to grow Dublin as Ireland’s premier cruise port.”
George Barter made the suggestion during a discussion about the popularity of cruise ship holidays, following sea trials of the biggest cruise vessel ever built - the Harmony of the Seas for Royal Caribbean Lines. The trials were conducted off the French coast, where the vessel was built at the STX shipyard in Saint-Nazaire. It cost €800,000 and is so big that it is 167 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower. It has a capacity for 6,000 passengers, 16 decks and needs 2,000 crew. That is 8,000 people aboard one vessel. It is so big that, on its first voyage from Southampton due to take place in May, passengers will be given GPS-style wrist ‘trackers’ to locate their cabins! I talked to George Barter on the programme about why cruise ships are so popular?
There is always something unusual about the sea. For example, the mysterious, green-eyed fish pulled out of Nova Scotia waters and described as a “terrifying 'alien fish' with wings and glowing eyes." The photograph here is by fisherman Scott Tanner who described it as “downright bizarre” - Three feet long, with a long, narrow tail, two prominent fins, a long pointy mouth, nose and teeth and glowing green eyes. You can hear more about it on the programme and that is it not an alien, but has been identified as a rarely seen ‘Knifenose Chimaera,’ a species which swim along the ocean floor, using that long nose to detect the heartbeats of its prey and those long, pointy teeth to dig into the ocean floor to catch them. They are so rare that very little is known about them.
There is also a very special piece of music about the RNLI on the programme. Listen and hear how you can support the lifeboat service through this special composition which remembers Lifeboat Heroes.
if you would like to contact the programme, the Email address is: [email protected]
I have always considered Laser sailors to be tough, particularly when I have seen them battling the elements of Winter weather during Frostbite series. So, standing on the Sand Quay at Monkstown in Cork Harbour, base of my home village club on a windswept Saturday morning, rain carried in the wind as I watched a few of them trying to right their boats after capsizing into the cold, choppy waters of the River Lee I shivered, huddled into my warm jacket and was pretty glad I wasn’t out there…..!!
You need to be fit to sail a Laser, I concluded and not afraid of a dousing in cold water. As the sailors came ashore from the Winter series run by Monkstown Bay Sailing Club, they were all happy with themselves. There was a great bit of craic going on amongst them.
This league series was run by the club to get Lasers out sailing. It succeeded, with sailors from Youghal and Inniscarra clubs in the county joining harbour sailors.
“There are many Lasers around the harbour that aren’t sailed, maybe because there isn’t a centre where they can gather.”
“Get out racing…
“It’s easier to sit inside the window looking out and deciding not to go…”
“None of us are aspiring to be internationalists or Olympians, we just enjoy our sailing, but there has been perhaps too much emphasis on the top level of sailing rather than the clubs. It’s in the clubs that the future is…”
Those were amongst comments to me amongst a spirited group of sailors enthused after battling pretty demanding conditions. They also expressed an attitude that the event was a commitment to club sailing, underlining the importance of boosting the clubs.
Monkstown Bay SC faces a challenge ahead, because of the expansion of Cork Port at Ringasiddy, just across Monkstown Bay from the club house. There is concern about the impact which this will have on the available sailing water in the Bay, which could be restricted in the future.
Listen above to my interview with Charles Dwyer, one of the MBSC organisers of the League, who first described to me the sailing weather conditions that morning.
Listening to a seafarer describe how colleagues from his native town left port on a night of very bad weather, when their Skipper was advised not to go by other Skippers, I thought of how there can be a very narrow margin between life and death.
Those men and their vessel never made it from the British coastline to Youghal in East Cork, which was once the biggest and busiest seaport in the Republic.
Youghal is a seaside town which has suffered heavily in recent years from recessionary impact and decline of industry in the area. Hundreds of jobs have been lost. It is a seaside town which, before the advent of cheap air travel to foreign locations, was a dominant holiday resort. It is where the famous ‘Moby Dick’ film was shot, chosen because of its maritime appearance. It is a town which is legendary for its schooners and schoonermen, trading from Ireland across the Irish Sea to the UK.
It is also where I present THIS ISLAND NATION radio programme on the town’s community radio station, CRY104FM, every Monday night ad from where it is also transmitted to other stations in Dublin, Dundalk, Athlone, Galway, Clare and Cork and here to the Afloat website. It is introduced with the theme music which caught the attention of listeners during my 20 years presenting SEASCAPES on RTE Radio, ‘Sailing By.’ This is the version of that tune played by another sailor, Ronnie Aldrich from the Isle of Man and his orchestra on his LP, ‘Sea Dreams.’ RTE dropped it as the programme’s theme tune after I left, but it is indelibly associated with the maritime sector, another version being used by BBC Radio for its late night sea area weather forecast, played by Ronald Binge and the BBC Light Orchestra. So I resurrected it for my new programme and it has again attracted considerable attention around the nation and abroad, where the programme is also transmitted through Mixcloud and Tune In Radio.
Listening to the interview of Pa Ahern, then an Able Seaman on another legendary Youghal vessel, the Kathleen and May, as we transmitted it, I heard him tell his story of sailing on that ship and how, when he went on board for the first time, he knelt down and kissed the wood of the ship: “I don’t know why I did it, I had it done before I knew it,” he told the interviewer, Noel Cronin, in a recording from the station’s archives. Pa is deceased but, through my headphones, his voice brought alive the scene he described on a night of very bad weather, when another Youghal schooner, the Nellie Fleming, sailed that fateful night and the five men crewing her, all from Youghal, died. Pa described how the Skipper of the Kathleen and May which he was aboard, also decided to sail, but the weather was so bad that a crewman told him he would kill them all and the Skipper turned the ship around and they headed back into port, which was a “tough struggle against the conditions”. Pa been put to watching for navigation lights and described how he saw a ship in the distance in high seas driven by gale force winds, with lashing rain. “It had lost a mast, but I am sure it was the Nellie Fleming…” It was the last sight anyone saw of that vessel, which is the subject of a new book by Youghal historian and author, Mike Hackett, called ‘Lost Without Trace”. The old sailing ships were tough, demanding vessels and could be dangerous in difficult weather. There were some which did not survive. One was the Nellie Fleming, lost coincidentally in the same month of February 1936 when another major maritime event occurred on the East Cork coastline, not far from Youghal.
