Camino “by sea” planned by Kerry adventurers

An Irishwoman’s Diary about an ambitious sea journey

There's something about the Irish language that lends itself to sea in a storm, or perhaps it's just the elemental nature of the Erse. When Kerry poet Danny Sheehy got the call to board a boat from Dingle to Iceland, he never anticipated that some of the bumpiest times would be off this northwest coast.

The boat was Ar Seachrán , and the captain and owner was Paddy Barry, with whom Sheehy had sailed many times before. The all-male crew aimed to retrace the route of St Brendan and his fellow monks, but were barely north of Mayo's Inishkea islands when conditions freshened, and cups and saucers below began to test their flying skills.

At one point, as the boat's hull jolted and jiggered and juddered with the force of the waves, Sheehy imagined the great god Manannán Mac Lir in his chariot, riding over the golden crest of the sea. In fact, that big grey shape on the horizon was the naval patrol ship LE Emer , hailing them on VHF radio to check if they wanted help.

"We never quite shook off that bad weather, which followed us north and back south, from start to finish," Sheehy says of the voyage, which he logged in Iomramh Bhréanainn MMX1: Ón nDaingean go hÍoslainn , published by the Irish language scholar, poet and priest Pádraig Ó Fiannachta. One could set his stirring account of a storm-caught craft to music, as he tried at one stage to draw courage from a lone gannet hovering above.


There would be more of it, as they headed north, with one particularly heavy gale south of St Kilda when there wasn’t enough diesel and they had to let the boat drift head to wind. “It frightened the life out of me and I had to think of how St Brendan trusted in God when he set off all those centuries ago,” Sheehy says. “That’s what snapped it. That’s when the fear disappeared.”

Yet the author, who first rounded this island in a traditional naomhóg or Kerry currach with Ger Ó Ciobháin back in 1975, admits that his inner reserves were often most severely tested on relatively tranquil nights in harbours. For, he says, “if you can survive the snoring of your fellow crew, you can survive just about everything ...”

Now Sheehy is setting off rowing again, this time on a “Camino by Sea”. He and fellow crew intend to commemorate a plan by four west Kerry oarsmen over half a century ago to take a tiny naomhóg across the Irish Sea, but this voyage will aim to make it all the way south to Santiago de Compostella. The original four were all talented musicians, singers, stepdancers and storytellers, Sheehy says - Maras Cháit Chanair from Muiríoch, of Blasket island extraction, along with Peaidí Sheáisí Ó Cearna and Seán Ó Criomhthain, both from the Great Blasket Island and Tom Mhic Gromail from Cathair Scuilbín.

Setting out from the southwest coast in 1958, the crew rowed 15 hours nonstop. “They didn’t get to the coast of Wales but close enough,” Sheehy says, and they returned to Wexford on their support trawler. The film-maker involved believed that they had done enough to prove his point that the Celts crossed the Irish Sea in skin boats, he says.

This sea voyage, named Naomhóig na Tinte, will take three summer seasons or more, Sheehy says. With him will be Liam Holden, artist and naomhóg maker from Inistíog, Brendan Begley, musician and oarsman from Baile na bPoc, fresh from the recent "ceiliuradh" in London's Royal Albert Hall, Brendan Moriarty, stonemason and fisherman from Baile an Lochaigh, and Anne Burke, lecturer and photographer from London who will join up for some days on the coast of Cornwall.

The group hope to leave Kerry on May 23rd and launch the boat on the river Liffey at Saint James’s Gate in Dublin that same evening. Weather permitting, they will row and sail down the river past the Bull Wall and out to Dún Laoghaire harbour, and set up camp in Monkstown that night.

They will set a course south along the east coast to Carnsore Point, Co Wexford – “landing and camping to suit our needs”, Sheehy says. They will be “challenging land, sea and all the elements” on their first leg from late May to the end of June, he says. It is, he says, a “pilgrimage that will take sweat blood and blisters” but will also nurture “friendships, creativity and spirituality” and more.