A flight of fancy

I can’t ever remember being in Donabate. But then again, given what my memory is like, I’m open to correction. No doubt even more years might have passed had I not been struck by an urge to see the sea when I was in Ireland last weekend and happened across a kind soul who indulged me.

Walking the limestone cliffs between the beach at Donabate and the beach at Portrane was as close to scenic heaven as I’ve been since Oslo.  About 12 miles north-east of Dublin, we couldn’t have been further removed from the sights and sounds of twenty-first century city living. A trinity of elements – crashing waves, a stiff breeze, and an autumn sun – composed a perfect picture.

We passed St Ita’s Hospital, which was once Portrane asylum and is now a home for those with intellectual disabilities or long-term mental illness. Until 1890, it was the largest public contract ever undertaken in Ireland … it’s massive. In its shadow sits a lone round tower. Curious as to its origins, I went searching…

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Adjoining the Asylum is a modern round tower, erected on the summit of a rising ground by a former proprietor, Mrs Evans, as a memorial to her husband, whose bust is placed in the interior of the structure. This tower was formerly a very remarkable feature on the peninsula, being about 100 feet high, but is now much dwarfed by the proximity of the extensive buildings of the Asylum. The entrance door is situated, as in the ancient round towers, at such a height from the ground that it can be reached only by a ladder. 

An interesting memorial, it certainly beats your average gravestone. Nice one, Mrs Evans.

Looking across at Lambay Island, I was struck, as I always am, by the force of the sea, particularly given the week that was in it and the number of maritime accidents that had been reported. There was a soulfulness about the place that made me wonder some more. Of course, it might well have been the contemplative mood that I was in, but indulge me in my flight of fancy.

I did some more digging and discovered that back in 1854, on 19 January, the John Tayleur left Liverpool bound for Melbourne. Insufficiently manned with a crew that had only ten real seamen, the others being Chinese who for the most part didn’t speak enough English to understand the captain’s orders, the voyage was doomed from the start. Incapable of carrying out orders to shorten sail in the face of a storm, the crew’s incompetence saw the ship end up just off the Irish coast. The ship struck Lambay Island. Of the 579 on board, 297 drowned in the sea. Of the 250 women and children that had set sail, only three survived. The majority of the emigrants were Irish who had embarked in Liverpool full of hope and anticipation for a future some would never see.

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Watching our shadows stretch before us, I was reminded of the transience of time and the impermanence of life as we  know it. And again, I reminded myself that life is far too short to be wasted on regrets. As the sun began to set and its autumnal heat began to wane, we turned for home. Full of resolve to seize the day and replete with faith that all would be provided, tomorrow suddenly took on new meaning. The sea can do that to me.


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