This was the rescue of the Daunt Rock Lightvesel crew after it broke from its moorings at the entrance to Cork Harbour. This week is the anniversary of that rescue, still regarded as the most famous in Irish lifeboat history. It was carried out by the Ballycotton Life crew under legendary Coxswain Patsy Sliney and they were all awarded medals for their courage. Unusually, so was their boat - the Mary Stanford - now ashore on permanent display in the East Cork coastal village and worth a visit if you are ever in that area.
Mike Hackett’s book tells that the Fleming family which owned the ill-fated Nellie Fleming had lost their original ‘Nellie Fleming’ vessel when it went aground at Ardmore in 1913. All the crew were saved from that shipwreck. Then, in 1916, Fleming’s purchased a vessel named ‘Emily’. It had been built at Carrickfergus in 1884. The name was changed to ‘Nellie Fleming’ and she was registered at Cork.
The Kathleen and May is the last remaining British-built wooden hull three-masted topsail schooner. Registered in Bideford, North Devon, there have been several attempts to restore and preserve her. Last heard of she was based in Liverpool and listed as part of the UK National Historic Fleet.
How did the Kathleen and May get back into port safely that bad February night? Pat Ahern said it had an engine: “Without it we would never have got back.”
These stories underline for me how narrow is the margin between life-and-death.
• Listen above to the programme on the Afloat website
“Behold the turtle who makes progress, but only when it sticks its neck out.”
I like that quotation because I have ‘stuck my neck out” several times in reporting on the marine sphere.
I am doing so again now.
To judge from comments I had received, there was cynicism and doubt about the likelihood of success being achieved by what was previously known as the ‘Pride of Ireland Trust’ and is now the ‘Atlantic Youth Trust,’ in its attempts to build a new Irish tall ship.
I had doubts myself, but at the annual general meeting of the AYT I was impressed by the quality of those present and their commitment to sail training. There was a determination that there will be a new Tall Ship to replace Asgard II, within a target of three years, “to provide opportunities to young people on the island and to meet the forecasted and growing demand” for sail training.
That is what the AYT has decided as its parameters for the new vessel:
* Steel hull
* Under 50 metres
* Less than 500 gross tonnes
* Less than 4m draught
* Low maintenance
* SOLAS Passenger Ship regulations, Load Line, MARPOL and MLC to be complied with
* 7/8 permanent crew, 4/5 volunteers (classed as passengers), 40 young trainees (classed as passengers).
Those were the descriptions given to the agm of the Trust held at the offices of Irish Lights in Dun Laoghaire, where I was also pleased to note the close interaction between those who lead Sail Training Ireland and the Atlantic Youth Trust.
Neil O'Hagan of the AYT
In my AFLOAT PODCAST (above) this week you can hear my interview with Neil O’Hagan, Director of the Trust, who tells me that, once money committed by the Government is made available, the building programme can be triggered, with a three-year time span to complete.
That financial commitment was contained in the Government’s Capital Programme and the Northern Ireland Government has also committed funding to this All-Ireland project, the total cost of which is likely to top out at around €16m.
I am a wary person where politicians and their promises are concerned, but inclusion in the Capital Programme is a statement of intent which, even post-General Election should be honoured. Beware however, the influence of the Civil Service which has often not shown itself to be a true maritime friend. But the Government owes €3.8m. at least in the insurance compensation it pocketed for Asgard, due to that Limerickman, Willie O’Dea, who showed no understanding of the importance of Asgard. In my view he dishonoured the name and legend of history of the maritime association with the foundation of this State. In this centenary year of commemoration indeed, would there have been an Easter Rising without the contribution to the resources of the Volunteers by Asgard 1’s historic involvement?
I have not seen any politician so far refer to that in the commemorations up to now.
I stuck my neck out before in support for the Jeanie Johnston, a project much-criticised by people ignorant of the achievements of that cross-Border project; of how it united young people and, built from scratch in Ireland, sailed successfully throughout Europe, to the U.S.A., Canada and Newfoundland as an impressive ambassador for Ireland.
There is more hope now for a new Tall Ship for Ireland…….
As surely as the turtle makes progress, even if slowly, so will this project for which I, like the turtle, am sticking my neck out in support.
More on the new Tall Ship from WM Nixon here
Not all of our politicians have the necessary awareness and training to understand the daily risks of working and living on an island nation with the coastline, streams, rivers, lakes, ponds and canals that have the potential for drowning tragedies – unless care is taken and safety on the water observed.
That became clear to John Leech, Chief Executive of Irish Water Safety, the State body responsible for promoting safety on the water, during the recent flooding. I have known him for many years, a man dedicated to making people aware of being safe around water.
He is not a man who merely talks about this concept. A former Lt.Commander in the Naval Service, where he served for 21 years, he is a qualified Naval diver. He has been in charge of the Naval Diving Section, commanded Naval Service vessels and been involved in search-and-rescue operations. So he knows all about tragedy, its effects and the aftermath of such tragedies.
I have the highest admiration for him.
John Leech speaking at a conference
In his pursuit of creating a mindset about safety he has spoken out strongly against disregard for the wearing of lifejackets by yachtsmen and women and there has been a noticeable change in attitudes in this regard, including by myself. I now never allow anyone aboard my boat for racing without a lifejacket. I carry extra lifejackets aboard in case people arrive without them. This is not to make sailing unpleasant or to stress danger instead of enjoyment. It is to value life and enjoyment and to ensure that everyone who sails on our family boat, cruising, racing or just out for a day, returns safely.
