Nuestra Senora de Gardtoza, January 30th 1990.

The Aer Corps have a motto ‘Go Mairidis Beo’ its accepted translation is ‘So others may live’ which echos the US Air Force Pararescue motto. It stands as a statement of commitment from the people who will place the lives of others above their own.

It also is very apt to apply it to Irish sailors, who in all weathers will put to sea in small RHIBs, against the fury of the ocean and into the face of the storm to save their fellow mariners who are in peril on the sea.

On the night of the 30th of January 1990 the LÉ DEIRDRE was at anchor in Lawrence’s Cove in the shelter of Bere Island from severe gale force winds. A terrible drama was unfolding close by, the Spanish fishing vessel, Nuestra Senora de Gardtoza, (Our Lady of Gardtoza) had run aground on rocks near Roancarrigmore Light, North East of Bere Island in Bantry Bay. She was taking water and she had 16 souls onboard.

LÉ DEIRDRE recieved the ‘MAYDAY’ at 2100hrs and as quickly as she could, the crew weighed anchor and headed out of shelter into the severe gale towards the distressed vessel.

The decison was taken to launch the ships Gemini to attempt a rescue, this was due to no helicopter support being available and there was no way to maneuver LÉ DEIRDRE in close to the vessel due to the weather.

Leading Seaman Michael Quinn, a native of Drogheda along with Able Seaman Paul Kellett from Dublin volunteered to crew the Gemini as boat Coxswain & Bowman respectively. The highly experienced seamen committed to their perilous task, while knowing the risks, in the face of the horrendous conditions.

L/Sea Micheal Quinn DSM

Once the Gemini manoeuvred close enough to the ‘Gardtoza’ it quickly became apparent that boarding the stricken vessel or a rescue would not be possible. Unable to board L/Sea Quinn took the decision to attempt to return to his vessel, then disaster struck. The wind & waves capsized the small boat and cast both sailors into the churning waters.

The brave comrades were separated in the darkness and an exhausted A/Sea Kellett was washed ashore on rocks near Dereen cove. Only concerned with raising the alarm and finding his crew-mate, he pushed himself through the barrier of utter exhaustion; he clambered up over the jagged rocks, as they tore flesh from his naked feet until he managed to reach a main road. A passing Garda patrol picked him up and he passed the message that L/Sea Quinn was lost out there in the blackness.

There were soon two operations underway, an RAF Sea King Helicopter arrived to successfully rescue the crew of the Gardtoza and a number of merchant vessels joined LÉ DEIRDRE in searching for L/Sea Quinn.

Sadly the next morning an Air Corps Dauphin helicopter, at 0800hrs on the 31st sighted and recovered the body of Leading Seaman Quinn, 3 miles east of the tragic scene.

Borne by comrades, L/Sea Quinn DSM is laid to rest with full military honours.

L/Sea Quinn was only 27 at the time of his death and the survivor A/Sea Kellet was only 21. Their courage and their commitment to the each other, the Naval Service and the nation is an example of the spirit of Óglaigh na hÉireann, which shone as brightly in these two young men as it has ever shone in any patriot.

In recognition of his unselfish bravery and devotion to duty the Distinguished Service Medal was posthumously awarded to L/Sea Quinn. The King of Spain also made a posthumous award of the Spanish Cross of Naval Merit in recognition of his brave attempts to rescue the Spanish crew. A/Sea Kellett was also awarded both medals in equal recognition of his bravery and dedication to duty.

Tibnin Bridge

Tibnin Bridge.

In 1999 I drove over Tibnin Bridge in the sweltering heat,
as the UN bus rose a trail of dust,
billowing up behind us,
the laughter onboard almost distracted me from my task,
the careful watch of the road signs,
my finger following the road snaking through South Lebanon,
on a trip from Tyre up into the hills.

