Sailing Around Ireland – Paddy Barry
Would you like to join us in a sailing cruise round Ireland in the Galway Hooker “Saint Patrick “for fifty years she carried cargo under her red sails in Galway Bay. Now her working days are over, she has an engine and is decked out and fitted for cruising. A ‘circumcision’ of Ireland , as an old pal used to call it. There’ll be three or four of us aboard for the few weeks, we’ll go under sail as much as we can , diesel in the tank for when the wind doesn’t suit . We’ll pull in to places at night, for the odd pint and a bit of music, all dependin’.
It’s great on a Friday evenin’ , to be leaving the traffic of Dublin behind and then the lovely silence as we turn off the engine and the breeze fills the sails. The wind is from the south west , which suits , as we go before it and up the Irish Sea.
We round the Baily Lighthouse , and the Kish Light is way outside us, aren’t they very friendly to see them, especially at night , when they’re ‘blinkin’ away each with their own special flashes. The Baily flashing every fifteen seconds and the Kish with its double flash . With satellites and GPS instruments now on nearly every small boat , who needs the lighthouses!? I like to be able to see where I’m goin and its nice to see high uncompromising standards. The Commissioners of Irish Lights always did things very well , with their buildings and their machinery. The buildings that housed the 3 light keepers and their families are strong and functional, white walled with red painted gates and railings. Unfortunately the light –keepers are gone – It’s all automatic now.
With a nice tide helping us we are past Lambay Island , Balbriggan and Skerries and in a few hours we are crossing Dundalk Bay. Leopold McClintock came from Dundalk in the way that it was , he was sent off to the British Navy at the age of twelve as a young gentleman of officer material and so he proved to be , one of the Navy’s best . In the North West Passage then largely unexplored he excelled. The North West Passage is the sea route from the Atlantic to the Pacific over the top of the American Continent. What made its transit difficult is not the islands , rocks and shallows , but that it is mostly clogged with ice . Even in Summer when the ice of the frozen sea breaks up, the wind blows the ice about and getting through is a lottery .
In McClintock’s time , in the 1850’s , the middle section , about 700 miles was as yet untravelled by boat; by non natives, at any rate. The Inuit,who lived there knew it well, then as now.
McClintock sailed there as a British Navy officer. They would overwinter their ships in the frozen sea. Then in Spring, when daylight returned they would pull their sledges over the frozen sea and land surveying and taking soundings through holes in the ice.It was fearsome hard work, the seamen did it for the double pay going with the Arctic voyages.The officers did it to further their careers.
Now the Mountains of Mourne are ahead of us , inshore.
Last year (2001) we went up there .We anchored and went ashore at the very place where McClintock discovered the fate of the lost Franklin Expedition. Franklin had sailed with two large ships and a hundred and twenty nine men, all lost.!
We’re going for Strangford Lough, where there’s a traditional boat festival goin on at Portaferry. Old gaff rigged boats and strong tides, music and porter. Our friend Raphael will be coming on board here, he of the endless observation of all things that grow, fly and swim.”When the lough goes lazy”, is how he describes the turn of the tide, as we head again for sea.
There are now only two light ships on the Irish coast, one is called “South Rock” off County Down and the other is Coningbeg off Wexford. Our boat draws only 6 feet so we can cut well inside it , to save a few hours.It was near here that in 1989 we lost our good friend Con McCann, who went down with his boat ‘Connacht’ , in a squall. A big tide is emptying out northwards through the Irish Sea , so we’ll carry this tide as far as we can.
Belfast Lough inside us, then Larne, Carnlough, the Mull of Kintyre just visible over. You can see why it is that Ulster and Scotland are close in so many ways.
The Ulster champion Cuchulainn got his training in arms in Scotland said to be from Scáthach, the woman warrior.And by dad, we’re making great speed and we get around Fair Head before the tide goes against us, we’re into Church Bay in Rathlin Island , by evening. There’s a new harbour in Rathlin now. Just watch the sandbank as you come along, turn sharply to port between the pier heads, and you’re in.