John would not have endeared himself to everyone in the fishing industry either when he campaigned for the wearing of ‘personal flotation devices,’ a generic term used to describe lifejackets and buoyancy aids. However, he persevered and there too a change has been noticed, with less of the old adage in fishing that if a man fell into the sea it was better to drown than to fight for life.
“It is vital to wear a buoyancy aid or a lifejacket when afloat or if your activity takes you near the water,” he has often told me.
John is also a sailor himself and a Race Official, so he knows the water from many aspects. His dedication has led to the introduction of safety regulations for different type of craft and so, when he makes a point it is for a good reason and should be listened to. On this week’s edition of my radio programme THIS ISLAND NATION he discusses the winter flooding and the effects in County Galway where he lives himself:
“For those of us who have to live and operate in a flooded area like myself who lives in South East Galway or my mother’s house on the banks of the Shannon in Athlone, there are some very simple measures that we should all take,” he says on the programme, recommending the wearing of lifejackets “in all aquatic environments.”
He speaks favourably of those seen wearing lifejackets, “however quite a few people still don’t wear them, perhaps they think it will never happen to them and this culture is what prevents many people from wearing them.”
He refers to the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Marine, Simon Coveney, filmed on television in flooded areas wearing lifejackets “and in the case of Minister, a dry suit, which demonstrates his awareness of the risks surrounding flood waters. Being a keen sailor he is aware and understands the risks of drowning in these situations.”
Then he makes a point about Tanaiste Joan Burton seen falling out of a canoe in County Kilkenny. For many people it became an incident occasioning some hilarity, the water depth seeming to be only about a foot and there were many comments as to why she had not walked the area rather than going into a boat.
John – and I credit to his courage for saying so and pointing the incident out – takes a view about water safety in this regard and I support what he said on my programme:
“What was very disappointing to me was to see our Tánaiste and Minister of State Ann Phelan fall out of a canoe with no lifejackets on. They were demonstrating very poor example to our Island Nation. Then, not all of our politicians have the necessary awareness and training to understand the daily risks of working and living on an island nation with thousands of floods, streams, rivers lakes, ponds and canals to drown in.”
What John has said may not go down well in some political circles. That would be regrettable. The incident may have originated from a publicity photo opportunity stunt conjured up by some public relations or media official which was ill thought-out and rebounded on them. John Leech as Chief Executive of Irish Water Safety is correct to point it out. The Tanaiste and the Minister of State should not have been in the boat without lifejackets. It was a bad example. It was disregard for water safety.
Well done John Leech for your courage in highlighting it.
I hope that the two Ministers concerned, senior and junior and their advisor or advisors responsible for the publicity stunt, will admit their mistake and never again go afloat without a lifejacket.
It is the lesson, as John has often told me, to always wear a lifejacket.
• Listen to John on the programme above
It’s annual general meeting time and for most sailing clubs one of the big issues will be membership. Some readers and club members may prefer the description ‘yacht’ clubs, but ‘Sailing’ was chosen by the national association a few years ago to popularise the sport. Many of the bigger clubs still remain YCs and there is nothing inherently wrong in that, provided that the description doesn’t keep potential newcomers away from the sport rather than encouraging them into it.
Exclusivity may be more in the eye of the beholder of clubs these days, from the outside, rather than within the clubs themselves but, whether or not you like it being mentioned, it remains an issue in some places and our sport could do without it.
I remember when Marine Correspondent with RTE being abused by a rather obnoxious member of a Dun Laoghaire waterfront club who emerged from its impressive paladial-like frontage to assail the camera crew and myself who were filming the premises from the roadway and being told by him that we should not be there and should realise the club wished to have privacy from the public. We were there at the express request of the club for coverage of a racing event, but this individual had decided to express his own view of the exclusiveness of sailing. While myself being involved in the sport, I could rather bluntly tell him what to do with his opinion, the camera crew were left with a bad impression of sailing.
‘Private – members only’ signage outside some clubs has been criticised, but clubs are entitled to protect their premises. There are golf clubs just the same, as are some other sporting establishments … but sailing seems to have been a particular source of criticism.
Sailing is a sport for life
My media work has given me a access to clubs all over the country, so maybe I don’t experience what the general public does but it is reasonable to expect people to pay to become members and for the entitlement then to avail of the facilities provided. That is what a ‘club’ – a group or association of people with a common interest - is. Quite a few sailors are members of a few clubs. I am, of my village sailing club, Monkstown Bay, where I began in dinghies and also of the Royal Cork Yacht Club at Crosshaven. I went there for cruiser racing at a time when Monkstown sailed only dinghies. Nowadays it also races cruisers and I am happy to be a member of both….
While I have also experienced a welcome at clubs all over the country, it cannot be denied that the sport of sailing has an unfortunate legacy in a public impression left behind by a minority of individuals who did not represent it well, because they favoured exclusivity rather than inclusivity, which has to be the hallmark of the ‘sport for all …. and for life’ - which sailing should be in an island nation.
There is a challenge ahead for many sailing and yacht clubs as they hold their annual meetings – and that is to maintain their base of membership, much of which is ageing, so to encourage younger members and families to become and remain members and to get newcomers to join… thus ensuring the future of the sport….
Getting members in… instead of keeping people out….
At “the turn of the year” as it is still called by many of the older generation, it is customary to look back at the year past and remember a few high points. There were many for me in compiling THIS ISLAND NATION, but on this week’s edition of my radio programme, I have opted for unusual sounds which stuck in my mind about the sea.
70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water and still little is known about the treasures hidden in the deep sea. That was exemplified for me during the year when I played those unusual ‘sounds of the sea’ which drew a very big response from listeners.
