Domhnall Mac Sithigh, who died in a sea tragedy off Portugal last week, won renown as a voyager in small boats on many turbulent seas.
He was also a writer, philosopher and a spiritual man who saw the natural world through the eyes of a poet.
He hailed from Ballyferriter, west of Dingle, and we were in school together, fadó, fadó. Domhnall was always at his most eloquent when he spoke in mellifluous Irish, regaling us with stories of the Blasket islands, the sea and the heritage and characters of his birthplace. For me, he sowed the seeds of life-long attachment to the peninsula.
Blessed with a flowing turn of phrase in that unmistakeable Kerry ‘blas’, he told of picking periwinkles along the shore as a child and being awed by mighty men who pulled oars in currach-like fishing boats called naomhógs. Our alma mater, St Brendan’s College, Killarney, was a kind of foreign world to a free spirit like Domhnall and he never really left Ballyferriter.
As the years passed, he answered the call of the sea. His adventurous life cresting the waves brought him all around Ireland, across the Atlantic, to Iceland, the Camino and Spain. He was inspired by another notable seafarer, St Brendan, and would climb Mount Brandon, dedicated to the saint, several times before setting off on a voyage, to strengthen mind and body.
Interviewed for Felicity Hayes-McCoy’s latest book, Dingle And Its Hinterland, he said he prayed to St Brendan to bring him and fellow crew members safely through. On returning, he would again go to Mount Brandon, leaving the sea behind and walking on earth again.
During a Camino pilgrimage, he felt it important to sleep in tents while on land. “You’re inside in the tent and you hear the rain and you feel the wind outside and you see the dawn. If you were inside in a comfortable room, you wouldn’t see or hear those things. When you’re in a tent, you can still hear the sea — you hardly leave it. And you’re in touch with the earth like the naomhóg is in touch with the sea.” Once, the boat was tossed around and blown way off course by huge gales while heading from Iceland to St Kilda, 500 miles away. Domhnall thought the end had come. Then, he recalled how Brendan put his trust in the Almighty and the fear left him.
Like Brendan, Domhnall was never afraid again but, sadly, the end came tragically after the naomhóg overturned.
May he have fair winds.