Storm Ciara lashed the British Isles a few days ago. Huge gales whipped up waves into a fury, driving them relentlessly into the coast, churning the sea, with driving rain soaking all before it. As they say in Ireland, you wouldn’t put a milk bottle out in such storm.
Then all of a sudden the clouds parted. Beams of bright sunshine replaced the morning darkness. Peaking through the window, there was an opportunity for a walk — the eye of the storm.
Here, on this weekend trip to Kilmore Quay at the southeast corner of Ireland, the fishing smacks and trawlers were tied up in the harbour. One sturdy trawlerhand was hosing down the bow deck and filling the tanks too — prepping the vessel for its next trip to sea once the storm had fully abated. That is a hard life and so unrewarded, hauling catches from the deep in the depths of winter.
In the sheltered waters of the harbour, a dark grey shag bobs then ducks under the surface in search of its next meal.
There is a little strip of headland here that pokes resiliently out into the Celtic Sea...Today, in the eye of this storm, it is a lonely place. And centuries ago, when forefathers settled in such places, they named the headland Forlorn Point.
I spent little time on the quay wall itself — the winds were whipping and I could feel myself being lifted by the force of nature’s fury.
Further along the seafront there is a monument to all those who have been lost at sea. It is made of sturdy grey granite — a communal headstone to all those whose eternal repose is the waters. On a day such as this, there is an anger on the sea. It is a cruel resting place, one that seems uneasy with the eternal emotion of resting in peace.
I spare a thought for the families who have lost loved ones to the waves over the decades. It is a brave breed who take to the sea to haul a net or sail a ship, not having a body to bury or a grave to dress and kneel.
Loneliest of burial places
There is a little strip of headland here that pokes resiliently out into the Celtic Sea. Its tufts of grass provide little shelter for the seabirds who stay grounded during this storm. It seems to sit defiantly against all of the waves and winds that nature has thrown its way through the ages. Today, in the eye of this storm, it is a lonely place. And centuries ago, when forefathers settled in such places, they named the headland Forlorn Point. And yes, a more apt name could not have been found.
In recent years, a similar storm hit hard at Forlorn Point. And when the winds and waves subsided, the skeletons of two souls were unearthed on this loneliest of burial places. Those who know such things have said that the remains are 400 years old, most likely the bodies of seafarers who were washed ashore in some similar tempest. At least then they found a resting place on dry land until nature once more unearthed their bones in her attempt to reclaim what was hers.
Friars of the sea
Who mourned their loss so long ago? Were they fathers who left sons; sons who left questions, brothers whose silence spoke volumes?
In summer months, posters say, there are birdwatching trips around the nearby Saltee Islands. They are breeding grounds for puffins and gannets, shearwaters and terns.
There is a lonely lighthouse there too. The adjective ‘lonely’ always applies to ‘lighthouse’ — for there is an dark isolation of standing sentinel over the stormy seas. For mariners at nature’s mercy, that beacon of light illuminates the darkest of hours. But for the men who tended to these lights in the past — they are all automated now — it was a life of solitude: friars of the sea with a vow of silence.