Sunday, 29 September 2013

Michaelmas blessings in Skerries
with sunshine, sea and sand

Afternoon sunshine casts a silver glow across the harbour waters in Skerries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

It feels like ages since I was last in Skerries for a walk on the beach and lunch in the Olive. In fact it is over three months since I was there – on the afternoon of Bloomsday [16 July 2013], a rare rainy day in what has been long and a beautiful, sunny summer.

After celebrating the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and coffee in the crypt, two of us headed through a packed and jammed city centre, and out past the airport through Lusk to Skerries.

I had forgotten that the Skerries Soundwaves Festival was coming to an end today, and that Strand Street would be closed off. However, the Skerries Soundwaves Music and Arts Festival is celebrating its tenth anniversary, and the street party, with street stalls, music and the presence of characters from what was billed as the ‘Goldilocks Show’ added the joys of a warm, sun-filled afternoon, with temperatures still in the high teens.

Afternoon Fare in the Olive in Skerries thisafternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Through the afternoon crush, we found a table in the Olive in Strand Street and there we shared a plate of bread and dips, including black olive tapenade, red pepper Harissa dip and humus, and a goat’s cheese salad. After an absence of more than three months, I can still claim that in the Olive they make the best double espresso in Fingal.

As we strolled up through the town, we stopped briefly in the charity shop run by Skerries Trust, and in a tiny hidden corner I found shelf-after-shelf stacked high with second-hand books. I left pleased with my find and weighed down with an interesting collection, including a book by the American radical evangelical theologian Jim Wallis and another on Jewish liberation theologian.

Rowers in the afternoon silver sunshine in the harbour in Skerries this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

In the bright autumn sunshine, the restaurants, cafés and bars lining the harbour were buzzing with life. Out in the harbour, in between the sails and trawlers, a lone crew was practising rowing skills on the silvery, shining water.

At the pier, we queued at ‘Storm in a Teacup’ and sat for a while, enjoying two ‘Espresso Swirls’ (ice cream in a cup, with a double espresso poured over it, and dressed with a crumbled chocolate flake and cinnamon) as we watched the ebb and flow of the tide and of harbour life, and noted sadly the loss of Shenanigans.

Remembering the victims of the sea at Red island in Skerries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

At Red Island, children were climbing the new Skerries Seapole Memorial, which had been unveiled earlier in the morning by President Michael D Higgins. This new memorial is fashioned from the old ‘Pole’ used by lifeboat crews and the Coast Guard as a viewing platform to watch for sailors in difficulty. This has been incorporated into a newly designed plinth with over 270 individual plates with the names of ships and people who have drowned at sea in this area.

The original pole was a local landmark, climbed by generations of Skerries residents and visitors. However, it fell into disrepair and was removed by Fingal County Council for health and safety reasons about a decade ago. But a community-driven campaign to “Bring Back the Pole” was initiated last year by award-winning designer Shane Holland.

Local companies, community leaders and politicians backed the campaign to reinstate the pole. Now the redesigned pole has been installed at the bandstand on Red Island Skerries with individual plates of stainless steel set out around the plinth, marking each loss.

The memorial now forms one of Ireland’s largest registers of marine victims, naming ships, fishermen, U-boats, sailors, swimmers, rescuers and war-time maritime casualties from 12 nations or more over 250 years.

Sea, sand and lingering sunshine on the South Beach in Skerries this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

From Red Island, we went back to Skerries Sailing Club, and out onto the South Beach, where the waves were rolling in onto the sand. There were few people walking the beach. But one lone surfer had braved the waves, and as we watched he was joined by two kitesurfers.

It was a good afternoon to be back in Skerries after an absence of so many months. We drove back through Rush to join the M50. Later, as we approached Tallaght, the setting sun was shining on the windows as they glittered in silver and gold. Yes, it is true that all that glitters is not gold – or, as Shakespeare tells us in The Merchant of Venice, “All that glisters is not gold.” But this was a beautiful Michaelmas afternoon, blessed by the angels with silver and golden sea, sand and autumn sunshine.

A sandy pathway down to the South Beach (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

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