I had never before heard the sound of the haddock, a fish which is popular on dining menus. Did you know that the haddock, which we eat, is actually capable of making audio sounds? I didn’t, but you can hear the sound which this fish makes on this week’s programme and there are other fascinating sounds, including from whales and dolphins. Perhaps they are attempts to communicate with the human world.
If they are such an attempt, whales will not be getting a positive answer from the Japanese who, as the New Year approaches, have sent two whaling ships to Antarctica's Southern Ocean to resume the killing of whales. This is under the pretence of collecting scientific data, which is not accepted as a genuine reason for whaling by the international community, including Ireland, where our waters are a whale sanctuary.
Japan has ignored International Whaling Commission regulations and has announced it will kill 333 minke whales this year, under the guise of being for research purposes. What that research is, has not been disclosed. Surprise, surprise in that regard!
In previous years Japan has killed 935 whales. Australia has said it will take action against Japan. It is really time that the Japanese stopped lie-ing to the world about the fact that they are killing whales for the greed of commercial interests.
There are times in one’s life when an incident is recounted which makes a big impact and so it is in the true story told this week by Dick Robinson about a time when youngsters on Valentia Island learned the hard facts of life at sea, when they were trying to make the transition from being youths to doing what they had seen men do. The “boys thought they were men….” Dick recalls about the tragic incident at ‘the top of the tide’ on Valentia which was a personal experience for him that left an indelible memory.
Valentia Island And The Top Of The Tide - A Story On This Island Nation. Click above to listen
It happened as a boat was being moved in the harbour and, as John Hollahan surmises on the programme - “If old boats could talk, what a tale they would tell….”
Amongst other topics on the programme, Myles Kelly of Fisheries Ireland outlines new bass angling regulations that are coming into force and discusses the start of the salmon season.
Do listen to THIS ISLAND NATION above on the Afloat website and, for the New Year ahead, may I wish you all …”fair sailing….”
Athy is not really a maritime town in the coastal sense of that description. Its marine connection is, essentially, the Grand Canal on Ireland's inland waterways linking Dublin to Limerick and which was extended to Athy in 1791 when it took 13 hours to get from there to the capital by boat. Canal passenger services began at the early hour of 5 a.m. on what was considered to be an expensive service.
Athy on the Grand Canal
A Quaker writer, Mary Leadbeater from Ballitore near Athy, described passengers as ‘half gentry’ and noted that “there was card playing.”
There was worse than that in December of 1792 when five men, four women and two children died in an accident on a boat from Athy, blamed on “upwards of 150 people, many of them intoxicated, who forced themselves onto the boat in spite of repeated remonstrances from the Captain who in vain, told them the boat was overloaded and must sink if many of them did not withdraw. At length from their numbers and turbulence the boat was overset, near the eight lock,” reported The Freeman’s Journal.
Commercial trade on the Canal boosted Athy’s fortunes until the railway line from Dublin to Carlow forced the closure of business in 1846.
The Canal had been closed for 32 years when a child was born close to the village of Kilkea, between Castledermot and Athy, in the south of County Kildare, who would become a legend in Polar Exploration and lead to the town’s Heritage Centre-Museum having the only permanent exhibition anywhere devoted to that child who became the legendary explorer, Ernest Shackleton. Highlights include an original sledge and harness from his Antarctic expeditions, a 15-foot model of his ship, Endurance, an exhibition of Shackleton family photographs and an audio visual display featuring Frank Hurley’s original film footage of the Endurance expedition.
The Shackleton Autumn School was established in Athy to commemorate the explorer. It provides a forum for discussion about Polar Exploration, about Shackleton and the presentation of relevant artistic work.
My main story in the current edition of my radio programme, THIS ISLAND NATION, is about Athy’s connection with Shackleton and the restoration of the cabin in which he died of a heart attack in the Antarctic on January 5, 1922 at Grytviken in South Georgia. The cabin is being restored at Letterfrack in Connemara. A Corkman, Eugene Furlong, initiated a project which is leading to its display at the Shackleton Museum in Athy. He located it during a visit to Norway. The restoration is being carried out at Conservation Letterfrack, where Janet O’Toole describes the work they will do. Joe O’Farrell of the Athy Museum Committee describes how they got the cabin back to Ireland.
It’s a story of determination and achievement and how an Irish town has led the way in honouring the memory of Shackleton.
Also on the programme you will hear a somewhat remarkable sea shanty, about the Keeper of the Eddystone Lighthouse, his Mermaid friend and the family they conceived, believe it or not!
As always, there is plenty to report about the maritime sphere and I hope you enjoy this fortnightly programme.
It is a point which I feel compelled to make, time and again, because it is people who make up a community of interest, by their determination, their commitment, their focus and that is what I believe the marine community to be and so, consider it to be THE FAMILY OF THE SEA, a common interest which those of us who value the sea, the lakes and the rivers of Ireland share. Long may there be such people.
I am fortunate enough to come across them, to hear their stories and to be able, through this medium, to bring them to the attention of others. This week on the programme, a 22-year-old is the focus. There are people who decide to do amazing things, for no motivation other than that they want to achieve something and to help a particular project. Twenty-two-year-old Alex Ellis-Roswell is one such person. He comes from Margate in Kent in England from where he started walking around the coast of Britain and Ireland in August of last year, planning to take two years to complete his self-imposed task and raise money for the RNLI lifeboat service as he walked.
”The slower you travel, the more you see…” is his attitude … But can you imagine getting into a sleeping back somewhere at six o’clock on a Winter’s evening to spend the night outdoors? That was one of the things he describes on the programme as he outlines how he chose the pathways for his journey. But he also records the most horrible sight which he has seen and this is something to which I have referred before – human abuse of our beaches, our foreshore areas.