But , like on too many of the new island piers , the construction machinery , 21/14 mixers and 19 RB’s still lie there amongst the nettles. It was here in a cave in Rathlin that Robert Bruce , on the run , observed the spider doing his ‘try, try, try again’ stuff. That cave is on the east side of the island , facing Scotland. ’Tis said to be hard to find , but next time we’re here we must try to get to it.
Rathlin was our take off point some years ago for Saint Kilda and Iceland . We had desperate weather, but Mike Brogan, in his bunk, off – watch, wrote it up in heroic style-
“The journey up to Iceland, is worth a verse or two
Strong winds blew from the Arctic , a tester for our crew
But Saint Patrick breasted all the waves, and thro’ the seas did run
Twas a lovely sight , goin’ up the fjord, we had reached the midnight sun”
Leavin’ Rathlin with the West –goin’ tide , the Giants Causeway on North Antrim is not very prominent or visible from the sea. Only for the tourists walking on the shore you’d hardly know it was there.
We’ re now into ‘Drontheim Country’ . Accross the north coast , these ‘Drontheim’ boats were the work horses. Donal McPolin has written a lovely book on them , with gorgeous sketches. These boats have their over-lapping planks, clinker built, as is the Scandinavian way, which made for lightness, flexibility and strength.The clinker build is found north of a line between Down and Mayo. South of this line all timber boats have their planks butted together , or carvel built as it is called. 4 men to a boat , they rowed them and sailed them, fishing for a living, and hauling them up beaches at night.
Happily now, like the Galway Hookers and the Achill Yawls, there is a revival of these old craft, being re –built and sailed but now for pleasure and regatta days. It’s great to keep that tradition going.
Past the mouth of the Foyle, Inishowen and Inishtrahull we’re on our way to Tory, that rock shelf of an island community off North West Donegal. Christy ( Moore ) and myself once talked about sailing in the hooker to all the Irish islands with a community. We reckoned that there are about 12 of them , depending on which you include – he’d do a non commercial , unannounced gig ..’Twould have been great crack – but it never came to pass.’
Patsy Dan Rogers (MacRuairi) is the voice of Tory , the welcoming man ,always on the pier with a welcome and later in the community hall to play the box and to bring out the best in everyone.
Outside the Traonach , the Corncrake , fills the night with his croak. The new pier is a great benefit,a life line indeed. This is so for the ferry from the mainland, and for the likes of ourselves too. Down the years before it was built this was an uneasy place for the likes of visitors like us.
Bloody Foreland , so well known , is low and reddish . This is no place to dally , where the North Atlantic storms send the seas crashing in.
So its nice to get in through the shelter of the islands and drop anchor off the sandy beach at Gola. Beautiful grassy island , its houses are deserted except for a few in Summer. Men from Gola sailed on Asgard, when she landed guns in Howth. This is the island that gave us the song “Baidin Fheidhlimi, d’imig go Gola” !
Now bird watchers scan the skies and rock climbers in bright colours hang on Golas cliffs , camping on the island before getting a boat back to Bunbeg on the mainland. The new houses line the coast road .What can you say about them.? From the road they seem to clog the place , be it here, Achill or south Connemara.But from the higher ground , Errigal, Ben Lettery or Errisbeg, the landscape looks as ever it did, the white dots below appearing inconsequential.
We’ll go on to Arranmore – The Donegal Arran has two r’s and is umbilically connected to Scotland by its people who come and go there, and by its ‘tunnel tigers ‘ connected to the world- wherever there are tunnels there are Arranmen.
The big Severn Class Lifeboat here is a ‘beaut’ , 54 feet of muscle and horse-power , God Bless the RNLI and the men and women who crew them.
Rathlin O’Beirne Island ,deserted, is next for us. It has two remarkable walls sheltering the grass pathway, this path runs from the landing place to the lighthouse buildings. These 2 walls are seven feet high , of dry walled stone. They must have taken years to build.
