Ever Present Danger. The smoke is acrid, thick and hot. It forms an oppressive layer above the lurid yellow helmets of the firefighting team. Heat radiates from the burning fire in the corner of the cabin in front of them. The noise of the water as it bounces of the deckhead and deck is deafening, the steel structure reverberates and the team leaders shouts out his commands through the life persevering facemask of his breathing apparatus. All commands have a purpose, each given with an intensity befitting the seriousness of the situation; while each response is repeated quickly and verbatim, once the command has been executed the team leader is informed immediately. There is no place for an individual here; only by working as a team will these five sailors fight their way through hatches and down ladders, deeper into the burning vessel they press on, negotiating the total darkness to find the seat of the fire. Their shipmates’ lives depend upon it.
Something in the Water.
There must be something in the water that nourishes writers on this Great Island of ours, as it has such an abundance of them. Perhaps, as the Lee flows along, it gathers stories from its many tributaries and courses, tumbling them in its stream as it flows ever onward on its journey to the Atlantic. Or maybe it’s the nature of living on the harbour, where for centuries ships have sailed and sheltered as the flow of commerce from across the nation has funnelled goods and people to its quaysides; then onward to new horizons waiting out past Roches point.
Something draws them to come to rest, like so many grains of sand, onto the shores of Cobh. This never-resting, ever-changing harbour has borne witness to the heartache of the emigrant and the excitement of unknown adventures for those drawn to a life on the ocean. Cobh’s every corner is etched with history and the endless search for fresh possibilities seems to stimulate the creativity of the local writers. They wait like Heaney at his desk, ‘Between my finger and my thumb, The squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it.’, and what a range of stories our local writers unearth in their digging.
A Changed World.
In 1919, the war to end all wars was over. The 19th of January saw the start of peace negotiations in Paris, which would culminate in the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June. This momentous year saw the drafting of the covenant of the League of Nations, the surrender and scuttling of the German high seas fleet in Scapa Flow. It also on the 21st of January saw the first Dáil sit in the Mansion House in Dublin, where they declared Irish Independence in fulfilment of the goals of the grand heroic failure of the 1916 Easter Rising. Also on that fateful day in Soloheadbeg, volunteers of the 3rd Tipperary Brigade under the command of Seán Treacy and Dan Breen, ambushed and shot two constables of the Royal Irish Constabulary. The first two dead men of an estimated 1,400 deaths between 1919 and 1921. While most of the fighting occurred on land across Ireland, the sea had a major role to play in both the Rising and the War of Independence.
Lonely Edge of Europe.
Ireland holds a geostrategic maritime position on the lonely edge of Europe, facing out into the North Atlantic where the European and North American sea lanes veritably bustle with all manner of shipping. At the turn of the century, Ireland's seas and maritime domain where under the firm control of the British Empire and the might of the Royal Navy. The ports and deep sheltered harbours of Cork, Berehaven and Lough Swilly, protected by massive forts and coastal artillery batteries, had played their part in centuries of British domination of the high seas and from these ports where shipped troops to fight in Britain's many wars. Many a period of rebelliousness across Ireland was subdued by forces shipped from these Naval installations, helping to underpin the British presence in Ireland as the dark clouds of war gathered on the European horizon. Those clouds burst in August 1914.
She was 93 years old,grandmother of all agitators,immigrant teacher's words stirred men to action,she wrote her story down,passing labours flame from Pennsylvania,from coal mining heartlands built on the bones of union,tales of the silk children's knight crusader,charging the power of the mill.
The call of the woman of the north side,fell into the ear of the ragged trousered wretch,growing straight in the regimented pines,arrayed through the ruins of famine homesteads,hemmed in by the meandering dry stone walls,built from their shells,pray for the dead,fight like hell for the living,in mines and bogs or dockyard slips,the boot seeks a neck,the company scales the pocket picked,join a union
Angels voices soaring to roll off the ceilings curves,numb hands pressed against grieving ones,roaring winds pulling at the aged stones,no threat to peace or pain inside the vault,sharing the seeping warmth of love departed.
The lintels still carry chisel strikes,left by rough hands that toiled,a hundred years of rain have yet,to find their way inside,each stone as tight together as the families,who sit in hushed mourning rows beneath,
In 1999 I drove over Tibnin Bridge in the sweltering heat,as the UN bus rose a trail of dust,billowing up behind us,the laughter onboard almost distracted me from my task,the careful watch of the road signs,my finger following the road snaking through South Lebanon,on a trip from Tyre up into the hills.
I was only a baby when you died here,but not much later my older brothers went to serve in that land,which was soaked with your blood,I heard your story while I was still so very young,in the weeks before the first of them left for the Lebanon,they spoke in hushed tones in the kitchen,but I heard from my games in the hall outside.
I have seen the love,when Father makes himself into a bed,to raise the weary child from off the deck,cradling all the treasure of the world,within his arms, underneath thin blankets.
I have seen the love,of brother held fast to brother,sleeping, no support but each other,I had not the words to ask,did they even share a Mother?
Ruins of Houses
In the shattered ruins of abandoned houses,Lie secret notes on scraps of paper,
Tucked beneath the mossy stones,Silent questions to be buried under falling needles,
Hopes and fears unanswered in the rough pine forest,
The cairn of broken plates and white clay pipes,
The thick round pot rims, orange and smooth,
Marking the commitment to the woodlice,
Of the lonely pain.
Red, golden, green, the scales of Peters fish,stretched and nailed to the curve of the dome,held up by pious prayers, feverish pleas and hope of the wounded,the hospital arches of yellowed stone, barred with wrought iron,twisted and anchored deep into faith,by head and feet, anointed shells of men, bent battered forms.
The Tower of Il-Gardjola
We hear it all,the endless message,carved high into the battlements,conform and heed our call.
We see it all,the lidless eye is never sleeping,stays dry mid widows weeping,for the husbands who lay bleeding.
The rusty frames have faded into the background,beyond the comprehension of the busy lives bustling underneath,the silent gaze of the towering giants,steadfast vigil beside the dark river,strangers eyes see the flaking struts,derelict complaints can’t reach the pigeons nesting over Verolme,
From Pontus to Sophia.
Currently, in the Central Southern Mediterranean LÉ Samuel Beckett is on patrol, with fifty-six Irish service personnel embarked. She is the physical embodiment of Ireland’s commitment to a Europe Union (EU) mission which is determined to break apart the callous criminal enterprises which have extracted huge profits from the misery and death of thousands of innocents.With both an EU and United Nations (UN) mandate, the roles begin played by the Irish Navy in EUNAVFOR Med ‘Operation Sophia’, are very different from those which were undertaken by the other Irish vessels who have deployed since 2015, when LÉ Eithne first went south to answer the call from our Italian partners as part of the EU response to what has been interchangeable referred to as, the ’Mediterranean’, ’migration’ or ’refugee crisis’.