This one has to be “Home Service”.
Last September Malcolm posted about one of the eternal verities: the BBC’s Shipping Forecast. It received as much response as any of his postings. So, at the weekend, wandering the displays of Heffers Bookshop, it was inevitable that he would pick up Charlie Connelly‘s Attention All Shipping.
Despite all the puffs on the cover and elsewhere (“One of those simple yet brilliant ideas”; “a suitably intelligent and amusing guide”; “witty”; “but my book came out first” …), the joy here is that this is an unbashed bog-book. It is precisely the thing to sit on the window of the downstairs loo, waiting to be picked up in those moments of quiet reflection. It can be read at one extended sitting, but improves with many.
Malcolm does not intend to review the book here: he is into his many sittings. What he wishes to signal is those moments of sheer delight, and occasional doubt.
“So what?” say the ignorati. Well, that means it was composed on British soil, for Heligoland (Sea area: German Bight) was a British possession, a part of the British Isles, from 1807 (when it was nicked from the Danes) until 1890 (when Salisbury did a swap for Zanzibar). And so is explained those stamps, with Victoria’s profile, and inscriptions in German, which so puzzled Malcolm when he found them, at the age of eight.
Connelly never gets to Heligoland, and has to settle for Sylt, which “sounds like someone accidentally swallowing a peach-stone”, instead.
Item: He follows that with a visit to Cromer (Sea area: Humber). Here he largely concerns himself with the life of one man, Henry Blogg, of the Cromer Life Boat.
Blogg was a pin-up (and quite properly so) of the RNLI for decades. Connelly seeks his memorial:
I headed east along the upper path, climbing the steps up the cliff and through a small public garden to find the bust erected in Blogg’s memory. From here, on the top of the cliffs, Blogg looks out to sea just as he did for most of his life, straining his eyes for the faintest hint of humanity in peril. … as I stood with Blogg looking out to sea, the sun burst through the clouds for the first time since I’d arrived in Norfolk…
The plaque beneath the bust details his awards and the bare statistics of his lifeboat career, but at the bottom it proclaims simply in large letters ‘One of the bravest men who ever lived’.
They’re a cynical lot, up along the North Norfolk coast, but there is little criticism of the men (and now the women) who answer the “shouts” at Hunstanton, Wells, Sheringham and Cromer are beyond reproach and innuendo.
Item: When he gets to the Fastnet shipping area, Connelly should have headed west, to Skibbereen or, better, Schull: there to see the Fastnet light winking out across Roaring Water Bay. By missing that sight, he also missed one of the great stories of the Irish War of Independence.
The Tom Barry’s Flying Column in West Cork, which featured in Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley, devised a tactic that is still working well today in Basra and Aghanistan: the land-mine. That meant the boys needed supplies of explosive. They learned that there was a stock in the Fastnet Lighthouse. So Rickie Collins of the Goleen Company, who also had served as an attendant on the Rock between 1912 and 1918, proposed a raid. Twelve men took the Máire Cháit out on a June night. At midnight they reached the Rock, and commandeered seventeen boxes of gun-cotton and three boxes of detonators, using the lighthouses own derrick to load them.
In place of that, Connelly choses to concern himself with his family origins in the City of Cork and:
Roy Keane, arguably the most famous Corkman since [Michael] Collins himself …
before viewing the statue of Annie Moore (below, left) at Cobh:
Today Annie and her brothers look out towards the US, where there is an identical statue on Ellis Island looking back at them. The Americans have tried to claim Annie, who had turned fifteen on the day she stepped off the ship, as the personification of the ‘American dream’, as if the young Cork girl had gone to America out of choice and a desire to experience this wonderful land of opportunity. This version of the Annie Moore story is, of course, bollocks. Annie and her two younger brothers travelled to New York in the cramped, oppressive surroundings of steerage class to join their parents who had emigrated with their eldest child, Tom, two years earlier, after their father couldn’t find work in Ireland. Things didn’t go too well in the States either. Unsettled and unable to get work in their new homeland, the Moores moved around, from Brooklyn to Indiana and then on to Texas, where in Waco Annie met Patrick, a fellow Irish émigré, and married him. They had eight childre, of whom three died in infancy before Patrick himself died during an influenza epidemic in 1919. Four years later Annie was hit by a train and died a slow, painful death at the age of forty-six. Rather than the personification of the American dream, Annie’s story is just one of millions like it: desperate people seeking escape from the insufferable hardships of home and finding something, only marginally, if at all, better.
