Following on from a wet and windy few days, a stillness settled on Kilmore last Wednesday afternoon (8th) as the hearse carrying the body of local fisherman Joe Sinnott (65) snaked its way through the village.
Mourners lined either side of the road as the cortège made its way past and into a church yard which was filled with family, friends, neighbours and colleagues that Joe had gathered over the course of a lifetime at sea.
Joe, of Seaview, Kilmore, lost his life when the trawler he was fishing from, the Alize, went down just off the coast of Hook Head. While the Kilmore man was plucked from the water and was brought to University Hospital Waterford by helicopter, he passed away a short time later.
As people offered their deepest condolences to Joe's wife Mary, his children Michael, Siobhan, Bernie and Bridget and extended family, thoughts and prayers were also offered for the family of his close friend and colleague Willie Whelan (41) for whom the search was still ongoing off the Wexford coast; the more favourable weather conditions resulting in new hope that he would be found.
Speaking from the altar, Joe's son Michael recalled the bond that the tragic fishermen enjoyed and his hopes that Willie would be returned to his family.
'It's been a tough few days, from Saturday night until today,' Michael said. 'But I know where he (Joe) is today. He's out there with the boys searching. His spirit is out there. Please God, he'll be able to bring Willie home to us. The bond that the two boys had was just unreal. It was just like a link of chain that you couldn't part.'
Fr David Murphy also offered prayers for the Whelan family and those who were searching the Wexford Coast in the hopes of finding the 41 year-old.
'Today we keep in mind and in our prayers at our mass, all of Willie Whelan's family at this very difficult and sad time for them,' he said. 'As our mass is about to start, the search for Willie continues. People in this area of Kilmore Quay with boats and people from the Hook Head peninsula are out this morning searching for Willie.'
Fr Murphy said that 'Joe was born to fish and died doing what he loved'. Those present remembered a hard-working man, who always did his best to provide for his family. He had a love of nature and loved nothing more than walking the fields with his dogs Rex and Ben. An extremely well-respected member of the fishing community, Joe was always happy to lend the next generation a hand and give them advice.
Fr Murphy added that while 'Joe was looking forward to getting the pension in June of this year, he wasn't looking forward to retiring. I'm sure he would've continued on for many years at the fishing.'
He also quoted from a tribute written by Wexford author Michelle Dooley Mahon, who had known Joe for many years. She described him as 'a gentle man with a ready laugh, and an infectious grin', adding: 'Joe left the planet living his dream, whistling for home, but it was a different home he found. One that is not an imaginary palace in the sky, but a different level of awareness on our journey through "being" human. "Home is the sailor, home from the sea".'
Joining Joe's son Michael on the altar, his nephew Sean Boyce spoke of a man who was well loved by his entire family.
'Seeing him always brought a smile to our face,' he said. 'Joe was our gentle giant who was rarely, if ever, in bad form. He was completely devoted to Mary, Siobhan, Bernie and Bridget and in Joe, Michael not only had a fantastic Dad, but a best friend.'
Despite the tragic circumstances of the father of four's passing, his family were firm in their belief that he died doing what he loved.
'Joe died doing something he absolutely loved,' said Sean. 'We all know that the only place he wanted to be, other than at home with Mary, was at sea. Although he spent some time ashore, it was no real surprise to us when Joe went back to sea. When the sea is in your blood, it's hard to live on land.'
Sean also noted the very close bond that existed between Joe and Willie Whelan, for whom the search continues. 'When Joe went onto the Alize, he and Willie Whelan quickly formed a very strong bond,' he said. 'No matter how hard anyone tried, there was no chance of getting any fishing info from the boys.'
Sean finished with a poem for his late uncle:
'You went out to sea to earn your crust; Drown we may, but go we must,
You've left us now and although you've gone; In our memories, you'll live on.
On the sea of life, you've happily sailed,
And not one of us have you ever failed,
A new course now, a new patch of ground;
We know you won't rest until Willie is found.'
As Joe's remains were carried from the church and laid to rest in the adjoining graveyard, a number vessels in the harbour, led by Willie Whelan's brothers Malcolm and Ciaran, sounded a blast of their horns; one final salute to one of their own cruelly taken by the sea as the search for another goes on.