The Man From Cape Clear
Conchúr Ó Síocháin
(with the kind permission of the National Folklore Collection, UCD)
Ceo, Ceol agus Seoltóireacht – Trí Pairteanna den Draíocht.
Fog, Music and Sailing – Three Portions of Magic.
– A Cape Clear Proverb
This dear storyteller from Cape Clear was born in 1866. I am inspired reading about his life and the ways and old traditions of when he was alive. Here is the beginning of Chapter 15:
The new quay. The Story of the grey water.
Thirty-five years ago there was no harbour in Cape Clear where they could keep their boats in the winter; and in all earnest the value of the boats, nets, and every sort of fishing gear owned by the people of the Island was considerable. They had to keep their boats in safe harbours on the mainland to protect them, and everyone realises that that didn’t suit them but that they would rather have them in their own harbour at home where they could best keep an eye on them.
At that time, naturally, all the Irish Boards-as well as everything else-were under English control and direction. Day after day and from year to year, efforts were being made to do something about a harbour that would convenience the fishermen and enable them to protect their property in their own Island. For a long time, however, a deaf ear was being turned to them.
At length Timothy Sheehy, a good man from Skibbereen, who was troubled by the complaints of the people of the Island, went over to England for the express purpose of doing something about the matter. He was promised a substantial grant of money for the building of a safe harbour in Trakieran. Shortly afterwards a man came from the Board of Works in Dublin to examine and survey the site in order that he might give his opinion of what was to be done and how best to use the money.
After he had gone back the work started, and it lasted three years without a break from the day it began until it was finished. The job was completed most satisfactorily: inside the quays a dock was constructed so that, when the boom-gate was closed, a cable from a boat was no better than a little thread of wool for mooring her-however stormy the weather.
The year the work began almost all those engaged in it were strangers from outside the Island; the men of the Island wouldn’t give up the fishing for any other job for it was of that they had the greatest experience. But that year the fishing season was a failure: after clearing their expenses they had very little left. When Christmas was past a lot of the fishermen went to work on the dock for the strangers left their jobs: it was so expensive for them on the small wages that they had nothing left over after their time, and so they went home.
I myself stayed working there the whole time until the beginning of the following spring. But when the potatoes were set that meant the start of the fishing season.
One morning after my breakfast a boy came in the door to me and said: “My father sent me to call on you to go fishing because they are short a man.”
I pondered on the matter a while before i gave him my answer for, to tell the truth, I intended to go working on the dock again.
“By the Lord Himself,” I replied, “I won’t refuse you; I’ll go along with ye.”
When I got as far as the quay I met the boss: “You are up to something,” he said when he saw my makeshift bed on my shoulders.
“Do you know what you’ll do now,” he continued; don’t bother about your fishing but come back to work here and I’ll give you six shillings a day from this until the work is finished.” I suppose he was tempting me to be greedy for that was double pay.
“I won’t,” I said; “whatever I would get from you I won’t stay on the job, for a man must keep his word, and since I promised this particular man that I’d go fishing with him I won’t go back on my word and make a lie of it”.
It has ever been said that what a person thinks the worst thing in the world turns out to be something to his profit. We left the harbour the same evening and fished for that night; we got a fair catch of fish and so went to the fish-market in Baltimore on the following day. We anchored in the harbour and the captain said: “Put the tackle in the punt, lads, and launch her so that I can go ashore in search of some small things I need.”
The cook and he pulled for the shore. A short while after we noticed the boat connected with the work in Cape Clear passing by us with six men at the oars in her and a man at the helm. We didn’t pay any special attention to her for the same boat used often be ferrying between Cape and Baltimore.
When our captain returned he said: “Conchúr, do you know what?” “I don’t then,” I answered.
“Well,” said he, “you were the fortunate man that you didn’t go to work on the job that time yesterday.”
“Why so?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “they were shifting a load yesterday evening with that crane on the new quay and the stays gave way so that it toppled over the quay-side carrying the men working nearby. Nothing happened to anyone except only to the engineer; he has a big gash in his head. Bringing him to the doctor they were that time.”
“It has ever been said,” I remarked , “that accidents are always possible, if only one could avoid them.”