I was only a baby when you died here,
but not much later my older brothers went to serve in that land,
which was soaked with your blood,
I heard your story while I was still so very young,
in the weeks before the first of them left for the Lebanon,
they spoke in hushed tones in the kitchen,
but I heard from my games in the hall outside.

The worry cries of my mother and the bravado of my siblings,
could not be drowned out by the clattering of dinky cars,
Morrow, Murphy and Burke should have come home again,
they should have worn that blue beret down the steps at Shannon,
they should have made it back,
but betrayed, they lay still in the baking heat,
as denial and cordite swirled about them in their final silence.

I paused for a moment in that laughing bus,
meandering along the roads,
more like tourists than the sailors we were dressed to be,
catching glimpses of life in the olive groves and rocky yellowed fields,
lives who’s roots you came to help protect,
burning under the unforgiving sun,
while you were only 19 years old, same as me.


I remembered you as we raced over the bridge,
pausing in reflection during our annual odyssey,
as the bus speed through the checkpoint,
on the summer pilgrimage to Camp Shamrock,
with a cargo of ammunition,
and crumpled US dollars to see the mingy men.

Soldier Still

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Soldier Still

See the reverent hands unfold the cloth,

medals laid with old memories to rest,

blanketed in a white shroud,

serving to muffle the scraping sounds,

like April’s soil absorbed the impact of screeching mortars.

 

The pride in the aged serge cloth,

snug fitted belonging to a younger man,

witness to the pain at Qana,

where Jesus turned water to wine,

and artillery turned all to death & dust,

 

The familiar hug of peaker cap about the brow,

historical brass centred on the forehead,

burrowing into the mind with patriotic dreams,

which always run before the youth,

before smoke and blood fill the future.

 

Those gentle hands that hold a son, fighter like his father,

mounted crests on arms that shield a family,

spat upon with infamy,

a voice that roared no more,

as cowards struck with calumny.

 

Soldier still, with hands that have both shook and struck,

plastic keys replacing plastic rifle,

barbed comment replacing barbed wire,

from Bekaa to Finglas the defiance is simmering,

like a bayonet, shining.

 

Honest hands put words upon the page,

a volunteer remains bent unto their duty,

the naked truth cannot hide,

standing bare, alone on centre stage,

a Soldier still fights for right, for life.

Note:

The soldier featured in the video below and in the work above is Dr Tom Clonan a retired army officer, author and security expert.

Soldier Still is about violence. A new dance theatre work that blends movement, text, music, real stories and real people, creating a harrowing tale of beauty and brutality. A cast of Irish and international dancers and former soldiers collaborate with an exceptional creative team to explore the viciousness, the vulnerability and the trauma of violence. Previous Artists-in-Residence at Tate Britain, award-winning Junk Ensemble have built a reputation in Ireland as dance innovators. 

“Junk Ensemble has created some of the most impressive contemporary dance in Ireland … Enthralling and exact.” The Sunday Times

Guard

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Guard.

As the rain it fell,
they stood in silent sentinel,
youth whose life barely fills a page,
for those, alas, who will never age,
most gave their life on foreign soil,
where the cedar bleeds or in Katangian dust.

The eternal flame dancing in its cage,
brings light to unknown dreams,
sympathetic sighs from those who linger,
visiting the grieving garden,
of bronze busts and limp half-mast flags,
all keep a fleeting vigil as heroes’ sleep.

One fell at Derrada Wood, so earned his star,
one borne away on Scuabtuinne,
lost far out on the unforgiving sea,
more lost in flight on that darkest night,
another in distant hills of Fataurlo,
one more rolled in Bantry waves.

Kindly pause as you pass by,
bare and bow your head,
no need for praise or for applause,
please sit or kneel or wet your eye,
just remember those departed,
from whom forever pain has fled.

Families aching hearts,
as gun carriage rattles past,
rifles bark the final retort,
to click of leather heel and clink of brass,
mournful last post bugle call,
shock and quiver as teardrops fall,
to rest on arms reversed.