Then come the high cliffs of Sliabh League , one of Ireland’s 3 Holy Mountains.These 2,000 ft cliffs are said to be the highest in Europe.
Killybegs , busy and bustling , we’ll leave for another day, we need to get across Donegal Bay to Mayo before the weather breaks. That means , once again, having to leave Innis Murray behind. For Years we have carried on board the guide book to its monastic remains , in readiness for an informed jump ashore. However its location , deep within the bay, near Sligo , makes the outward westward haul, along the north coast of Mayo, unattractive.
Mayo juts way out westward. This was unknown to the cartographers and navigators of the Spanish Armada. As a result so many unfortunate Spaniards were shipwrecked on our west coast, some of whom were butchered by our forbears as they came ashore. Erris Peninsula , since the closing of Belmullet Bridge , has to be left inside us. This closing of the opening section of the bridge and that of some others shows – a great short sightedness at the time.
At Eagle Island outside Erris I’ve seen a currach rising and falling , out of sight in the big swell ,in it were two men standing nonchalantly working their gear, pots or nets.
You like to stop at Inish Glora , for it was to here that the Children of Lir returned after being changed into swans. As swans they were banished to Derravaragh and the Sea of Moyle for several hundred years .The holding and the shelter south of the island is poor. We visit the monastic remains , sadly in poor order. We then continue down the 10 miles to the shelter of the Inish Ge Islands, Islands of the Greenland Geese. They fly in , each winter, to graze the lush grass of these two islands.
We sailed over to Greenland in Summer, there , to hike along the valleys and climb her sharp mountains. The first time we went in ‘Saint Patrick’ and it took us 21 days to get there. With contrary winds and sea-ice and engine broken down we felt great empathy with the Vikings in their long ships.
In contrast , last year( 2001) we had excellent wind and it took us only seven and a half days out of Westport to sight Cape Farewell in Greenland. Mind you it was another three days before we made it ashore, because of gales and sea-ice.
Back in Inish Ge ! The big gale of October 1927 , called the Cleggan Disaster down in Galway, decimated these islands . Almost all the men were out fishing in their currachs that terrible night and most were lost.
Inshore of Inish Ge is Broadhaven Bay and further again is Ballycroy Lodge . We anchored and went up the river , a half mile in our dinghy . The lodge – a long two storied house, is now empty. W.H.Maxwell wrote a book about the Summer of 1830 that he spent there.The book is called ‘Wild Sports of the West of Ireland’. He tells of hunting the eagle, fishing the abundant salmon and drinking the equally abundant claret. Of this he wrote “that not a farthing of revenue had been paid on it”.
We’ll land next on Inish Biggle , untouched by the new prosperity and by evening we’ll anchor of Dougort beach on Achill’s north side. To get southward you could go through Achill Sound , if the tides are right, if the Council will open the swing bridge and if the ESB (Electricity Supply Board) overhead wires are not too low for your mast .On the rare occasion that the bridge is opened , it is a fairly major operation for the men from Mayo County Council. The water supply pipe carried on the bridge has to be uncoupled . Then the winches which swing the steel opening section can be turned. A couple of Hookers did it a few years ago , with Achill Yawl men as our pilots .However it turned out to be a 2 day operation. Can you imagine that the weather was so hot that the bridge expanded and got stuck! The next day there were pumps on hand to hose down the steel to cool it.It was great crack, with about six inches of water under our keels and not much more under the wires.
Today our boat is going west around the island . The day is sunny and a few of us are walking the high ridge and sea cliffs of Sliabh Mor and Croachan , all to meet up at Kem Bay. The Achill men used to hunt the basking shark there. No more , its holiday makers on the beach now.
It was at Westport last June (2001) that we launched the special aluminium expedition boat “Northabout” that Jarlath Cunnane built.We sailed away under Croagh Patrick and bound for Greenland and the North West Passage . This passage is an elusive ‘one warm line’ through a wild and savage land.
