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Manuel Di Lucia. Photograph by John Kelly

Tight lines and good times – Manuel Di Lucia reveals all in new book

A lifelong friendship with Irish actor and singer, Richard Harris, is featured in a new book written by well-known Kilkee fisherman, lifeguard, diver, restaurant operator, and Marine Rescue Centre founder, Manuel Di Lucia. The 83 year old has published a new book about his action-packed life living in the West Clare popular seaside resort.
Entitled “You Will Only Live Once”, it will be launched in Sheils’ Showrooms, Ennis on June 14 at 5.30pm. The proceeds of the book will be divided between the RNIL, Kilrush and West Clare Cancer Centre in Kilkee.
His thirty years of fishing experience proved very useful when Mr Di Lucia and his wife, Doris, opened a seafood restaurant in 1973 in a premises owned by film star and friend, Richard Harris, which the couple were looking after at the time.
“Richard Harris came one day to see us with a friend. We made lunch for him with lobsters, crayfish and crabs. He said that is fabulous food, ‘you should open a restaurant’. Why don’t you use this house?” he said.
“We continued operating a restaurant in his house for three years until it was sold and we had to leave. We moved the restaurant to West Cliff House and went into partnership with Michael and Diane Martin for the summer of 1976 when Mike Murphy and his crew came to Kilkee to do some filming for his comedy shows.
“The following year we had the restaurant in our living room in our house in Corbally two kilometres from Kilkee. It started to get busier and busier so we built an extension.
“We ran the restaurant in the house from 1977 to 1999. We were in the restaurant business for 25 years in total. I supplied some of the fresh fish from fishing and got the rest from Sea Lyons from Carrigaholt,” he said.
Standing at over six foot in stature, Richard Harris was a frequent visitor to Kilkee and was known to Mr Di Lucia from the age of ten.
The two of them swam together on a few occasions, but Mr Harris was best known for his playing rackets against the Strand Line wall.
Mr Harris retained the Tivoli Cup for four successive years after winning the Kilkee racketing championship in the fifties.
“Richard Harris kept coming to Kilkee until the year he died and always looked us up. His house was bought by a nice Limerick couple Hugh and Finola O’Donnell,” he said.
“He loved Kilkee so much he called his house in the Bahamas ‘Kilkee’. When he used say to his wife I am off to Kilkee she didn’t know was he going to the Bahamas or West Clare.
“He liked the freedom he got in Kilkee, nobody hassled him. He could be drinking a pint in Scotts or Naughtons, he would buy drinks for the house, you could buy him a drink and he would take it.
“He was always telling stories. He was down to earth. He came to Kilkee one year with a group of 20 film stars, Lulu and Maurice Gibb from the Beegees, Honor Blackman, and other producers. They booked into Dromoland Castle.
“Richard has a film premier of a film in Limerick that he produced and directed called Bloomfield, a story about an aging Israeli soccer player. Doris and I were invited to the premiere in the Savoy Cinema and he paid for our accommodation and we had dinner in Dromoland.
“When the film finished, no one clapped, it just sank. He even admitted that was ‘awful’. He was a great actor, his last major role was the wizard Dumbledore in Harry Potter.”
A bronze statue of Richard Harris was erected near the Diamond Rocks cafe, which was unveiled by his brother and sons on September 30, 2006.
It was part of a festival in the West Clare town that attracted film stars like Russell Crowe, singer and musician, Phil Coulter and Fair City because one of Mr Harris’s nephews, David was an actor in the series.
Mr Di Lucia recalled the unveiling led to a huge crowd in Kilkee with two bands and a fancy dress parade for children.
The original planned location in the Green in front of the Hydro Hotel in Kilkee had to be scrapped after a local objection.
It was paid for through fundraising organised by Mr Di Lucia and included considerable donations from his sons. Local architect Tom Byrne and Jimmy Leyden, who died a few years ago, provided great assistance.
A surplus of €5,000 was also donated to the Children’s Little Ark at University Hospital Limerick.
Some of his friends from Limerick suggested he should write a book, which he decided to do with assistance from his ghostwriter Querrin native, Kevin Haugh, who lives in Limerick.
Over the years, he collected four scrapbooks of articles on his endeavours rescuing people and recovering bodies from the sea, building the Kilkee Marine Rescue Centre, Dive Centre, the Anchor and Memorial Stone
Born in Belfast on November 22, 1940, he only remained in North Ireland for about six months before his family moved to Kilkee where he has lived ever since.
His father, Antonio used to lay terrazzo and mosaic floors in churches and medical centres.
After marrying Jean Divito, who had an uncle who had a fish and chip shop in Kilkee and was interested in leasing it.
His parents decided to take over the chipper, moving lock stock and barrel to the Victorian town arriving on the West Clare Railway in April 1941.
They stayed in a premises in O’Curry Street selling fast food up to the end of 1947 before moving across the road to where the business, shop and house where his sister resides now. The chip shop continued for four decades
Mr Di Lucia was only 13 when his father died shortly after the family had moved up to the second premises in 1954.
“It was very tough to lose him at such a young age,” he said.
“I was the eldest, I had a brother and two sisters who were all younger than me. I had to assume some bit of responsibility to run the chipper.
“I supported my mother and she supports us the best she could. She never married after that. We lived in the second premises for a good number of years until I took up watersports.
“I never left Kilkee to live anywhere else, apart from a few weeks. I would also come back to Kilkee for the summer.
