IT was a ferry, not a longboat, and it was next to his wife in the plot in the sacred grounds of the ruined abbey on Sherkin Island that he was laid to rest, rather than on a funeral pyre, but there were nevertheless vestiges of a Viking send-off for Youen Jacob in Baltimore.
When he wasn’t laughing, Youen – who celebrated his 80th birthday on May 5th – was formidable. Everyone said so. It was an enduring characteristic which – when combined with the height of the man and his girth – gave him the stature of a Norse warrior.
Youen was, of course, from Brittany. Jimmy Sheehy, his friend from Baltimore Trotting, said he started life as a secondary school teacher until he arrived at the notion that it was ‘not the life for him.’
After a number of years working as a medical rep, he got involved in fishing. He came here, to West Cork waters, on board a boat bound for Galway, but it got into difficulty and docked at Sherkin. ‘After a few days,’ Jimmy Sheehy said, ‘the boat left but Youen wasn’t on it.’
Youen had met the love of his life, Mary O’Neill, a teacher on Sherkin Island. So, for a time, he ran a pub, and legend had it that he used to take the schoolchildren on nature walks to introduce them to foraging, Breton-style.
Youen was always ahead of his time. Jimmy said: ‘He changed life in Baltimore when he opened Chez Youen, a restaurant that became famous all over the world.’
Although not a trained chef, the meals there were always excellent. Fr Chris O’Donovan who celebrated the requiem mass in Rath Church said: ‘Youen had the gift of hospitality. He was known for the culinary delights of Chez Youen, which, like a rising tide, lifted a few boats in Baltimore.’
Jimmy said he knew Youen best from the world of trotting and there, too, he made his mark by bringing in French trotters, including Jolly Castle, which became ‘almost as famous as Youen.’
Aside from indulging his passion for racing by running a riding stable in Rath, Youen had ‘an interest’ in Baltimore. That is to say, with his encouragement, there were festivals held in the seaside village almost every weekend of the summer.
‘He didn’t do it all on his own,’ said Jimmy. ‘The JCB – Jacob, Cotter and Bushe – was involved. They were the people that were involved in events held in the square.’
When he bought McCarthy’s bar, a real JCB was called in. The bar was knocked and the site was excavated by 15ft to make way for The Waterfront hotel, bar and restaurant. Mary was, according to Jimmy, behind this project, and everything her husband did up until she passed away in 2004.
Jimmy said Youen was ‘a man of the future. He was a man larger than life in everything he did, down to the size of the cigars he smoked’. And he ended his eulogy, saying: ‘Those who loved him will continue to love him, and miss him.’
Although Sherkin on Tuesday afternoon was undoubtedly the place to be to hear proper, and properly funny, stories about Youen, as told by his family – his proud sons, Youen, Louis and Pascal – and his friends, Fr O’Donovan hit on something when he spoke of Youen as a teacher.
‘Youen’s mother was a teacher. He was a teacher, and he married a teacher.’ As someone who studied philosophy, he added, Youen had an appreciation of God being found in the detail – both big and small – a God that could be found in ordinary places ‘outside the four walls of a man-made church’.
‘Life takes twists and turns,’ the priest said. ‘We pray for Youen, the public face, but our prayers, too, are for his private face – his normal life with his wife, and boys, and what he instilled in them.’ In life, he said, Youen achieved a parent’s greatest wish and that was that he be ‘the best of teachers’.
He said the congregation, his family and his friends, as well as the people of Baltimore, would ‘hold his memory dear. May he rest in peace’.
After the ceremony, people made their way to the pier. They sorted themselves into different boats, big and small. And, for a time, these boats motored backwards and forwards until finally they formed a flotilla and made their way seaward to Sherkin.