As well as trying to get through we were particularly interested in the Irishmen who had gone before us. The names on the charts there, speak eloquently of them , McClure from Wexford, Crozier from Banbridge, McClintock , we have spoken of, and there even is a Cape Paddy Hennessy – he was up there for seventeen years with Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Global warming is real , the Inuit hunters say the Summer is longer and the ice is thinner. It freed up for long enough last year to allow us through .Ice –breakers aside, we were the 13th boat to do it.
Back to home waters, Clare Island, Caher and Turk with Killary Fjord and Mweelrea overlooking it . The Bens of Connemara now show, as we’ll go into ‘Boffin for the night- that most musical of islands.
Next day , with heads slightly sore, we go by High Island , former home of Saint Feichin . We sail past two steeples of Clifden’s competing churches and then by Mannin Bay with its sandy beaches and wild flowers in the grass.Its called after the God of the Sea – Manannán Mac Lir .
Next is Slyne Head or as Gaeilge ‘Ceann Leime’ , Headland of the Jumping . You’d need to be some jumper to make it from island to island out there. Its a great thrill to go the inside route inside Slyne Head through Joyces Sound . Its about 2 boat lengths wide, but it has plenty of depth.Even in the lightest of swells , the sea breaks white on the rocks on either side. There’s no room for turning back or for second thoughts.
You could spend a month , a summer or even a lifetime between Slyne Head and Black Head in Clare and still not call to everywhere in Galway Bay and Connemara. This is the home of the Hookers, the ‘Báid Mhora’ these carried cargo under sail. My own love affair with these boats began in 1966.In Greatmans Bay it was a fine summers morning . We in our glass fibre 505 racing dinghy were overtaken by a fully loaded Hooker, the Maighdean Mhara. Her black triangle of sail carried her silently and powerfully out to Cill Ronan , there to discharge her turf. Two pints for the ‘Badoir’
and back to Carraroe- a days work for them – a dream of a boat for me.
Further east are the shallow waters of Kinvara and Galway city , Gallimh a go-go-always busy now.
But the Summer is passing . In Aran , we shelter out of the wind and rain from the southwest.Later the rain stops, the sky clears and the wind swings to the northwest. We raise sail and go southwards.
We go past the Cliffs of Moher with O’Briens Castle standing prominent.After Loop Head is the estuary of the River Shannon. Within, Moneypoint and Tarbert ESB (Electricity Supply Board) Stations turn out the power. Further in is Aughinish, locally called ‘Treasure Island’ during the building of its Aluminium Plant.
Foynes Island was home to Conor O’Brien , he who sailed ‘Saoirse’ round the world in the twenties. Later in Baltimore (West Cork) he had the ‘Ilen’ built and with the two Cadogans from Cape Clear , delivered her to the Falkland Islands.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Brandon , our 3rd Holy Mountain , is ahead.The islands outside are clear to be seen, Tearacht , Tuaisceart, Vickillaune and Great Blasket.
Tents are now pitched where school children once played. The steep slip still has a few naomhogs, where visitors struggle upwards.
Its about 3 miles over the ridge of Great Blasket to its end, first on grassy track, then on a soft path through the ferns. Barefoot , with sea birds on the cliffs below,there is no finer run.
Walk if you like – you’ll see more, and breathe it all in- God in his Heaven, the Skelligs away to the south.
Danny Sheehy once told me that you must always give the ‘Sean Fhear’ a piece of tobacco when you’re passing . This dangerous half –tide rock on the Dun Chaoin side of the Sound is no place for strangers like us to be near.
Further up Dingle Bay is the village of Annascaul , set back from the sea. From here it was that Tom Crean , as a boy , ran off to join the Navy, enlisting in the local coastguard station. Because Tom was ‘lower deck’ , not an officer, he never got all the recognition he deserved. He was a strong resourceful , willing and humorous man and was a stalwart in the Antarctic with Scott and separately with Kildare man Ernest Shackleton . He was with Shackleton on the ‘small boat journey’and also on the mountain crossing of South Georgia. On Tom’s retirement from the Navy , he bought a pub in Annascaul and called it ‘The South Pole Inn’ ...its there still.
