Happy Birthday Jacques Cousteau

Cousteau

As a scuba diver myself I am eternally grateful to the father of the Aqualung, the pioneer of sport diving Jacques Cousteau.  Born on this day in Aquitaine, France in 1910.

His contribution to diving, and to marine conservation, cannot be overstated.  He was also hugely influential in the film industry and bringing nature documentaries to a mainstream audience.

If you look up the town of Kilkee in Ireland on Wikipedia you will see a note that Cousteau considered Kilkee the finest dive site in Europe.  He probably said it too.  He regularly dived there with the local Scuba fanatic, the owner of the fish and chip shop: Manuel Dilucia.   As you can tell from his surname Manuel was not a Kilkee native; he was born in Belfast.  Indeed so were his parents.  It was his grandparents who emigrated from Italy.

Manuel’s was the “good” chipper in Kilkee.  A bit more expensive but worth it if you had a spare penny.  Manuel Dilucia was involved in all things marine in Kilkee.  He brought his love of seafood to the Irish people, who rated the fruits of the sea low on the scale of things to eat.  Manuel brought his Italian delight of seafood together with his love of marine sport.  He eventually opened a gourmet seafood restaurant in Kilkee when the locals were ready for more than battered cod after the pub.

He helped the Gardai with underwater searches, he pioneered scuba diving, he worked tirelessly on conservation of the natural environment and he founded the marine rescue service. It is no surprise that Jacques Cousteau would seek him out if he was interested in diving the West of Ireland.  So it may be unaccredited but I believe that Jacques Cousteau said that Kilkee was the best place to dive in Europe.

 

Dover Beach; by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
upon the straits; on the French coast the light
gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
listen! you hear the grating roar
of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
at their return, up the high strand,
begin, and cease, and then again begin,
with tremulous cadence slow, and bring
the eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
of human misery; we
find also in the sound a thought,
hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
retreating, to the breath
of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
and naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
to one another! for the world, which seems
to lie before us like a land of dreams,
so various, so beautiful, so new,
hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
and we are here as on a darkling plain
swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
where ignorant armies clash by night.

Sail Oil

Kilkee

Kilkee in County Clare on the West Coast of Ireland has an amazingly scenic beach, Moore Bay.  The strand is a perfect horseshoe open to the vastness of the North Atlantic.  On the north fringe of the beach is a small pier and boat slip used by the local fishermen.  Fishing is heavily weather dependent and Kilkee is not a bay in which you can keep a fleet due to it’s exposure to Western Storms.  And most of the storms on this coast are Western Storms.

Growing up I spent many years on holidays in Kilkee and our days were planned around the tides.  We went swimming almost every day.  If the tides were high we would walk out the headland to the North side of the bay to Byrne’s Cove.  For low tide days the pollock holes came into play, natural rock pools that lie just below this photo above on the bottom left corner.

The long channel gives some protection to Moore Bay, but not much.  I have seen breakers ten feet tall on the beach.

Sail Oil was a nickname given to the local village idiot.  That term is not used these days, but Jerry McDermott filled that role in the town.  He attempted to be a fisherman, but had the good sense to remain on his little boat within the bay so he didn’t catch a lot.

My oldest brothers went out in his currach with him once when they were young teenagers.  Along the way they encountered a basking shark, the second biggest fish in the world.  Basking sharks are enormous but placid plankton feeders.  When the boys tried to attract the shark by splashing their hands in the water poor Sail Oil had a meltdown.

If they had a good catch the real fishermen would toss Jerry a few mackerel or pollock to sell on the street corner beside Hickey’s Guesthouse.  When he gathered a few shillings he would nip into May Naughten’s Pub for a pint or two.  When the money ran short he would throw cow eyes at the locals and tourists in the hope of scamming a free pint.

He had a wooden pole with a bent metal hook for crabbing at the Pollock Holes.  Apparently he knew all the best spots for the plate sized brown crabs you can find there.

After storms he would walk the strand beach-combing for anything valuable that might have washed ashore.  That was how he found the mysterious cylinder that was behind the Thresher Hoax.  But that’s another story.

 

 

 

Thresher

Thresher

Launched in 1960 the USS Thresher was the fastest submarine of its day.  It was a nuclear powered attack submarine – a submarine hunter killer.

This was back in the early days of nuclear powered vessels and a lot of experimentation was happening.  In 1961 while docking in Puerto Rico the Thresher turned off its Nuclear Generator (standard practice in port) and ran on a backup diesel generator.  Unfortunately the diesel broke down and she had to resort to battery.  When it became clear the diesel could not be repaired the officers attempted to restart the nuclear generator, but the battery charge was too low.  So the embarrassed Captain had to ask another ship for a loan of some cables and then connected them to the diesel submarine, USS Cavalla, for a jump start.

In April 1963 the Thresher was engaged in deep diving tests off the coast of Boston.  The lives of 129 crew and shipyard personnel were lost in one of the worst submarine disasters in history.

