Friday 19 January 2018

Grief turns to anger as Coalition is denounced at brothers' funeral

State policy is forcing fishermen to take bigger risks in smaller boats, says brother-in-law in eulogy from altar

A mourner carries a wreath
A mourner carries a wreath

Jerome Reilly in Passage East

Grief exploded into anger yesterday at the funeral Mass of three fishermen brothers killed at sea, with Marine Minister Simon Coveney forced to sit ashen-faced in the pew as the Bolger family launched a searing indictment of State policy from the altar.

The devastating denunciation from the pulpit was made at the funeral Mass of Shane, Kenny and Paul Bolger by Colm O'Neill, who is married to Paula, twin sister of Paul.

He said that fishermen like the three Bolger brothers had been forced by government policy to take bigger risks in smaller boats.

The three brothers died when their modest 19ft punt capsized in waters known to be treacherous.

"This tragedy had its roots in the long descent into danger caused by the removal of economic opportunity again and again without alternatives being made possible," Mr O'Neill said in a charged address from the altar of St John The Baptist Church after the Requiem Mass for the three brothers had concluded.

"Successive governments of all hues, often with good intentions, have restricted or removed categories of fish or types of fishing that could be accessed."

He said that multi-generational fishing families often have limited access to education or capital availability.

"This means the measures taken have had a disproportionate impact on them.

"It must be understood that most fishermen and particularly the Bolger brothers believed strongly in the dignity of work – the need to be independent and to support themselves and their families.

"This caused them to move into areas of greater risk, to fish in smaller boats and to fish for stocks that were not restricted.

"They gave their lives fishing for lobsters for which they received less than five per cent of the ultimate price paid. Enjoy your lobster Thermidor – I won't ever again,'' he blasted.

His broadside received strong and sustained applause. It was clear the attack was supported by the wider Bolger family.

Mr O'Neill was embraced as he returned to his seat by other members of the family all weeping as they bade a final farewell to the three brothers, who lay in three identical coffins.

He said that 10 seconds of the sea's awesome power washed away a combined 140 years of human life.

"Paul, Shane and Kenny were not only brothers to each other, they were partners in business, they were best, best friends. They were buddies, and even when there was an argument they would be best friends the next morning."

Shane Bolger, 44, who was married to Lucy, had a teenage son, Calum, with whom he had been out fishing just last week. The couple also had a daughter, five-year-old Martha Kay.

Paul Bolger was 49 years old and lived in nearby Cheekpoint with his partner Patricia and their 12-year-old daughter Rachel.

Paul was a twin, and his sister, Paula, who runs a cash- and-carry business, came home from Amsterdam with her husband Colm after being told the heartbreaking news of the loss of three of her five brothers.

Kenny Bolger, 47, was single and lived with his mother, Margaret.

As well as Paul's twin, Paula, the three men are also survived by another sister, Lynda, and two brothers, Anthony and Michael.

Anthony might have also been at sea with his brothers on the day they met their death, but he is recovering from heart bypass surgery.

But how could three experienced fishermen, all with life jackets, die relatively close to shore?

Ireland's coastal water temperature is just 10C this time of year, but this year it may be even cooler after the coldest May in years. And it takes only 15 to 30 minutes in cold water before the temperature of the heart, brain and internal organs begins to drop.

Skin temperatures cool even quicker and that may impair a person's ability to reach shore.

Even trying to make it to shore by swimming actually accelerates muscle cooling, according to Irish Water Safety.

For people not used to cold water with temperatures of less than 15C, sudden immersion causes two potentially deadly consequences – either of which may result in death from drowning.

When they first enter the water the shock of the cold water coming into contact with the skin, known as "Cold Shock", can result in incapacitation and drowning in the first three minutes.

For those who survive this and are unable to get out of the water quickly, progressive body cooling, leading to hypothermia, will follow in time.

Just last January a friend of the Bolger brothers died after his boat capsized off Brownstown Head, and again hypothermia was cited as a cause. Johnny Flynn, from Dunmore East, was just 43 and was fishing with his lifelong friend James Tate in circumstances eerily similar to last week's tragedy.

They were in a 4.6-metre boat when it capsized and both men were wearing lifejackets, but only Mr Tate made it to the safety of shore.

The search and rescue helicopter at Waterford finally winched Mr Flynn from the water but he could not be saved.

And people still remember the day the Jenalisa sank on a February day in the mid-Nineties, taking three lives.

The waters in and around Tramore Bay are overlooked by the Metal Man, a statue of an ancient mariner erected in 1823 that sits atop a stone pillar looking out over the cove.

It was built to serve as a warning to ships and small boats that they were entering shallow, dangerous waters.

Legend says that on stormy nights the Metal Man can be heard to chant: "Keep out good ship, keep out from me, for I am the rock of misery."

Irish Independent

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