A few of us a few years ago did a re-run of Shackleton’s Antarctic Escapes after his ship ‘Endurance’ was crushed by sea-ice. We were two climbers and three sailors . We built an exact replica of Shackleton’s boat (The James Caird) and shipped it in a 20 foot container to Tierra del Fuego first and then down to the Antarctic.
We didn’t do as well as Shackleton in the boat. In big weather blowing in from Cape Horn , we were turned over , 3 times, and forced to abandon .
Back home again, we pass the deep bay known as Kenmare River. Thats a real misnomer, perpetrated by Lord Kenmare long ago . By calling the bay a river, he got fishing rights. , After our eighty years of independence isn’t it about time that we set this name right.?
Dursey Island at the end of the Beara Peninsula is now almost deserted .We’ll skip Castletownbere this time and try to get round the Mizen before the weather breaks again.
It’s always great to get into Crookhaven, ever since I first bought ‘Saint Patrick’ in there in 1974. I have a lot to thank Billie O’Sullivan for. He kept the boat pumped that Summer, when she leaked so badly that he once nearly drowned inside of her.
The ‘Carraig Aonar’ is outside us now, the lone rock.The Irish name is much more descriptive than the name ‘Fastnet’.
We could go for either Cape Clear or for Baltimore. Cape Clear like Blasket, has produced many books, and they say it is a great place to live, but a hard place to make a living.
Before the Transatlantic telegraph , Cape was the first place to get the news from the New World.In waxed cloth , the news packages were dropped off inbound ships to waiting Cape Clear boats , there to be relayed by telegraph to Cork and to London.
Baltimore now is a busy fishing harbour, in Summer it is alive with holiday makers and sailors.The ferries constantly come and go, out to Sherkin Iand to Cape Clear Island beyond. To take a break from the salt sea you could go inland towards Skibereen . Don’t take the road, go instead in your boat up the Ilen River. You’ll need the tide of course , because the river winds through shallow waters. Woods and pleasant meadows line its banks. The Skibereen Eagle is the newspaper of note in these parts. Even back east as far as Midleton it was always known as being ’first with the news’ (That was the transatlantic connection) and it is renowned for its editorial a hundred years ago , warning the Czar of Russia that they in Skibereen were keeping an eye on him.
Going back downriver with the ebb you’ll pass Liam Hegarty’s boatyard where , the Falkland Island vessel called ‘The Ilen’ now is laid up.Gary McMahon and some Limerick friends shipped her back to Dublin some years ago. We re- rigged her, then with seven red sails borrowed from Galway Hookers , we sailed her back to Cork and into Baltimore to a great welcome home. This 56 foot boat would make an ideal vessel for any of our coastal towns. She could be used for sail training , corporate outings or even for a few weeks of correctional training youngsters –in – need of alternate living styles.Back in Baltimore , the pub ‘The Algerian’ is a reminder of the infamous Sack of Baltimore.This was in June of 1630 . These Algerian pirates were piloted by a man from Dungarvan. ‘Tis said that he had a dispute with the fishermen from Baltimore...
No less than Thomas Davis wrote
“And o’er each black and bearded face,
The white or crimson shawl.
The yell of ‘Allah’ breaks above
The prayer and shriek and roar.
Oh blessed God! / The Algerine
Is Lord of Baltimore.
We’re on our way again , and going east . We’ll go outside Kedge Island and inside The Stags .For years this south-west coast of Ireland was well known to Breton fishermen. Indeed when we were in Brest for a traditional boat festival in 1992, we heard how the Bretons sailed for Ireland . They would leave on the Spring Tide , they’d fish here on the Neaps and then return to Brittany with their catch.
We’ll pass Glandore for now.Memory of the loss there last May of ‘Saint Patrick’ is still too sharp.
