Higgins hails ‘heroic’ search for trawler crew

A village that held fast to the spirit of its seafaring traditions welcomed President Michael D Higgins yesterday to commemorate the crew of the Tit Bonhomme.

The “unmercifully cruel” conditions in which the 21m trawler foundered on the morning of Jan 15 were recalled, but the overwhelming grief and shock of that and subsequent days on Union Hall pier were replaced yesterday with gratitude.

“We all know only too well the dark cloud that descended on the harbour that morning but the silver lining was to be found in the exemplary response of so many people in so many ways,” search coordinator Bill Deasy said.

He spoke of the “pain that remains in many a broken heart” at the loss of skipper Michael Hayes, 53, and his crewmen, Kevin Kershaw 21, Wael Mohamed, 35, Attaia Shaban, 26, and Saied Ali Eldin, 22. Up to 700 people gathered at Union Hall pier yesterday, bound together by the search.

“The same spirit that held us as one family during the 26 days of our search,” said Mr Deasy.

The sole survivor of the tragedy, Abdul Mohammed, sat before President Higgins who conveyed the nation’s sympathy and told how the whole country became enveloped in the story of the Tit Bonhomme.

“Rather than allowing yourselves to be defeated by loss and tragedy, you showed strength of spirit and the power of the collective,” Mr Higgins said in praise of the “heroic” effort.

Gardaí, including Chief Superintendent Tom Hayes, a brother of skipper Michael Hayes, Coast Guard, Civil Defence, fishing crews, volunteers that travelled from all over West Cork and from Waterford, navy and volunteer divers, including Tosh Lavery, whom Caitlín Uí Aodha mentioned personally, were among those assembled on the pier.

President Higgins hit a resounding note when he mentioned the “entire country’s collective sigh of thanks” when the last lost crewman, Saied Ali Eldin was recovered on Feb 10.

“As individuals and as a united group, you can have no doubts about your contribution to your community and society,” said the President.

Caitlín Ui Aodha’s five children, whose faces were so often stained with tears during the 24-day search for their father, looked on as their mother offered thanks on behalf of all the affected families. Kevin Kershaw’s mother, Margaret Williamson and Mohammed Ali Eldine, father of Saied, sat among family and friends still grieving for those lost.

“Thanks to all the skippers, friends and crews, to all the women on the pier, the support of people from all parts of the island, those that we never knew or saw, who didn’t know us but turned up every day to give us support. To the countless people we will never know who lit candles or quietly said a prayer in their own homes for us.

“I think especially of all those who never came home,” she said.

In empathy she said her heart goes out to the families of two Cork sailors lost off the California coast since last Saturday week, Alan Cahill and Dr Elmer Morrissey, whom President Higgins referred to as “sons of Cork”.

The assembled crowd faced east as Imam Hussein offered prayers in the Muslim tradition alongside Fr Michael Curran, Fr Pierce Cormac and Dean Chris Peters.

Yvonne Deasy sang Bright Blue Rose, a favourite of Michael Hayes and schoolgirls Aisling Bergin and Chloe Crowley presented a bouquet of flowers to President Higgins and his wife Sabine before they mingled with those on the pier for almost an hour.

In a final closing ceremony, the families delivered a wreath of flowers to the mouth of Glandore Harbour, where the Tit Bonhomme struck the jagged rocks of Adam’s Island, marking a day this village will never forget.

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