Alex has had to take a rest from his walk for a while, to recover from damage to his knees during his expedition, but he plans to resume shortly. He is a fascinating, determined young man on a mission, who set himself a target of raising stg£10,000, which he is set to exceed, such has been the level of popular support he has been receiving.
For more information about his journey go here
WI-FI ON DUBLIN BAY
Also on the programme you can hear about the introduction of Wi-Fi on Dublin Bay and the Dublin Bay Digital Diamond, which Deirdre Lane, Navigation Policy Officer with the Commissioners of Irish Lights, describes. Click the link at the top of this story to listen in.
There is always something unusual to be found in the sea and we come across such stories and incidents regularly when compiling THIS ISLAND NATION. This week we report that Live Science website has issued pictures of a rare and endangered sea turtle which was found near the Solomon Islands.
It was spotted underwater by divers at night time, glowing bright red and green and they filmed it – identifying it as a hawksbill sea turtle. "It was a short encounter," said David Gruber, an Associate Professor of Biology at Baruch College in New York City and a National Geographic explorer. “It bumped into us and I stayed with it for a few minutes. It was really calm and let me film it. Then it dived down the side of a cliff face wall."
GOING FOR A PINT IN A BATHTUB
There is a lot of tide in the Shannon Estuary, which can make it a dangerous place in certain conditions, so it is hard to imagine that anyone would try to use what seemed liked nothing bigger than a bathtub to set out on the river to go for a few pints. Not surprisingly those involved got into trouble and Kilrush Lifeboat was called to their rescue. This story is told on the programme by Pauline Dunleavy of the West Clare lifeboat station.
• With the latest angling news from Myles Kelly of Fisheries Ireland and other stories there is, as always, a lot worth listening to on THIS ISLAND NATION. Click the link at the top of this story to listen in.
We may be an island nation, but are we a maritime people in our outlook and way of life? It could be reasonably argued that we most definitely aren’t. On last night’s Seascapes, the maritime programme on RTE Radio 1, Afloat.ie’s W M Nixon put forward a theory as to why this should be so. It’s based on a premise so simple that you’d be very confident somebody else must have pointed it out a long time ago. Yet despite Nixon’s notion being in the realms of the bleeding obvious, even with the aid of Google we cannot find any other commentator or historian making a straightforward suggestion along these lines, but will gladly welcome proof to the contrary.
Why aren’t we Irish one of the world’s great seafaring people? After all, we live on one of the most clearly defined islands on the planet. And it’s an island which is strategically located on international sea trading routes, set in the midst of a potentially fish-rich sea. Our coastline, meanwhile, is well blessed with natural havens, many of which are in turn conveniently connected to our hinterland by fine rivers which, in any truly boat-minded society, would naturally form an integrated national waterborne transport system.
Yet the traditional perception of us is as farmers, cattle traders and horse breeders of world standard, while the more modern view would include our growing expertise in information technology and an undoubted talent for high-powered activity in the international aviation industry. Then too, there is our long-established standing in the world of letters and communication and the media generally. Yet although there are now encouraging signs of a healthier attitude towards seafaring and maritime matters, particularly in the Cork region, for most Irish people the thought of a career in the global seafaring and marine industry simply doesn’t come up for consideration at all.
So why is this the case? I think the basic answer could not be simpler. The fact is, nobody ever walked to Ireland. The prehistoric land-bridges to Britain had disappeared before any human habitation occurred here. Our earliest settlers could only have arrived by primitive boat, and that was only ten thousand or so years ago. But even then, boats were still so basic that the often horrific seafaring experiences would have generated the pious hope of having absolutely nothing further to do with the sea and seafaring for the passengers, once they’d got safely ashore. And that attitude was handed down from one generation to the next.
While the south of England, with its land-bridge still connected to continental Europe, had experienced quite advanced human habitations for maybe as long as 400,000 years, Ireland by contrast was one of the very last places in the temperate zones to be taken over by human settlement, and those first settlers must have come by boat of some sort.
So even in terms of the relatively brief period of human existence on Earth, the settlement of Ireland is only the blink of an eye. Thus in talking of “Old Ireland”, we’re talking nonsense. Ireland is a very new place in terms of its human history. Yet although we’ve only been here ten thousand years, all the archaeological research points to the relatively rapid development of a complex society with some very impressive monuments being built in a relatively short period, and by a society which had become highly organised and technologically advanced within a compact timespan.Newgrange in County Meath - 5000 years old, and eloquent evidence of the sophistication of Ireland of the time
Newgrange’s location close to the River Boyne (top right) is a reminder that while basic river transport had become quite highly developed, in this era Irish seafaring was still in its earliest and most primitive stages despite the people’s ability to undertake the advanced calculations used in the construction of Newgrange.
So these were not a people who were just passing through. The earliest Irish were determined to make something special of their new home with some colossal and impressive sacred buildings and structures. To some extent this reflected the possibility that they were totally committed to creating a meaningful life in Ireland perhaps because they saw themselves as now marooned on it.
This sense of being marooned would have become embedded and emphasised in the compact family and tribal groups which very slowly spread across the island as a basic farming and hunting people. The inherited memories of the horror of the voyage to attempt to reach Ireland, in which many lives must have been lost at sea, would have been passed down from generation to generation, and we can be sure that the potential hazards of such an enterprise would lose nothing in the re-telling and embellishment of the ancient stories around the family hearth.
In other words, the longer your people have been in Ireland, then the greater would be your inherited sense of the risk in seafaring. Put another way, you could say that the very earliest Irish were not a seafaring people because the very earliest Irish mammies were absolutely determined that their sons were not going to seek a living on the dreadful sea. In the way of Irish mammies, they made sure that everyone knew this, and they have continued to do so to the present day.
