MICHAEL CLIFFORD: Cave rescue an antidote to uncaring world

It didn’t take long for the Irish to get in on the act. 

The last of the Wild Boar soccer team and their coach were barely out of Tham Luang cave complex when junior minister Patrick O’Donovan was banging off a press release.

“Minister Hails Limerick role in Thai Cave Rescue” was the headline. O’Donovan went on to proclaim that the village of Cappamore answered the call by providing vital equipment to the rescue.

“It proved crucial in the rescue of the boys and their coach who had been trapped underground for more than two weeks,” revealed O’Donovan.

Within hours, the world was informed that we had supplied manpower as well.

Jim Warny, an Ennis-based Belgian diver, had flown to Thailand to put his shoulder to the wheel.

The man’s origins were incidental. The main thing was he has lived in Clare for years, and in all likelihood he’s more Irish than the Irish themselves by now.

In fact, if you held the whole thing up to the light, sure it was practically an Irish operation from start to finish.

It’s comforting to be in a position to make light of aspects of the Thai cave rescue at this remove. For a while there, the portents were dark. 

After the initial euphoria of the discovery of the boys 4km into the caves, reality dawned that finding them alive was an awful long way from getting them out intact.

The seriousness of their plight was illustrated by the tragic death of one of the rescuers. Saman Gunan, a 38-year-old former member of Thailand’s elite navy SEALs unit, had gone to the caves to assist in the rescue, a selfless service that cost him his life.


In the wake of his death and the imminent prospect of torrential seasonal rain, there was a sombre mood across the world about the plight of these boys.

Personally, I found myself shying away from reading the detail of what would be required to bring them out. On reflection I concluded that, like many others, I didn’t want to invest emotion in a hopeless cause.

It was only when the first two boys miraculously were carried out on Sunday that I began to eat up the coverage.

Over the following three days hopes were held in suspension as the rescue relays were conducted. Then by Tuesday they had all emerged from darkness into the eyes of the world, having won the race against the rain.

Why did the story capture the global imagination? OK they were children, aged between 12 and 16. 

The threat of death to any child, taken before they can even experience life from an adult perspective, before their innocence can be coarsened, or potential realised, is a heightened tragedy.

But children across the developing world die every day in awful tragedy.

According to the UN, 16,000 children don’t live to see their fifth birthday.

They don’t die before our eyes, and their deaths are not dramatic. Brief lives expire quietly as the result of preventable disease or malnorishment far from the eyes of the world.

Occasionally, we are confronted with the reality. The body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a Greek shore in 2015, captured the world’s attention for days, if not weeks. And then we learned to avert eyes again.

Aylan Kurdi

If the members of the Wild Boar soccer team had not been discovered alive, or bodies even retrieved, the world would have issued a collective shrug. 

Their fatal adventure would have been filed away as another everyday tragedy.

Instead, the rescue provided the kind of story that reflects humanity in its most brilliant light.

The survival of the team and their coach deep underground for over a week spoke of the strength of a basic human instinct in the face of the most adverse conditions.

Thereafter it was all about courage, innovation and the determination that even in the darkest corner, as long as there was life, hope also lived. 

The detail of the operation has only been emerging in dribs and drabs over the last four days, but in time there is little doubt but that some bright spark in Hollywood will put it on the screen.

Beyond the specifics of the heroics, the rescue of the Wild Boar team threw up a major antidote to the sour place to which the world now appears to be drifting.

The operation drew personnel across a range of countries, including Finland, the UK, China, Australia, and the US, not to mention the Ennis-based Warny.

Everybody came together to perform a common goal that had become a major human interest story in which much of the world had invested emotion.

Contrast that coming together with the tearing apart that is now gaining traction across the globe like a virus. 

Ivan Castaneda, a former Mexican soldier deported from the US, embraces his children at the bank of the Rio Grande during the event called ‘Abrazos No Muros’ (Hugs, Not Walls) promoted by the Border Network of Human Rights organisation. Castaneda was denied the political asylum he requested in 2012 to flee violence in his native Ciudad Juarez, while his wife, mother and five children remain in Denver, Colorado, US. Picture: Herika Martinez/AFP/Getty

Just a few weeks ago children were being separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border in an attempt to crack down on illegal immigration. 

Here the immigrants fleeing their native homes are regarded as less than fully human in some quarters.

The rising politics considers immigrants to be The Other, a species to be despised and feared, and above all blamed for the ills of the modern world.

Ironically, had one of the Wild Boar team found himself with his family disembarking onto a Greek beach, or detained at the US-Mexico border, he would find himself subject to the worst, rather than the best, of humanity.

Contrast the coming together in Chang Rai with the tearing apart involved in Brexit. Look at the energy and goodwill being expended in the Brexit process that could be directed at bettering the lives of millions of others, both inside the EU and UK and beyond.

Contrast the efforts to solve a human problem in a dank cave with the brand of politics retailed by the powerful Donald Trump.

The US president thrives on creating disunity for the purpose of chaos. In that chaos he sees his own strengths coming to the fore. He is a first-rate communicator and a first-rate bully, both of which are essential to his brand of global politics.

Unlike those who contributed to the rescue, he thrives on taking, rather than giving.

Ultimately, it is all about how he can exploit humanity’s weaknesses rather than promote humanity’s strengths.

Trump may be an outlier but he is not alone. The politics in which division and exclusion are exploited to achieve and retain power is reaching right across western society.

So it is in that context that we were handed this little story about lost boys and the capacity to survive and the selfless courage that knew no borders.

No better antidote for the times we live in.


Related Articles

Thailand’s celebrity cave boys head out on overseas tour

British diver who helped with Thai cave rescue sues Elon Musk

Boys recall how Thai 'cave stank of urine' as they recount rescue story in Bangkok mall

Three boys and coach rescued from cave get Thai citizenship

More in this Section

Muzzling news media is not the answer


Breaking Stories

Girl in hospital after being hit by bus in Clare

Pro Life Campaign poll finds majority against 'forcing' pro life doctors to carry out abortions

Body calls for gambling regulation as study finds people start betting as young as 14

Labour leader claims other EU states are thinking of postponing border issue in Brexit talks

Breaking Stories

Need a cheap and easy home revamp? Here’s how to tile your own splashbacks

Michael Caine: ‘Don’t look back, you’ll trip over’

How to survive the rest of Sober October if you’ve made it this far

Meet the A-listers of Zeminar 2018

More From The Irish Examiner