Villages of two nations unite in grief over trawler
Families praise great kindness of volunteers during search for men
Published 22/01/2012 | 05:00
TWO Irish and Egyptian villages, separated by almost 4,000km, have been united in grief and solidarity by the Tit Bonhomme trawler tragedy.
Union Hall in west Cork and Borg Meghezel, outside Alexandria in Egypt, were left mourning the loss of five fishermen when the 21-metre steel-hulled trawler was wrecked after striking rocks off Adam Island in Glandore Bay last Sunday.
Two of the trawler's crew, Waterford father-of-five Michael Hayes, 52, and Kevin Kershaw, 21, are Irish; while three, Saied aly Eldin, 24, Shaban Attia, 26, and Wael Mohamad, 32, are Egyptians. Mr Mohamad, who is the brother of the tragedy's sole survivor Abdou Mohamad, 40, celebrated the birth of his first son last December.
As of last night, just two bodies -- those of Mr Kershaw and Mr Attia -- have been recovered despite one of the biggest search and recovery operations in Irish Coastguard history.
The tragedy has now sparked a remarkable outpouring of solidarity, courage, kindness and hope that has made headlines in both countries.
Union Hall-born priest, Fr Pierce Cormac, said the astonishing outpouring of support on the village's pier is akin to the old Irish creamery spirit.
"Everyone is arriving with something -- it could be home-baking or soup or offers of transport or showers.
"Every single person in the community has offered something to try to help these families," he said.
When Fr Cormac arrived back to his home on Monday night, it was like a collection point with huge quantities of foodstuffs dropped off by concerned locals. The solidarity isn't just restricted to Union Hall -- volunteers have arrived from all over west Cork.
The biggest problem the Irish Coastguard and co-ordinator Gerard O'Flynn had yesterday was trying to manage the huge numbers of people who wanted to come to Union Hall and help in some fashion.
Three local supermarkets -- Fullers in Union Hall, Fields in Skibbereen and Scallys in Clonakilty --have been making daily deliveries of food to the pier.
Skibbereen taxi driver Jean Hegarty has been ferrying members of the Egyptian community wherever they need to go.
By Monday -- just 24 hours after the tragedy -- a food station was in full swing on Union Hall pier.
Manned by local volunteers, the 300-strong rescue team and the relatives of those missing were being provided with hot soup, tea, coffee, home baking and a variety of hot meals.
One local woman was so concerned about the 30-plus Egyptians gathered daily on the pier-side and their dietary preferences that she used the internet to research Egyptian cuisine -- and prepared a special chickpea soup that is popular in Alexandria.
Halal meals were also available to volunteers.
Last Tuesday, rotas had been set up with free hot food available on the pier from 6am to almost 9pm.
The level of commitment was perhaps best exemplified by the Deasy family.
Martin Deasy -- a local fisherman -- has spent seven days participating in the search operation for the missing men.
Like all the other 20-plus fishermen helping out, he supplies his own trawler's fuel -- as do the volunteer sub-aqua and search and rescue clubs.
On the shore, his wife Mary is one of the most dedicated food station volunteers.
When queried about the remarkable level of support, one local fisherman became almost indignant.
"If I was missing, they'd do the very same for me," he said.
Trawler skipper Michael Hayes's brother is Chief Superintendent Tom Hayes -- and virtually every senior garda in Cork used their time off to come to Union Hall to volunteer to help the search.
Mr Hayes's wife, Kathleen, has spent every day at sea helping support the search.
Both Union Hall and Borg Meghezel owe their economic existence to the sea though one is to the freezing Atlantic and the other is to the warm waters of the Mediterranean.
But residents of both villages also know the terrible price the sea sometimes exacts for her bounty.
Abdou Mohamad -- a father of three -- is now assuming responsibility for his brother's family.
Mido el Gharabawy has vowed to personally escort the body of his best friend, Shaban Attia, back to Egypt for burial.
Mr Attia died without knowing that his mother back in Egypt had recently passed away.
Abdou's cousin, Morad Gharib, who runs a popular Cork restaurant, said the Egyptian community simply cannot believe the support they have been shown.
"I have never seen anything like it in my life -- I have no words for the kindness that has been shown to us.
"We always knew about the generosity of Irish people but this has been unbelievable," he said.
Minutes after the body of his eldest son Kevin was recovered, Paddy Kershaw told the Sunday Independent that nationality and economics simply didn't matter on the Union Hall pier-side.
"We're not Irish or Egyptian here -- we are all just human beings trying to support each other," Paddy explained.
One of the first people to embrace Paddy after Kevin's body was brought ashore was Abdou Mohamad -- and another Egyptian brought over a scapular medal that he hung around Paddy's neck as a gesture of solidarity.
Even the prayer vigils on the pier were undertaken in a unified fashion -- and led by Fr Cormac and Egyptian religious leader, Aymen Issa Rezk.
To help the families, locals have also set up a special support fund.
The Union Hall Trawler Victim Support Fund -- which was set up by Mrs Hegarty -- is hoping to raise funds to help support the five families involved.
Donations can be made to AIB Skibbereen sorting code 93-63-75 account number 10009183.