The Cruel Sea

“No man at all can be living forever and we must be satisfied.”

So says the grieving mother in Synge’s Riders to The Sea, reflecting the incredible attitude of acceptance that west of Irelanders have to life and death, and especially death caused by the elements of nature. In that play a woman sits and waits for news of her missing son, presumed lost to the sea, like other members of her family.

Having spent time there, Synge noted that the islanders and the seafaring people of Connemara and the islands acknowledge the inseparability of life and death. They take life as it comes and accept the inevitability of death, no matter how horrific or sudden that may be.

“These people are more obviously than most other human beings engaged in the most elemental struggle – the struggle for survival in nature,” wrote Synge.

This week that struggle continued as news filtered through that even in an era far from that portrayed in Synge’s plays, the cruelty of the sea has not abated and the harshness of life has not been eased. The village of Claddaghduff, more so a collection of families, a few hundred people, are in deep shock, that the sea so beautiful when its ferocity is flaccid, turned on those who live by it and claimed the lives of two local fishermen.

When Tony Coohill and Féichin Mulkerrin set sail on Tuesday, they were doing what they had done many times. Both men of the sea, they treated it with the respect its wildness deserves. Both men were aware of the dangers that it represented. Both their families knew what it was like to lose members to the water. Tony’s father Paddy and mother Teresa had already lost three sons in recent years, one drowned in Donegal, while Féichin’s brother had perished in a drowning accident in Galway Docks two decades ago.

Their bi-weekly trip to the lobster pots for them represented routine, but something terrible went wrong that resulted in their currach being found on rocks without its occupants. The empty boat an image of the lives lost. A constant reminder of their passing for those who waited on the pier for the joyful news that never came.

The tragedy has resonated around the green hills of Claddaghduff. Most of the villagers are involved in fishing or in something related to it. They all know that it could have been they who were the victims of the cruel sea and consequently the pain is even more intense.

The world of Synge when represented in drama around the world seems like a million miles away from the reality of modern life. Yet, it is not for those who live on our exposed coastal communities, and those on the islands. For them, despite the advances in safety and technology, the water is still the master which lets us sup at its edge but which can at a moment’s notice, turn on us with a savagery as terrifying as its beauty is awesome.

Special mention must go out to all of those who aided in the search for the two men; those agencies who took their own lives into their hands to recover the bodies and allow the families to grieve.

Our hearts go out to the two families and to the communities of Claddaghduff and Connemara who this week are heartbroken. May God bless them and ease their pain.

Tá ár gcroíthe dubh le trua don bheirt teaghlach, agus do mhuintir an Chladaigh Dhuibh agus Chonamara atá faoi ualach an bhróin an tseachtain seo. Go dtuga Dia cabhair agus fuascailt dóibh.

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