We’ll leave the Old Head of Kinsale with its big black and white striped lighthouse, to the golfers.Access to this headland is now restricted, much to the annoyance of the many who used to enjoy the walk out to it.
If the tide is with us we’ll get a good push in the current off the Head. If the tide is running against us , we’ll keep in tight to the headland where the run of water is quieter.
Cork , city of Saint Finbarr , yachts, chemicals and pharmaceuticals we’ll pass next , and press onward for a short stop at the Great Saltee. The Lightship Coningbeg is anchored south of this island .The direction in which she lies to her anchor always tells which way the tidal stream is running.
Or you could go the inside passage between the Saltees and the village of Kilmore Quay, if you like. Of course you’d need to know where to cross the shallows of Saint Patricks Bridge . This gravel spit runs from the land out to the Little Saltee. GPS , that little instrument by your chart table , that picks up the satellite signal and gives your exact location makes it all so easy- so different.
Its only a few years ago that we were constantly taking bearings and plotting fixes, trailing logs to give us speed and distance run , and then meticulously recording compass courses made good.
On our longer passages to Spain, or in 1986 going to America , we did it all by sextant- and then all the calculations and that only to get a line of position not even a fix. We miss not at all the constant work and anxiety sometimes of navigation- but we have lost the joy , the exultation of landfall. First you might on your transistor radio start hearing the local radio , then a half day or a day later see the land showing up ahead of you.
In 1987 we first used the Decca , going to the Faroe Islands. In 1990 , going to Spitzbergen, we had a ‘Sat-Nav’ . This gave a position two or three times a day as the satellite passed overhead . By 1993 GPS was in, constant readout for evermore. Even in the small boat ‘Tom Crean ‘ in the Antarctic when we were cold , wet and being knocked about , we at least knew where we were.!
You’d always feel safer once rounding Carnsore into the Irish Sea – but its a false security. The sandbanks of Wexford and Wicklow lie in wait for the unwary. I’ve heard that Wexford cricketers used to play a game each year on the Blackwater Bank.
The Irish Sea is far emptier now than when the Arklow Schooners plied backwards and forwards to Wales and beyond. They bring our beef, mutton and corn over and the backwards cargo to here was bark for the Irish tanneries or Ironmongery.
At Wicklow Head the tide sweeps us north. Soon we’re through Dalkey Island , with the lights of Dublin before us.
“SAILING BY” –
Celebrating 25Years of RTÉ Radio 1’s Maritime Programme
The 25th anniversary of Seascapes is being celebrated with the publication of “Sailing By” edited by Marcus Connaughton and published by The Liffey Press, all royalties are being donated to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).
“Sailing By” features regular contributors Dick Robinson ;Hugh Oram and Norman Freeman plus a series of Thomas Davis Lectures which were broadcast on Seascapes in 2002. The book which is lavishly illustrated also features extracts from maritime related editions published by The Collins Press and The Liffey Press with contributions from Michael Smith and Pete Hogan amongst others.
Seascapes on RTÉ Radio 1 was devised in 1989 by former RTÉ Marine Correspondent Tom MacSweeney who retired in 2009 with Marcus Connaughton taking the helm as producer/presenter of the maritime programme. “Sailing By” carries a Foreword from Rear Admiral Mark Mellett DSM –Deputy Chief of Staff, Defence Forces Ireland and a preface from the Head of Radio 1 –Tom McGuire.
“Sailing By “ features powerful images with a striking cover shot of “The Jolie Brise” celebrating her centenary off The Fastnet taken by the talented Brian Carlin an on board reporter on Team Vestas Wind in the latest edition of the Volvo Ocean Race and a regular contributor to Seascapes on RTÉ Radio 1. “Sailing By” is a compendium celebrating our maritime heritage and the long running maritime radio programme Seascapes. Seascapes is presented and produced by Marcus Connaughton and is transmitted every Friday evening at 10.30pm on RTÉ Radio 1.
Presenter/Producer: Marcus Connaughton