Subsequent efforts to recover the boat failed.  All through 1963 and 1964 the shortcomings of the USS Navy rescue equipment for deep dive situation became evident.  The Thresher was found in 1964 in five major sections spread out over a 33 acre wide area of the sea bed, and was photographed to ascertain the cause of sinking.

I grew up with the tale of the Thresher because of a subsequent prank.  I was born in 1963 so I have no direct memory of the events, but a bit of detective work will turn up the newspaper clippings of the day dated March 29th to March 31st or thereabout in 1966, three years after the sinking.

Thresher2

In those days we used to spend every summer holiday in Kilkee, County Clare in the West of Ireland.  So it was big news in March 1966 when a mystery enfolded.  A three foot cylinder bearing the name Thresher and with radioactive markings was found on the beach in Kilkee the far side of the Atlantic from the sinking.

The Irish police informed the US Navy as a precaution, but had already established that the object was not radioactive.  Two US Navy officers stationed at the Nuclear Submarine base in Holyloch in Scotland were dispatched to retrieve the “object” and it was a mini-media storm.  The events were widely picked up by news media around the world.

The truth, as I heard it, was that some local wags in Kilkee painted up an old barrel and decked it up with markings to make it look like debris from the wreck.  They then placed it on the beach to be found by a local beachcomber, Jerry McDermott.  Nicknamed “Sailoil” this simple man was, as we say in Ireland “a bit touched”.  Today we would say he is on some spectrum.  The traditional Irish rendition is “leag Dia lámh air” meaning “God laid a hand on him” or “God touched him” hence “touched”.  He was the perfect innocent straight man to perpetrate the prank.

Sailoil proudly bore his prize home and stored it under his mothers bed.   The news of the fine percolated out into town and caused a bit of consternation when people saw the nuclear markings.  So experts were sent for, armed with geiger counters to scan the object.  The press showed up and the hoaxers celebrated with pints as they watched the whole thing unfold on the News.  In 1966 this was the equivalent of “going viral”.

As I say my memory of these events is third hand hearsay.  If you know better let me know!

Groceteria

Shop

In the 1890s the concept of a self-service restaurant developed in the USA.  Based on the Scandinavian model of the smorgasbord it was given the Spanish name “Cafeteria” by John Kruger when he was serving food at the World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago Worlds Fair).  Perhaps it was the association of Columbus with Latin America that inspired Kruger to call his format the Spanish for Coffee Shop.

On this day in 1916 the first self-service grocery store opened in Memphis Tennessee.  The Piggly Wiggly opened by Clarence Saunders was originally marketed as a grocery version of the cafeteria and was called a “Groceteria”.  You entered through a turnstile.  You were offered a basket or a grocery cart for convenience.  It offered self service, price marked goods and a customer checkout.  The supermarket was born.

I have seen the rise and fall of many groceterias over the years, including the Ballymun Cash Stores (which was in Finglas), H. Williams, Superquinn, Quinnsworth, Crazy Prices, Super Crazy Prices, Roches Stores.  The rise and survival of Iceland, JC Savages in Swords, Nolans in Clontarf, Musgraves/Supervalu, Dunnes Stores, Tesco and most recently the German invasion of Aldi and Lidl.

As a kid growing up in Dublin I was always exposed to supermarkets.  On the other hand my summers were spent in Kilkee in the West of Clare.  There were no supermarkets in 1960’s Clare.  I have vivid memories of my mothers frustration, on her holidays, having to queue at the butchers and at the grocers to be served one at a time with a long line of other mothers.  I always had the enjoyable job of going to the bakery.  Picking up fresh loaves, hot from the oven and bringing them back to the house for breakfast time.

Travelling to the continent in 1976 was an eye opening revelation.  The French Hypermarche was a decade ahead of Ireland.  All those wooden barrels full of olives, who knew olives were so popular?  Those were the days when you bought Olive oil in a pharmacy in Ireland to treat an ear infection. Very different days.

Scatterings

Scattery.jpg

Scattery Island lies in the Shannon Estuary between Clare and Kerry, just off the coast near Kilrush in Co. Clare.  It was here that one of the “12 Apostles” of Ireland, St. Senan, founded his monastery.

Senan is reputed to have driven a great monster from the island.  His monastery was for men only and women were forbidden from the island.  To this day it is considered unlucky for single girls to tread on St. Senans Bed, the reputed burial place of the saint.

Senan is well regarded by the nautical community in the area.  A pebble from the island is said to be protection from drowning.  Many local sailors have a pebble fashioned into an amulet to wear around their neck.

A boat builder is said to gain luck for his vessel if he sails it round the island in a path opposite to the sun.

There are many holy wells in the area named for Senan, I know there is one on the island, and another in Kilkee.  Holy water from these wells is often carried by local fishermen on board, and is used by local priests in the annual blessing of the boats.

 

blessing the boats; by Lucille Clifton

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that