If this emphasis on the adverse effect of inherited unhappy memories seems to over-state the case, consider the circumstances of the ancient people of the Canary Islands. When the Spanish voyagers first discovered the Canaries at a time not so very distant from Columbus’s voyages to America, they thought initially that the islands were uninhabited. It was only later that it was discovered that the highest mountain regions were home to an isolated people who were distantly related to the Berbers of North Africa.
In the remote past, these mountain people’s ancestors had somehow – possibly unintentionally – made the 62 mile voyage across from Africa. It is only eight miles further than the shortest distance between Wales and Ireland. But the seas are significantly warmer, which you’d expect to be a favourable circumstance for encouraging further voyaging. Yet having finally struggled ashore, those first Canary Islanders were very soon distancing themselves from the sea and seafaring.
The Shepherd’s Leap (Salto del Pastor) of the Canary Islands. The earliest islanders in the Canaries turned their backs on boats and the sea so completely that they retreated away from the coasts and went to live in the mountains. There, they developed a unique way of life including this primitive pole-vaulting – now a traditional sport – in order to descend cliffs or traverse ravines
Any small enthusiasm they might have had for boats soon disappeared completely, such that they now have no shared knowledge or memory of boats at all. And up in the mountains, their most remarkable talent is the ability to pole vault down into or across the ravines – the Shepherd’s Leap - in order to travel about in their vertiginous homeland, which was seen as preferable in every way to the real dangers of seafaring.
In a Thomas Davis lecture for Seascapes a dozen or so years ago, I discussed the specialised nature of those whose primary interest in the early days of Irish settlement lay in seeing seafaring as a viable way of life. So relatively rare were such people that I reckoned at the time that this talent for exploiting the diverse wealth which the sea offered would provide them with useful survival mechanism for themselves and future generations of their families.
But I now realise that I got it totally wrong. Absolutely the opposite must have been the case. Once you and your people had got safely to Ireland in the first wave of settlers, the seafaring was still so basic and consistently dangerous that having nothing further to do with it was a much better way of ensuring the continuing survival of your genetic stock, whereas producing a family of would-be sailors could see the end of the line in a very short few years.
Although the popular view in Ireland is that our earliest ancestors must have sailed direct from Iberia, it seems to me that Western European seafaring would have been so primitive in those days ten thousand years ago that the first settlers must have voyaged across in nondescript vessels from the most easily reached part of the nearby British land, which is the large island of Islay off southwest Scotland.
As it happens, DNA testing on the current population of southwest Scotland indicates that they too have significant elements of our Iberian stock. Thus there is a shared gene pool, and the earliest Irish most likely came by the easiest route from Scotland, whose people in turn had travelled overland from Europe via England.
If that seems a bit hard to take for those of us who like to think that we’re essentially a Mediterranean people left out in the rain, that we’re essentially a formerly seafaring race who came directly by sea from our ancestral homelands in the Basque region, be consoled by the fact that many centuries later Scotland itself was to undergo conquest by invaders from Ireland of the Scoti tribe, who gave a new name to a country formerly dominated by the Picts.
However, that was very much later, when seafaring technology had greatly advanced, and people could regularly sail across the waters between Ireland and Scotland with some confidence. But when the earliest land-starved pioneers were contemplating crossing to Ireland from Scotland, they would have first looked for the shortest route. The absolute shortest distances between Scotland and northeast Ireland is in the North Channel between the Mull of Kintyre and Fair Head in County Antrim. There, the straight line distance is barely a dozen miles, yet you are facing one of the most tide-riven, roughest and coldest sea channels in Europe. And should you make it safely across, the landing at the nearest point on either side is decidedly difficult.
Further south, the shortest distance between the Mull of Galloway in southwest Scotland across the North Channel to northeast County Down is only 20 miles, but here again in early times the landings were inhospitable on either side, and the tides could be ferocious in their adverse impact.
The crossings between Scotland and northeast Ireland which would have been faced by the earliest settlers. While the shortest distance between Kintyre and Fair Head to the east of Ballycastle is just over 12 miles, and the distance between Portpatrick and the nearest part of County Down is barely twenty miles, the entire North Channel between Rathlin Island and the Mull of Galloway is tide-riven, notoriously rough, and with the coldest sea temperatures on the Irish Coast. The earliest voyagers in very primtive boats would thus have had a better chance of a safe crossing, with more options as to their ultimate landfall, by setting off from Port Ellen in Islay, and having avoided the notorious tide race to the southwest of the Mull of Oa, then shaped their course to wherever the winds suited to make a landfall between Inishtrahull and Rathlin. The oldest human settlement in Ireland is at Mount Sandel near Coleraine. Plan courtesy Irish Cruising Club
But if you approached the Scotland-Ireland passage from the mainland of Scotland to the northeast, gradually working your way southwestwards through the southern Hebrides and gaining some seafaring experience with short inter-island hops until you were strategically placed at the natural harbour of what is now Port Ellen on the south shore of Islay, then the prospects were better. You might have still been all of 25 miles from Ireland, but it was a more manageable crossing. You had much greater choice in your possible destinations in making an Irish landfall, as you’d the entire Irish coast from Fair Head to Malin Head to aim for.
In reasonable weather, you could see where you were going, and with prevailing westerly winds there’d be a good chance it would be a relatively easy beam reach if you happened to have a primitive sailing rig, though the likelihood is the early boats were paddled, or rowed in primitive style.
Whatever the method of propulsion, there’s no disputing that one of the oldest sites of human habitation in Ireland is right in the middle of this northern coastline, at Mount Sandel on the River Bann in Coleraine. Yet no matter how much research and archaeology has been undertaken at Mount Sandel and at other ancient sites, no evidence of significant Irish human settlement has been found which goes back any further than ten thousand years.
