Wednesday 24 January 2018

No bones about it ... it'll be a whale of a festival

Finbar O’Mahony, Kevin Madden and Vincent Hickey put the final touches to the skeleton of the
whale that will go on display at the Kilbrittain festival in Co Cork. Photos: Denis Boyle
Finbar O’Mahony, Kevin Madden and Vincent Hickey put the final touches to the skeleton of the whale that will go on display at the Kilbrittain festival in Co Cork. Photos: Denis Boyle
The Rorqual whale stranded on the beach at Courtmacsherry Bay before it died in January 2009.

Ralph Riegel

The bones of a giant female Rorqual whale, who died on a sandbank before she could be safely towed back out to sea, are set to be reassembled for the first time as the star feature in a local festival.

Kilbrittain in west Cork opens its annual harvest festival on Saturday night with the gala reappearance of the giant whale's skeleton.

The 50-tonne mammal got stuck on a sandbank between Kilbrittain and Courtmacsherry in January 2009 and died before she could be towed back out to sea.

The mammal then sparked a local row as both villages laid claim to the huge skeleton.

Kilbrittain locals insisted the whale died on their side of the harbour, while Courtmacsherry residents proposed displaying the jaw bones in their community hall.

Ultimately, the whale's jaw bones were removed by a stealthy group of Kilbrittain volunteers in the early hours of the morning using a chainsaw before they could be confiscated by their neighbours.

The remaining whale bones were then buried but have since been picked clean by sea scavengers. Blubber and tissue from the whale were mechanically removed and sent to Waterford for rendering.

Now, a group of Kilbrittain locals are piecing together parts of the skeleton to display it at the village's 2010 festival.

The event runs until August 8 and a decision will then be made on a permanent display home for the bones.

And despite the initial row over the rights to the whale carcass, Courtmacsherry residents have vowed to support their neighbours' summer festival.


In fact, the starring presence of the whale skeleton is expected to bring a record number of curious Courtmacsherry locals across the bay.

The giant whale proved a major headache for Cork County Council. It cost a whopping €13,500 to remove the whale from the sandbank and bury it.

The council's south Cork area had allocated €16,000 for beach cleaning in 2009 -- with more than 80pc of the budget going on just burying the whale bones and removing tissue and blubber for hygienic rendering.

The whale entered the harbour on an unusually high January tide, became disorientated when the water receded and got trapped on a sandbank.

She died six hours later, before a massive rescue operation by marine volunteers could reach her. A post-mortem revealed she had died from acute respiratory failure.

Scavengers, including crabs and seabirds, began feasting on the whale and sections of the mammal's rib cage and spine were eventually left exposed.

The council decided it had no option but to mount an expensive removal operation. The carcass was buried after the whale's organs were removed by scientists for examination to determine its origin, age and state of health.

The Rorqual whale is the second largest whale species and the second biggest mammal on the planet after its cousin, the Blue Whale. Like other whale species, it is endangered.

Also known as the Razorback or Fin, the whale can grow to a staggering 27 metres in length.

Irish Independent

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