All well and good, except the Annie Moore who arrived at Ellis Island on 1st January 1992 married Joseph Augustus Schayer, who worked at the Fulton Fish Market. After eleven children. her heart failed her in 1923, and she is buried in Calvary Cemetery, in the Borough of Queens. Her statue at Cobh looks wistfully back at the land she is about to leave. The one at Ellis Island (right) is indoors, and by no means “identical”.
By now Malcolm was having some doubts about Connelly: the anecdotes are good, well-told, but the research is lacking. This became clearer, also in Cobh, when Connelly meditated how his own family came from the same quay:
I realised that my own unknown ancestor would have left Ireland through this building, trodden these same falgstones to set in motion the chain of events which had led to me being here now… a Connelly had stepped off a train on this very same platform, nervously clutching a suitcase and feeling completely alone and anonymous … he would have passed into this building presented his boarding card at a window of Deepwater quay, taken one last look at his native Cork and stepped on to a ship bound for England.
Emotive stuff: except that the boats for England left from St Patrick’s Quay and Penrose Quay in the city of Cork. After 1872, the “unknown ancestor” is more likely to have crossed to Milford Haven or Fishguard. That was the young Malcolm’s regular trip, overnight, on the third of the Innisfallens.
Sea Areas Shannon and Malin get short shrift from Connelly. He manages a lot more on Rockall, which he never actually reaches either.
There is an unwritten story still to come of the detail of the way Irish and British interests served each other during the Second World War. The War was unavoidable all along the west coast: corpses were washed ashore too regularly to be ignored.
A lot has been said (and some of it reflected here) about Ireland’s neutrality in “The Emergency” of 1939-45. Yet, the first commercial passenger flight between the USA and Europe was inaugurated on 9th July 1939. Before larger, faster, more economic land-based aircraft took over, via Shannon, Boeing Clippers made 2,097 crossings via Foynes in the Shannon estuary. Military flying boats need to be counted on top of that number: between April 1942 and 1945 Charles Blair alone captained 405 crossings from Foynes to New York for the US Navy. Blair’s achievement in June 1942 was to fly non-stop on that route. It was normal to refuel in Newfoundland, but (as Blair reckoned he still had a 1,000 gallons) he kept going. When he arrived in New York, it was 25 hours and 40 minutes after leaving Foynes, with 95 gallons left. His VIP passenger was Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, C-in-C Mediterranean, who commented: “Remarkable voyage”. The passage of the great (Eisenhower, Mountbattan, Eden, Eleanor Roosevelt, even Churchill) through Foynes required the blindest eye to be turned.
The big weather story for Malin, though, would be early June 1944: there’s even a plaque. The Irish Meteorological Service was (despite all the insistence on “neutrality”) run as a branch-office of Britain. Communications ran through Shannon.
The crucial decision, taken by Eisenhower, was whether to launch the D-Day landings. There already had been a 24-hour delay, because of a storm coming up the Channel. At 5 a.m. on Monday 5th June, the decision was made to commit to the landings.
The advice that the weather would improve came from Group Captain James Stagg, the meteorologist. His information had started with Ted Sweeney, the Assistant Keeper at the Blacksod Lighthouse (left), south of Belmullet. Apart from Achill Island, just to the south, this is where Europe ends: next landfall, Iceland or Newfoundland.
Round here, wind is the master. Belmullet Golf Course at Carne probably never needs a “closed for bad weather” sign. If you can stand up, it’s playable. If you can’t, grab a tussock and pray. You can also expect a yard and a quarter of rainfall a year: at times it can feel that much by the hour, driving hard off the Atlantic swell.
No: not a review, barely an appreciation, but certainly not any condemnation. Malcolm thanks Mr Connelly for improving the passing toilet-break. There are many worse things in this world.
An important comment and correction came from Patricia Smith DeHesus of the Annie Moore Memorial Project. It is too substantial to be left as a mere optional add-on to Malcolm’s twitterings above:
Here is the true story of Annie and the “American dream”. The real descendants were discovered by a professional genealogist who was doing research for a documentary on Irish immigration, and noted that there was no document research to verify the previous family’s claim to be related to her. She had 10 children, not 11, several died in infancy, only 2 have living families today. Four are buried in her grave along with the child of her friend. While life for Annie was very difficult, she did pave the way for the “American Dream”. Six of her descendants have colleges degrees and own their own homes.
Malcolm applauds the project as another good deed in a naughty world.