As it happens, it was ten thousand years ago that mankind first developed the genetic mutation that enabled our ancestors to digest dairy products. But another five thousand years were to elapse before the first cattle were brought to Ireland to find that the place might have been invented for them, and cattle became a source and a measure of wealth. This new socioeconomic development pushed the sea and any form of seafaring even further down the social scale as a viable career option. Who would think of being a fulltime sea fisherman in a land noted as flowing in milk and honey? And even though water transport using rivers became a significant part of Irish life – notably in Fermanagh where the Maguires were to have a water-based mini-Kingdom - the sea was still viewed with suspicion, while the consumption of fish – whether from salt water or fresh – was regarded as socially inferior to eating meat.
Mediaeval map of Ireland. It’s just possible that the island-studded inlet shown on the west coast is the Maguire-ruled Lough Erne, but more likely it is Clew Bay given prominence through Grace O’Malley.
It was only with improvements in seafaring technology and the general seaworthiness of ships that later generations and new groups of settlers might have brought a more positive attitude towards the sea. Then there was a period of about 1200 years – rudely ended by the first arrival of the Vikings around 795AD – when Ireland was remarkably free of invasions, yet enough marine technology had developed in the island for a brief flowering of Irish seafaring with the extraordinary voyaging of the Irish monks.
It has been argued by some scholars that there was no such person as St Brendan the Navigator. But undoubtedly there were great seafaring monks, and those of us who say that if it wasn’t St Brendan then it was somebody else of the same name will occasionally make the pilgrimage across from Dingle to rugged little Brendan Creek close under the west slopes of Mount Brandon on the north shore of the Dingle Peninsula, and wonder again at those Irish men of limitless faith setting out from this sacred spot into the great unknown in light but able boats.
But as it was seaborne asceticism which they sought rather than wealth, it was seen as a highly specialized and rather odd interest when most of the people were much more readily drawn to epic tales of profitable cattle raiding.
Details of Tim Severin’s oxhide “giant currach” with which – in 1976-77 - he showed that the supposedly mythical Transatlantic voyages of St Brendan the Navigator were technically possible. The St Brendan - which with Denis Doyle’s encouragement was built in Crosshaven Boatyard in 1975-76 – is now on permanent display at Craggaunowen in County Clare.
Then came the Vikings. Say what you like about the Vikings - and everybody has an opinion – but the reality is that their longships represented a quantum leap in naval architecture development. They brought state-of-the-art voyaging in versatile ships way ahead of anything seen before. Yet in time the Vikings were in their turn sucked into the Irish way of doing things, and far from turning Ireland into a seafaring nation, they seem to have literally burned their boats and set up home ashore, gradually absorbing the negative attitude towards the sea of their new neighbours, and taking on board the inevitable anti-seafaring attitudes of their new mothers-in-law
It wasn’t immediately as simple as that, of course. For a while, Ireland was the focal point of the Vikings’ sea trading routes along the coasts of western Europe, while Dublin had the doubtful distinction of being the biggest slave market in the constantly changing Viking western empire, which wasn’t really a territorial empire in the traditional sense, but was more a sphere of active influence and commercial and raiding activity. But it was undoubtedly a major centre which was totally dominated by all Viking activities, including ship-building, and the return to Dublin in 2006 of the 100ft Sea Stallion of Glendalough, a re-creation of one of the biggest Viking ships ever built (in Dublin in 1042), was a telling reminder of just how much Dublin had been to the fore in Viking life, while this video is a timely reminder of the great project completed in Roskilde ten years ago.
Inevitably, people of Viking descent were becoming a significant element in the Irish population, and even today we would naturally expect someone called Doyle to have something of the sea in their veins. Yet the Irish capacity for absorption of newcomers into the old ways of thinking has worked here too. The most common Irish surname today is Murphy. It means sea warrior. While those of us with maritime interests in mind would like to think it referred to an ancient tribe who went forth from Ireland to do successful battle on distant seas, we know in our heart of hearts that the Murphys are descended from warriors – mostly Vikings - who came in from the sea.
In time, they were enticed into domesticity by comely maidens who in due course became the formidable Irish mammies who prohibited any seafaring by their sons. Indeed, so far are most Murphys removed today from the sea that in some parts of the world the name is still a patronising nickname for the potato, something which is useful enough in its way, but its only maritime link is through fish and chips.
After the Vikings and then the Normans – who were really only Vikings with some slightly less rough French manners put on them – subsequent invasions were English-dominated, and the growth of British sea power was done in a manner which made sure that any Irish role in it was strictly of a subservient nature.
Rockfleet Castle in County Mayo, reputed deathplace of Grace O’Malley in June 1603. She was everything she shouldn’t have been, and in heroic style. She was Irish yet a mighty seafarer in command of her own ships, and a woman, yet a ruthless ruler of power and wealth who could combat men on equal terms.
Of course there were local heroes who tried to oppose this, the most renowned being Grace O’Malley, the Sea Queen of Connacht. But even when people of English descent tried to establish a separate Irish seafaring identity, as happened with the merchants of Drogheda, their aspirations would be slapped down by the dominant power and control from the government in London and the influence of the merchants of Bristol.
However, the government only had to look the other way for a moment before there was some local maritime enterprise was trying to flourish, and in the late 18th and early 19th Century the North Dublin smugglers, privateers and pirates of the little port of Rush in Fingal, people like Luke Ryan and James Mathews, were pace-setters in Europe and across the Atlantic, striking deals with Benjamin Franklin among others.
Depending on the state of international hostilities, sometimes their privateering trade could be quite open, and in Dublin the Freeman’s Journal of 23rd February 1779 reported that “we find the little fishing village of Rush has already fitted out four vessels, and one of them is now in Dublin at Rogerson’s Quay, ready to sail, being completely armed and manned, carrying 14 carriage guns and 60 of as brave hands as any in Europe”.
