Photo by kind permission of Danny's friend, Dónal Ó Céilleachair, Anú Pictures
In memory of Domhnall Mac Síthigh
Baile Eaglaise, Baile an Fheirtéaraigh, Ciarraí.
21 March 1951 – 9 June 2017
In memory of Danny Sheehy who died after his boat capsized at the mouth of the Minho river between Spain and Portugal on Friday 9th June 2017.
It was a Friday, May the 24th 2014 and we were in Dublin at the James Joyce bridge. It was a normal day in the city. Normal, except for the fact that there is a traditional boat sitting on the bridge waiting to be put into the water. The boat is called the Naomh Gobnait and had been built by Danny and Liam Holden in the traditional style. he plan was to drop the boat into the water and then the crew, Danny, Liam Holden, Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich, and Breandán Ó Muircheartaigh were to row it to A Coruña over three seasons and from there take it to Santiago de Compostela.
This is one of the first of our Society’s encounters with Danny Sheehy and the crew of the Naomh Gobnait and it was unforgettable. His friend Mícheál de Mórdha wrote this in a note for Danny’s funeral Mass: “Ní casadh aon duine riamh orm a bhí chomh beo beathach le Danny in mórán slíte – bhí beocht ina phearsa, ina mheon agus in a chuid cainte”.
Danny was truly beo beathach – a phrase Dinneen translates as “alive and kicking”. Danny was the most alive-and-kicking person you could hope to meet. He was great.
Deirdre Lillis, Leslie Rankin, Stephanie O’Donnell and I were there to present the Credential (“Pilgrim Passport”) to Danny and the crew. Here is what I wrote the day after.
“A great day yesterday! Deirdre, Leslie, Stephanie and I presented the four crew with their passports which had been beautifully inscribed by Noeleen Freine – the names in Uinseall script. Father Derek Harris blessed the boat – he is a sailor himself, out of Poolbeg.
We helped carry the boat to the side of the Liffey just near the James Joyce bridge. Then some ropes were slung around the branch of a plane tree on the side of the river – a makeshift hoisting system was arranged - and with a little help from some passing joggers the boat was hoisted over the river wall and (reasonably gently) let down onto the river bed. The boat is on the river! And the river seems like a river again not irrigation channel, not urban feature but a real river that runs us to the Sea. All around us a quiet excitement, a feeling of happiness and Irish was being spoken. And just before the launch, like a little clutch of ducklings on the water, there suddenly came in sight a flotilla of currachs – Liam O Muirthille the poet in one of them. Paddy Barry was there on shore also -some of you may recall that he sailed a Galway hooker to New York and Boston some years ago. Breanndán O Beaglaoich the concertina player was there because he is one of the crew.
Breandan O Beaglaoich explained that we must be humble towards the sea. You cannot say you will stop here or there – these are not things that can be determined. You must go with the winds, the tides and the weather.
Harry Whelehan was there – he had met Danny when on his previous voyage to Iona. He had learned that Iona had a collection of bibles from all over the world but none in Gaelic and so they were bringing one there by sea. Harry told me that they met them off the coast of Scotland and travelled with them for a while. They moored together at different lonely anchorages and in the morning, Danny’s boat would leave a little earlier than Harry’s yacht. At about four in the morning in a lonely spot off the coast of Scotland, Harry said, you would hear the sound of Breanndán on the concertina and a tune coming across the water but playing for themselves only - not for any other audience - and then they were off!
The entire thing – the making of the boat themselves, the canvass and tar skin (just inches away from the animal hide covering the old boats of Brendan the navigator and others), the method of using a tree to drop the boat down, the help from the onlookers, the blessing - all of this must have been how it was done hundreds and hundreds of years ago.
And the journey in such a boat must be along the Celtic seaboard, to Wales, down to Cornwall and then across to France and down by Brittany because that is the only way possible in such an open boat.
So, they prove that the Celts must indeed, as we know, have traded along these very routes not least because this was the range of their boats. They did it, as we walk the Camino, poco a poco – step by step. When we speak of the voyages to Scotland, Wales , France and Spain then, we must understand that they did them at sea bit by bit – this is how it was possible at all.
I had the same feeling as I have had on the Camino – this is the way people must have done it hundreds and hundreds of years ago and how they must have felt.
In his book “The Old Ways” Robert Macfarlane describes the Celtic movement to the sea as follows: “But in the fifth century a new form of worship- physically demanding on the practitioner , and founded on an ideal of solitude, or desertum – spread from Gaul and arrived by means of the seaways into western and northern Britain. Peregrini – wandering devouts – travelled by boat on their pilgrimages making landfall on distant islands and headlands (Iona, North Rona) long before the Norsemen reached such places. White (a reference to White, “On the Atlantic Edge” p 38) has written well about this extraordinary moment in Christian history, when the monks – a-sail in search of their desertum “suddenly began to move further afield, flying in a great....migration, their heads full of grammar and geography, verb tenses and tempests, quick thinking and poetry”".
