Monday 19 March 2018

Relative blames government policy for deaths of brothers

Conor Kane

THE strains of 'The Lonesome Boatman' from a solitary tin whistle drifted across the sea breeze as the grieving family of three brothers who lost their lives at sea last week bade farewell to their loved ones.

On the hills above the Suir estuary, the sight of three hearses making their way from the Bolger family home in Passage East to the Church of St John the Baptist in Crooke brought the tiny village to a silent standstill.

As hundreds thronged the little church overlooking the waters separating this corner of Co Waterford from Hook Head in Co Wexford, hundreds more stood outside in the grounds and on the street, listening quietly to a funeral Mass for three brothers, Paul (49), Kenny (47) and Shane (44), who died together close to Brownstown Head, Tramore, last Wednesday while setting lobster pots.

Their brother-in-law, Colm O'Neill, in his oration spoke of "the beauty of the sea, the bounty of the sea, the power of the sea, the wrath of the sea", which washed away 140 years of human life last Wednesday. "We stand here to mourn, but the love is not washed away," he said.

Paul's only thoughts were for his partner Patricia and daughter Rachel, working to provide for his family.

He said Shane was "the kindest and most gentle man I've been proud to know. He was never averse to the hard, physical work of fishing, but never hesitated to do the work of changing a nappy or cleaning the house or cooking for his family".

Mr O'Neill said Kenny was "a man of a very unique type" who "had a great deal of knowledge and understanding".

In a powerful broadside at government policy, Mr O'Neill added: "This tragedy had its roots in a long descent into danger, caused by the removal of economic opportunity, again and again, without alternatives being made possible. Successive governments of all hues have, often with good intentions, restricted or removed categories of fish or types of fishing that could be exercised.

"Fishermen, particularly those of multi-generational families, have often had limited educational achievements or capital availability. This means that the measures taken have had a disproportionate effect on them. It must be understood that most fishermen, and particularly the Bolger brothers, believed strongly in the dignity of work and the need to be independent and to support themselves and, more particularly, their families," he added.

"This caused them to move into areas of greater risk, to fish in smaller boats because they were allowed, and for stocks that were not restricted. They gave their lives seeking lobsters, for which they received less than 5pc of the ultimate price paid. Enjoy your lobster thermidor, I will not ever again."

Parish priest Fr Brian Powers told the mourners that the brothers died while going about their daily livelihood, trying to provide for their families.

The huge crowd offered consolation to Shane's wife Lucy and children Calum and Martha-Kay; Paul's partner Patricia and daughter Rachel; their mother Margaret; sisters Lynda and Paula; and brothers Michael and Anthony.

Irish Independent

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