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Former president McAleese helps tell Whiddy story

September 29th, 2021 11:55 AM

By Southern Star Team

The tanker Betelgeuse ablaze at the jetty off Whiddy Island in 1979. (Photo: Ian Vickey Snr)

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Documentary maker Michael Lawless first heard about the Whiddy Island disaster from a Goleen man while standing on Westminster Bridge in London in 2017

I FIRST came across this story on Westminster Bridge in London while I was speaking to Michael Kingston.

Michael was recalling a near-death experience during the 2017 terror attack at Westminster that he luckily escaped.

Afterwards, looking out on the River Thames, he shared a story to me that was dear to him, but clearly caused him visible upset and pain.

A story of a tragedy that befell West Cork, but within it is how the story of one family’s life changed within hours, but yet they were not alone.

In January 1979, Tim Kingston, Michael’s father, was after celebrating Michael’s 4th birthday. Tim gifted his son a toy helicopter before leaving for work, travelling a road he knew well.

Kingston was a pollution control officer working for Gulf Oil.

Just days before, an oil tanker, a ship that carried tonnes of crude oil, the MV Betelgeuse, arrived into Bantry. She was never meant to come to Cork, but the weather was so poor in Sines outside Lisbon that the captain was ordered to unload at Whiddy Island instead.

The Documentary On One next weekend, entitled Fire In The Sky recalls the night of the disaster.

From speaking to those closest to the story, and those who have never shared their story before now, we recall the moments that led to the tragic night in January 1979.

Former President Mary McAleese, an RTÉ reporter at the time, recalls in the documentary visiting Bantry, and reporting on the Tribunal findings of what happened on that night.

As firefighters tried to fight the fire on Whiddy Island, attempting to save lives and trying to keep the oil baths cool, to ensure the town of Bantry would not go up in flames, word was travelling across France about what was happening.

Families who had no English, began to learn what was happening in West Cork.

This disaster has now impacted over 51 families, across several nations, and the hurt remains for many who feel things could have been dealt with differently, who feel they haven’t been heard.

To this day, major questions remain about the arrangements in place for the safety of the workers.

Many of those who have suffered are for the first time speaking out in the documentary which is narrated by Tim Desmond, produced Donal O’Herlihy, and myself Michael Lawless.

Fire in the Sky airs on RTÉ Radio 1 on October 2nd at 2pm and is repeated on RTÉ Radio 1 on Sunday October 3rd at 6pm.

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