“My interest in the sea was given to me by Michael Duggan, who was a tall physical man, and a very good swimmer. Michael brought me out off the pier and taught me to swim when I was only six. His family has a business in Kilkee. He became an accountant, moved to Dublin and had a family there.
“In 1956, I was swimming in the Pollock Holes with friends when we heard shouts from Myles Creek. One of my friends, Dessie Slater ‘you better go out there and pull your man in, you are the best swimmer’. I went out and pulled in the man who turned out to be the local priest.
“I used to go to the beach every day. One day I found a box of carbon glow sticks that were washed up in the bay and were used as arch lights on ships.”
In the late fifties, he worked as a lifeguard in Kilkee for about four years after completing training courses with the Red Cross.
After completing several rescues, Mr Di Lucia said he became well known for rescuing people and recovering bodies after drownings.
His mother gave him a present of a mask, snorkel and a pair of fins after the death of his father. This lead to his next adventure to become a diver.
He enjoyed spear fishing plaice and flounder on the bottom of the sea in Kilkee Bay, selling them in town for pocket money.
In June 1960, while he was on a lunch break during lifeguard work, someone told him there were men back in the Pollock Holes dressed in strange gear with tanks. Cycling to the Pollock Holes, he met members of Killaloe Sub Aqua Club, which is now the Limerick Sub Aqua Club.
One of his best lifelong friends Ronnie Hurley was a member at the time. He wanted to use one of the tanks only to be told he had to be a member, which cost two Irish pounds. Returning home, he got two pounds from his mother, got signed up as a member and dived into the water.
“It is just magic going down 30 or 40 feet. You are swimming around and are not tied to the surface. You can breathe through a regulator and have air on the top of your back. It was out of this world,” he said
“It is completely different from normal swimming, it is like you are hovering in space. The water in Kilkee is crystal clear. One minute you are standing on a rock and then you launch yourself off the rock and are floating. You are weightless.
“A diver has to wear lead weights to counteract for the buoyancy in your body. Wearing a wet suit gives us flotation so you have to wear between 12 and 16 pounds of lead to compensate for that.
“Diving is incredible, you are swimming right beside fish. You have to be able to swim and do a course. Diving course are run in the Kilkee Dive Centre ever year. It is an intensive week of lectures, practical stuff in the bay and watching films.
“I started diving when I was 16 and continued for 63 years until I got two heart attacks. I had a triple by-pass and I am carrying a defibrillator in my chest.”
His first heart attack was in 2007 while he was in the gym exercising and his second one in 2013 a few weeks he was going to make a documentary with RTE diving with Great White Sharks in Australia.
This was on his bucket list but ten days before his departure he got a heart attack at his home.
In 1962, he got a boat which he used for daily fishing for lobsters, crabs and crayfish in Kilkee Bay, selling them to fishmongers who would take them by trailer on the ferry to Tralee.
Fish were plentiful and could be caught by hand until this was banned by Fisheries Minister Charlie Haughey, prompting the use of lobster pots.
In 1966, Mr Di Lucia met Doris from Frankfurt in the Atlantic Hotel when she came to work in the hotel for the summer. In 1968, they got married and reared two boys and a girl that gave them five grandchildren.
While Mr Di Lucia feels Kilkee is still attracting large crowds during the summer months, he believes businesses face a classic “chicken and egg situation”.
“Do you get the businesses to open early and hope holidaymakers will come or do you get the people and then open the business? I go to Lahinch regularly at weekends and you can’t get parking,” he said.
“There is no problem with parking in Kilkee, which is a bigger resort. People start coming from the Whit weekend. You can see the Twelve Bens in Connemara on a clear day sitting outside the Diamond Rocks cafe.
“I think the Pollock Holes are the eighth natural wonder of the world. I have never seen a reef where the tide goes out leaving four natural swimming pools about 3,000 square feet each. When the tide comes in, it changes the water in the pools naturally. These pools are brilliant for teaching snorkeling and diving.
“I used to teach loads of kids there without any charge. It is in a Special Area of Conservation. People drive from Limerick for a swim in the Pollocks Holes.”
In 1982, he set up the Kilkee Marine Search and Rescue, which continued until 2013 when it was taken over by the Irish Coast Guard.
Mr Di Lucia recalled he and other volunteers were involved in hundreds of search and rescues and recovered more than 70 bodies over a 40-year period.
In the 1980s, he said one day a boat got into difficulty out on the reef with 12 people including five children with no flares, radio or lifejackets, who had to be towed in by the marine rescue service.
“We started off in the KMSR with about six members. A lot of young men and women working in Moneypoint came to join the rescue service. They were trained and started rescuing people,” he said.
“In 1962, I started a Sub Aqua Club with local business people because I wanted to get diving well known in Kilkee. We used to train in a Shannon pool during the winter time. It lapsed for a few years so I set a second Sub Aqua Club in October 1982.
“We had about 50 members in the rescue service and about 40 in the sub aqua club at one stage.
“We bought a compressor from England in 1963 because previously we had to get the air from a company in Dublin. We would fill up our bottles from that. It wasn’t very satisfactory because it wouldn’t last very long.
“We based the compressor in Jimmy Dooley’s garage on the outskirts of Kilkee. He used to fill all the bottles and tanks for divers.”

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