A late 19th century privateer, built for speed. When times were good for privateering, the little port of Rush in Fingal could provide a flotilla of these craft, which at other times could be kept hidden in the Rogerstown Estuary
The Admiral from Mayo. Being press-ganged by the Royal Navy was one of the many career-changing events which resulted in William Brown from Foxford becoming the founder-Admiral of the Argentine Navy.
But the majority of Irish seafarers were employed only in the humblest roles afloat, and often through the activities of the shore-raiding involuntary recruitment drives of the press gangs of Britain’s Royal Navy, However, this could produce some wonderful examples of unexpected consequences. The most complex was William Brown, of Foxford in Mayo, who had somehow risen to be a Captain in the American merchant marine when he was press-ganged into the Royal Navy, and after many vicissitudes, he ended up as a merchant in Buenos Aires. There, thanks to his unexpected acquisition of experience in naval warfare by courtesy of the Royal Navy, he became the founder of the Argentine Navy and an Admiral, as one does…..
Then there was the 18th Century Patrick Lynch of Galway, …….according to some stories, he was press-ganged. Be that as it may, the family made their fortune eventually in South America and a descendant, Patricio Lynch, owned the ship Heroina which played a significant role in Argentine history. The family continued to prosper in many directions, such that one decendant was Che Guevara, while another is the yacht designer German Frers, whose own pet yacht (which he gets little enough opportunity to use, as he is so busy designing boats for others) is called Heriona in honour of the family’s complex historic links through the sea with Ireland.
Yacht designer German Frers sailing his personal 74ft sloop Heroina in the River Plate. The boat is named in honour of the historic ship which belonged to his ancestor Patricio Lynch.
But while a very few of the young Irishmen press-ganged by the Royal Navy may ultimately have prospered in unexpected ways, the vast majority most definitely didn’t. Most came to a horrible end, while those who had managed to escape the press gangs’ clutches, together with the rest of the bulk of the native population, were reinforced in their inherited distrust of seafaring in any form.
Thus although we may now feel pride in the fact that the world’s first recreational sailing club was established with the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork in 1720, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that those great Munster landowners and merchants who founded it were partly doing it subconsciously just to show how very different they were from the ordinary run of Irish people in their attitude to the sea.
First instance of the “have nots” and the “have yachts”? The establishment of the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork in 1720 was a remarkable achievement, but if anything it emphasised the fact that the vast majority of Irish people had no enthusiasm or capability for the sea. Courtesy RCYC.
As for the official attitude when the Irish Free State finally came into being, its was so painfully sea-blind that we still need to draw a veil over its attitude, only noting that the first significant voyage under the new Irish ensign was made by one of that much-maligned class, a yachtsman. This was the great venture round the world south of the capes by Conor O’Brien of Limerick with his little Baltimore-built Saoirse between 1923 and 1925.
Conor O’Brien’s Saoirse departs Dun Laoghaire on her world- girding voyage on 20th June 1923.
O’Brien was to find Ireland so stultifying in its outlook after his return that he sailed away to live elsewhere, and we have to accept that for several decades the official approach reinforced the notion that being interested in the sea is un-Irish. So if we hope to change this attitude which still lingers today, a useful first step is to accept that for many of us, being non-maritime is the most natural thing in the world – we’ve had it instinctively from the very beginning, it’s in our handed-down and repeatedly-instilled inherited memories from the time when our most distant ancestors struggled ashore from battered little boats somewhere on the north coast, knowing that many others had died, and would die, trying to do the same thing.
Far from trying to pretend that this attitude doesn’t really exist, surely a much better way is to accept that it does, but that we’ve researched a perfectly valid explanation as to why this is so. Thus the way forward for Ireland to fulfill her maritime potential is to realize why this attitude is there in us, and take mature steps to offset it.
The fact is, in dealing with the sea, the Irish people have never had a level playing field. We’ve had to live with it and our inherited memories of being on it in very adverse circumstances. Unlike continental land dwellers, we have had no choice in the matter - we don’t see the sea as somewhere excitingly new with endless possibilities, we see it only with inherited distrust. And the determination of the current wave of walking migrants from the Middle East into Europe to attempt the sea crossing at only the narrowest part is further dreadful evidence of this.
But in another area of human endeavour, we’ve shown that we can do the business in competition with other nations. When aviation began to become part of everyday life a hundred years ago, it was unknown territory for all mankind. In terms of getting to grips with flying, it was a level playing field for all.
Yet here we are now in Ireland, an island in the Atlantic which is playing an extraordinarily active and central role in many aspects of aviation management and development, and certainly punching way above our weight. Looking at what we have been able to do in the air, it is surely time to look again at what we might do with the sea if we can look at it from a fresh perspective, and adapt the same can-do energies of the Irish aviation industry to the business of seafaring.
It’s time and more to shake off the old fears of the sea, while always maintaining a healthy respect for its undoubted power. That is best done by being in the vanguard of maritime technological development. And down around Cork Harbour, they’re doing that very thing. It’s just possible that, despite our ingrained anti-maritime attitude, we are beginning to view the sea in a more healthy and positive way. And it’s from our great southern port that we’re beginning to get inspiring leadership as the sea beckons us towards fresh opportunities.
So what, if nobody ever walked to Ireland? So what, if our distant ancestors had a very cold, very wet and very rough time getting here? It’s time to move on. Time to get over it. Time to start seeing the sea in a sensible way.
The little ship that carried the maritime hopes of a new nation. Conor O’Brien’s Saoirse in dry dock, showing the tough little hull that was able to register a good mileage most days in the Southern Ocean while still sailing in comfort. Yet when he returned to Dun Laoghaire in 1925 to complete his voyage with a rapturous homecoming reception, Conor O’Brien was soon to find that beneath the welcome there was increasing official indifference in the new Free State to Ireland’s maritime potential.