Seo criú na naomhóige, Naomh Gobnait: Domhnall Mac Síthigh, Liam Holden, Breandán Ó Beaglaoich, Breandán Ó Muircheartaigh.
We wish them all a safe journey and that this immram will for them be happy and wonder-filled as it is for many who move towards Santiago.”
Well, that is how I felt at the time! A wonderful adventure was unfolding, a dream was being cast unto the waters and the Immram – the ancient sea pilgrimage of the Irish monks – was beginning again!
The Immram progressed over that year and the next. Danny meticulously recorded the journey. And then last year the crew set sail again with Glen Hansard in place of Brendán Ó Muircheartaign. This was the final leg: from the Basque Country to A Coruña.
And finally, the boat arrived at A Coruña and from there was taken to Santiago where it was carried through the streets and to the very door of the great Cathedral. It was as if the boat carried a cargo of happiness. All along the streets people, smiled, clapped, laughed and now all of Santiago was alive-and-kicking!
And later in the Cathedral, after a fairly determined but unsuccessful effort to get the boat inside, Breanndán played a tune as they carried the oars of the boat on their shoulders, and made their way to a place of honour at the altar. Then, Danny had the honour of giving the ancient prayer to St James in Irish. None of us who were there will ever forget it.
The next day at the Irish College in Santiago, Father Joe Coughlan told us the story of Dónal Cám Ó Súilleabháin Beara and his involvement with the college and Danny the scholar, teacher, poet, writer, Gael, sat enthralled listening to every word and there was contentment there in him also.
And why not? For Danny’s was a story that could be told with pride to Dónal Cám himself. It’s a story of a great adventure, of a small boat in big seas, of music, scholarship, friendship, imagination, courage, laughter, love of our language and traditions, and an exuberant love of life.
It’s the story of a Pilgrim who left the dry land and the dry world and took the sea road to Santiago and inspired us all.
Father Dinneen translates “beo beathach” as “alive and kicking”; it means more I think. It’s more like “fully and effervescently alive”. And so, he was – generously bringing that spirit, that energy, that life-force to the places and people he encountered.
Our hearts go out to Máire his kind-hearted and gracious wife, to his entire family and to his noble companions on the journey.
I finish with the words again of Mícheál de Mórdha:
Is fada fuar go mbeidh teacht ar a leithéid arís ar na bólaí seo agus is mór a mhothóimid uainn tú a Danny. Go dtuga Dia sólás agus suaimhneas dá bhaintreach Máire, dá chlann Róisín, Cormac agus Orla agus dá dheartháireacha as dá dheirfiúracha agus a ghaolta dlúithe eile.
Chairman Camino Society Ireland CLG
The crew of the naomhóige, Naomh GobnaitL: iam Holden,, Danny Sheehy, Brendan Ó 'Muircheartaigh & Brendan Begley.
With the kind permission of the literary estate of John O’Donoghue we post this poem Beannacht which was a favourite of Danny’s. We hope that it will be a consolation to his wife Máire and all his family and friends. Danny was the inspiration for Camino na Sáile and died on pilgrimage. He was in the tradition of Brendan the Navigator and the Irish Peregrini.
by John O'Donohue,
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.
From John O’Donoghue’s
Echoes of memory
le John O'Donohue,
Ar an lá go luíonn
An ainnise go trom
Ar do ghuaillne
Agus baintear barrathuisle asat
Go rince an chré
Chun do choisceim a shlánú.
Agus nuair a stánáltar
Do shúile taobh thiar
Den bhfuinneog ghruama
Agus faigheann púca na cailliúna
Go dtaga flúirse dathanna,
Dúghorm, dearg, glas
Agus goirmeacht na sáile
Chun móinéar aoibhnis
A dhúiseacht ionat.
Nuair a thréigeann an craiceann
I naomhóig an mhachnaimh
Agus doircheann paiste
an aigéin thios fút
Go dtaga cosán de ré bhuí
Trasna na mara
Chun tú thabhairt slán abhaile.
Go raibh agat flúirse na talún
Go raibh agat gile an tsolais
Go raibh agat gluaiseacht na farraige
Go raibh agat cosaint do shinsear.
Go seola gaoth bhog
Na focail ghrámhara seo i do thimpeall
Mar chlóca coimhdeachta
Ag slánú do shaoil.
Aistriúchán ar phaidir le John O'Donoghue a dhein Domhnall Mac Síthigh i La Rochelle na Fraince ar Lá Fhéile Cholm Cille 2015