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Sunday 31 August 2014

Danny loved life on ocean wave

Published 09/04/2014 | 05:22

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Capt Danny O'Neill on the bridge of his ship in the Suez Canal in the 1990s; with a crew member.

What Captain Danny O'Neill doesn't know about the seafaring isn't worth knowing. With more than six decades at sea to his credit, he is a walking encyclopedia of maritime issues and has a long and distinguished career to show for it.

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What Captain Danny O'Neill doesn't know about the seafaring isn't worth knowing. With more than six decades at sea to his credit, he is a walking encyclopedia of maritime issues and has a long and distinguished career to show for it.

Hailing from Arklow, a town steeped in rich maritime heritage, Danny's fate was to depart at the tender age of 13 when he joined an uncle on a fishing boat that worked all around Ireland's coast and as far as the Isle of Man.

His first foray into this world was short-lived, however.

'I was called back home to finish school. At that time the legal age for leaving was 14. I didn't finish though. I went off on another fishing boat soon after. That was the way it was that time. I was the eldest of a big family, seven of us,' says Danny.

From there, Danny later joined one of Arklow's coastal ships, before the days of Arklow Shipping and then on to British ships and B&I company.

'It was a good experience. I worked myself up on deck. It was different to an apprenticeship. You went to Third Mate, then Second, then First, then Captain. I had worked on deep water ships, tankers when I decided to go for my Mate Certificate.'

At the age of 28 Danny moved posts once again to take up a job with Irish Shipping. Here he worked worldwide on 'Tramp Steamers' which took him to far flung locations, sometimes for months at a time. These ships didn't follow a schedule in the same way as liners.

During his career, Danny docked in China, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, America and countless other destinations and saw parts of the world that many could only dream of.

'In those earlier days before such quick turnaround times were introduced we sometimes docked for long periods so we could see the area. I once spent three weeks docked in Mauritius. Nowadays it's different and flights allow crews to fly to meet their ship, not wait for it to arrive back before they can board.

'The longer stints at sea came about when Danny sought more of a challenge. I got bored just going back and forth to Britain. It was no longer challenging so I decided to change but being away from home and family wasn't easy.'

In 1963 Danny wed Roisin and they went on to have four daughters.

'There were times when I was away for up to a year. I did miss things like the birth of my two eldest daughters, lots of Christmases and it was hard. Getting in touch wasn't so easy either. I wrote letters to let my family know where we were docked and where we were heading to. It was often difficult to make a phone call and to get hold of local currency to do so.'

In time conditions changed and Danny took a job with Bell Lines, which he describes as a 'very progressive shipping company'.

'Gradually with the passing of time conditions improved and the leave improved and I could do a month on and month off.

'Over a number of years this came about and it made life easier.'

Danny is modest about his own achievements and when pressed accepts that making the rank of Captain, which he did for the first time in 1963 was quite an achievement.

'I suppose it was a big deal at the time. At that time if you changed jobs though you didn't necessarily go into the next one at the same rank. It was only when the larger shipping companies broke up that you could move with your rank and you didn't have to work your way up from the bottom again.'

In the later years of Danny's career he moved closer to home and worked in fishing control for the Irish Government among other jobs.

'I retired in 2000 but I didn't really. I kept on working away on jobs in Arklow and I'm still amusing myself on my own boat 'Cheers' today.'

As if that wasn't enough to contend with at the age of 78 Danny is also the curator of the Arklow Maritime Museum situated in the Bridgewater Centre and has just published a book that he has been writing for most of his life.

'I started it way back as a boy and only finished it seven years ago. All my daughters helped out and my daughter Noreen decided to send it off to a publisher. I used my four discharge books from my time at sea to document what I have done and seen over the years.'

'Out of Arklow' by Capt. Danny O'Neill is a must read for anyone with a passion for all things maritime or those who simply love a good story. It will be on sale on Amazon.com from May.

Bray People

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