THE terminal at Whiddy became fully operation on October 29th 1968, when it received its first cargo of oil from Kuwait, but it was not until the following May that it was ‘officially’ opened.
That was the day that the oil world’s dignatories came to Bantry Bay ‘amid pomp and ceremony’ as The Southern Star reported.
The name ‘Bantry Bay’ would become a household one in world shipping, said Sean McCarthy, chairman of Bantry Bay Town Commissioners. Unfortunately, less than ten years later, that’s exactly what happened.
But not in the way that Sean McCarthy had intended.
On January 8th 1979 the French-owned tanker, the Betelgeuse, was engulfed by a massive fire, leading to the deaths of 49, and some months later, a diver in the salvage operation.
It was by far the worst in a long litany of problems at the terminal in the early years.
The Irish government, including Taoiseach Jack Lynch welcomed Gulf Oil to Whiddy with open arms – like St Brendan’s himself, whose bid to ‘stand guard’ over Whiddy gives little solace to the families of the victims of the Betelgeuse disaster today. On the day of the statue’s unveiling in 1969, the Irish contingent gushed over the Gulf Oil executives – falling just short of calling them the saviours of West Cork’s economy.
‘Ireland, after all, holds a special place in Gulf’s affections,’ wrote this newspaper, adding that the oil firm had itself been founded by a family of Irish emigrants – the Mellons from Co Tyrone, who were themselves represented in Bantry on the day.
Their arrival was hailed thus: ‘Next to President Kennedy’s celebrated visit in 1963, it must have been the most momentous and triumphant ‘emigrant’s return’ in our history.’
But the great black hope of Bantry Bay never properly recovered from the 1979 tragedy and the failure to ever bring anyone to justice in its aftermath.