Sunday 31 January 2016

Seahorse down

Down in Tramore, the resort on the Waterford coast, for a chunk of this weekend. The Event in town was the bicentenary of the wreck of the Sea Horse, which struck a shoal in Tramore Bay at lunchtime on 30 Jan 1816. The ship had been chartered in Kent to transport the 59th Regiment of Foot to garrison duty in Cork following years of active service during the Napoleonic Wars. Five companies, their officers and a number of wives and children boarded the Sea Horse in fine Winter weather on the 25th. But a storm blew up en route, the ship was unable to make landfall in Cork and scudded back East along the coast hoping for respite in the shelter of Waterford Harbour.  She was unable to weather the Western point of the estuary at Brownstown Head and threw out both anchors and 300 fathoms of cable against being wrecked on the shore. The wind cracked its cheeks, the anchors dragged, the ship struck and proceeded to break up within sight and sound of the shore. The people on the beach could hear the cries and prayers aboard the ship but the wind and tide prevented the launch of boats. Nevertheless several men leaped into the sea to rescue survivors who came within reach and 30 were saved. 363 perished, however, including all 33 women and 38 children. So it was a worse ratio than the Empress of Ireland in 1914. Another ship, the Boadicea, carrying the rest of the regiment was wrecked the next day further along the coast. It was the worst loss of life the regiment ever experienced.  Harrowing anecdotes of the day; more.

What do you do, at a distance of 6 generations to mark such an event? A local committee, including descendants of the rescuers, got together three years ago to plan. I made it to the middle of three ceremonies which brought together the British Ambassador to Ireland, the Mayor of Waterford; the Catholic bishop and the Protestant Dean; soldiers from the British Army and the Irish Defence Forces; the Naval Service, Coast Guard, the RNLI, the Civil Defence; a lot of old chaps who had fought in WWII. The Piper's Lament was played, speeches were made, flags were lowered, the Last Post was played, wreaths were laid, and prayers were said. The Lord's Prayer was finished in the Protestant tradition with "for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever" Amen. This difference from the Catholic form of words has caused many an awkward moment during 'mixed' weddings.

HE the British Ambassador gave an address about relations between our two countries and how they had been strengthened by reciprocal visits of the heads of state.  At one point, he referred to the North Atlantic Archipelago, which in his head is not the Faeroe Islands but what I call the WEA Western European Archipelago. In my WEA piece, I hinted at how fraught with political and diplomatic trouble the naming of these parts can be. I found it interesting that HE pitched for NAA with its hints of NATO, of which the UK was a founder member. Ireland has never joined even though 35% of NATO's current members were one-time-rivals in the Warsaw Pact. For the Brits WEA, and its explicit embrace of Europe, would not be appropriate with their half-hearted embrace of the European Dream: not part of Schengen; not part of the Euro-zone; threatening to go off and sulk over the migrant crisis.

The ceremonies in the Church of Ireland parish church wrapped up with Amhrán na bhFiann, the Irish National Anthem. Here's the protocol: no matter how whippy the wind, civilian men remove hats; anyone who thinks they know the words may sing along; soldiers in uniform do not remove headgear but salute instead and don't sing along. Either that or none of them know the words. Here they are lads:

Sinne Fianna Fáil
A tá fé gheall ag Éirinn,
buion dár slua
Thar toinn do ráinig chugainn,
Fé mhóid bheith saor.
Sean tír ár sinsir feasta
Ní fhagfar fé'n tiorán ná fé'n tráil
Anocht a théam sa bhearna bhaoil,
Le gean ar Ghaeil chun báis nó saoil
Le guna screach fé lámhach na bpiléar
Seo libh canaídh Amhrán na bhFiann.

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