Tragedy shows the risks of a life at sea

It was Van Gogh who wrote that fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore. It is a line that permeates our thoughts each time we take to the water. For those whose livelihood is the water, it is the confirmation of a constant presence, a permanent danger that underlines their activities at the mercy of the waves.

The sea is bewitching. The more you see of it, the less of it you actually see, as it blends into itself and draws us to it. Fishing is one of the most dangerous professions. Working on a platform which is never still, makes what is already a high risk occupation even more unsafe. Bad weather and hostile sea conditions increase the risk of accidents. Being at sea means that in many cases the consequence of an accident is more severe than if it occurred on shore.

Here in Mayo, we are no strangers to this realisation and over the years, there have been constant reminders of our vulnerability when compared to the power of the sea to wonder, to wow,and to take away.

This afternoon (Friday ) a mournful reminder of those dangers will wind its way from St Patrick's Church at Inver to the cemetery at Pullathomas. It is a beautiful part of the world, where green meets blue, where the cliffs and hills of the land provide a stark contrast to the flat of the sea that laps against it.

Today, the community gathers to bid farewell to one of their own. Fisherman John Healy (57 ), from Gorthmellia, Barnatra, Ballina, and formerly from Glencullen Bridge, Bangor Erris, will be laid to rest three days after the accident at sea that saw the boat he was on with two others, sink in a matter of moments, only allowing them time to get to the liferaft and raise the alarm.

Their vessel Aisling Patrick, had been fishing for crab in seas 16 nautical miles northwest of Eagle Island, off the Erris coastline when it began to take in water. Were it not for the proximity of the Air Corps’ Casa maritime patrol aircraft, the tragedy might have been all the greater.

It is sad too that as Mr Healy lay in repose yesterday, the inquest into the deaths of those who perished when Rescue 116 came down at Black Rock, Blacksod 13 months ago, opened and was adjourned in Belmullet. The juxtaposition of the two events, a sad reminder to the Mayo communities who lived by the sea, of the perilous nature of the water and the risks associated with its proximity.

And after the bells tolls and the sun sets on Pullathomas this evening, the waves will once again welcome other fishermen onto the twinkling waves and the cycle will continue. The sea giveth and the sea taketh away.... and then the sea giveth.

Our condolences today go out to the family and friends of John Healy. May he rest in peace.


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