Baltimore says au revoir to its adopted son at funeral of Youen Jacob

A 2003 photograph shows Youen Jacob with Sherkin Island in the background. Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney

When the fates aligned all those years ago, it was engine trouble that brought Frenchman Youen Jacob to Baltimore.

Yesterday, a well-tuned engine propelled a different boat as it ferried him away from the West Cork village, on a final voyage.

The 80-year-old might well be the first Frenchman to be laid to rest on Sherkin Island, an honour bestowed on him due to his late wife Mary being a native.

His funeral in Rath Church yesterday was a celebration of his role in the transformation of Baltimore, primarily through his restaurant businesses, and his own enduring popularity — the blow-in who sputtered into port and stayed.

Rath Church was packed with fisherman and farmers, locals and cosmopolitans.

In addition to the Irish funeral handshake of commiseration and sympathy for his three sons and wider family, there was the kissing of both cheeks.

Mourners boarding the Yoker Swan Ferry for the burial of Youen Jacob on Sherkin Island yesterday. Discussing how Youen came to Baltimore in the first place, Fr O’Donovan said: ‘Just the fact the boat came in here, even though it was destined for Galway, is so typical of life and the twists and turns.’ Picture: Denis Scannell
Mourners boarding the Yoker Swan Ferry for the burial of Youen Jacob on Sherkin Island yesterday. Discussing how Youen came to Baltimore in the first place, Fr O’Donovan said: ‘Just the fact the boat came in here, even though it was destined for Galway, is so typical of life and the twists and turns.’ Picture: Denis Scannell

“Je suis désolé pour votre peine”; maybe, except the mood was lighter, a celebration of a life well lived.

Born in Plozevet in Brittany, Youen had a varied career before he pitched up in Baltimore in serendipitous circumstances.

In his eulogy, local man Jimmy Sheehy took up the story.

Youen had started as a secondary school teacher in France, he explained, but after a few years thought better of it and became a medical rep.

Not long afterwards, he became involved in the fishing industry. “He was a man who liked to change life a bit,” said Jimmy.

On a trip from Brittany to Galway exporting furniture in the late 1960s, the boat on which Youen was sailing had some engine trouble and pulled into Baltimore.

“After a few days the boat left, with no Youen on board,” said Jimmy. “That was one of the best days ever in the life of Baltimore.”

Youen quickly discovered “the love of his life”, Mary O’Neill, a teacher on Sherkin, and he ran a pub there for a few years.

Then in 1979, another change. Back on the mainland, he opened Chez Youen, the restaurant bearing his name that became synonymous with Baltimore.

Mourners heard tales of the Frenchman’s enduring passions, including horse racing, and of his role in building up the square in his adopted home, with help from his friends and neighbours.

The Yoker Swan carrying the remains of Youen Jacob from Baltimore, West Cork, for burial on Sherkin Island.
The Yoker Swan carrying the remains of Youen Jacob from Baltimore, West Cork, for burial on Sherkin Island.

“He was a man of the future,” said Jimmy. “He was a man larger than life in every way. In the 17th century, the Algerians came to Baltimore and sacked the village. Then we had to wait three centuries before the next big man came to Baltimore.”

Celebrant Fr Chris O’Donovan remarked how Youen had an affinity with teaching and with some of the saints, not least St Anthony, the patron saint of parking.

“He just abandoned the car in Skibbereen and if he got a ticket the ticket giver would be calling on the saints for help,” said Fr O’Donovan. As for Chez Youen, it was “a rising tide that lifted a fair few boats in Baltimore”, said Fr O’Donovan.

Discussing how Youen came to Baltimore in the first place, Fr O’Donovan said: “Just the fact the boat came in here, even though it was destined for Galway, is so typical of life and the twists and turns.”

After the funeral, the cortege made its way to the harbour and the hearse reversed carefully on to the ferry Yoker Swan, which bore a Breton flag as well as the Tricolour. It eased away from the shore, leading a flotilla of eight boats to Sherkin.

Youen Jacob was laid to rest in the Abbey cemetery , the adopted son of West Cork now forever an islander.


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