By John Galvin
IN what is becoming a New Year’s Eve tradition for me, I headed for North Clare to meet the RNLI’s Joe Queally and others to walk the shoreline at Fanore.
Our destination was the deserted village at Loch an Uisce, which was abandoned in the early 1900s. Up to a few weeks ago, I wasn’t even aware of its existence but from the 1820s, there was a settlement of around 14 families right on the shore. They survived by farming, labouring and, of course, fishing and I’m sure it was a hard life.
They eked a living by bartering with Aran Islanders, who often traded with them Poteen, obtained from Connemara. The islanders swapped this to obtain essential supplies of turf, vegetables and other goods that were hard to come by.
Sometimes the sea was so rough that the currachs were barely able to land and had to return immediately. In these cases, the Poteen was left in sacks on the rocks and payment would be sought at another time.
Eventually, life became too hard and the families drifted away, with most moving to Newcastle-on-Tyne to become miners and, hopefully, to a better life.
It seemed apt to come to this dead village to remember those who have passed and, particularly, those who lost their lives at sea. We lit candles in one of the deserted houses, bringing light to it for the first time in a century. This year was particularly poignant for Doolin Coast Guard member, Tom Doherty, who lost his partner, Celina Kennedy, in 2017.
I lit a candle to remember my parents and all that generation who are now nearly gone and I lit a second candle for my wife, Shelly’s family, especially her father Micheál O’Corbáin, who died 50 years ago.
We had an ample supply of torches to light the way but just for a minute, we switched them all off to contemplate the serenity of the place. The moon was just one day away from being full, so there was plenty of light to watch the waves crashing on the shore.
The only sounds were coming from the surf and it was all too easy to recall the events at Blacksod, County Mayo in March of last year, which resulted in the loss of Rescue 116 and the deaths of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy, winchman Ciarán Smith and winch operator Paul Ormsby.
Luck wasn’t with us in the end, as we experienced a heavy and cold shower of rain just before we headed for home. It was a small price to pay for such a sobering and thought-provoking experience and one of the best ways I can think of to mark the new year.
By John Galvin