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Union Hall’s strength during tragedy of Tit Bonhomme is recalled a decade later

January 10th, 2022 11:40 AM

By Jackie Keogh

The Irish Navy Vessel L.E Niamh and local fishing vessels searching beside the Eve Rock, the scene of the sinking of the Union Hall-based trawler

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While a decade has now passed since the horrendous tragedy at the mouth of Glandore harbour, the mark left on the local fishing communities has endured, writes Jackie Keogh

ONE life was saved but five more were lost when the Tit Bonhomme sank in Glandore Harbour 10 years ago on Sunday January 15th 2012.

A decade has passed but the loss of the lives of Michael Hayes, Kevin Kershaw, Saied Aly Eldin, Attia Shaban and Wael Mohamed has left an indelible mark on all of West Cork’s coastal communities.

Wael’s brother, Abdelbaky Mohamed, was the only survivor. His story of how he made it to shore is the stuff of minor miracles, but the impact of such a large loss of life, so close to the shore, will never be forgotten.

The tragedy was the catalyst for the formation of an inshore lifeboat service in Union Hall – a service that has been called on, on many occasions, but can credibly claim it has already saved the life of another man.

‘It is a great asset to the community – a fact that was acknowledged with the arrival of the Christine and Raymond Fielding RNLI lifeboat in June,’ said John Kelleher, the local lifeboat operations manager.

‘Union Hall is such a busy harbour – serving a commercial fishing fleet and a large leisure boating community in the summer time – that it was vital we would have our own lifeboat.

sole survivor Said
Mohamed (centre) being comforted by fellow fishermen

 

‘The service we have today – including the 20 strong crew that is on call 24/7 – is a legacy of the Tit Bonhomme tragedy,’ he added.

Union Hall has always looked to the sea. At the time of the tragedy the former parish priest Fr Michael Curran said fishing communities are ‘generations in the making’ and that coastal communities understand that the sea is a powerful friend and sometimes enemy.

He said it is an uneasy relationship, but it is one that is understood. That is why so many people responded in so many different ways to assist in the exhaustive 26-day search.

It is not surprising that every emergency group joined in the marathon operation. But what is surprising is that other people involved in these organisations in different parts of the country felt compelled to go to West Cork to help.

The Coast Guard led the search operation with crews in the air, on the sea and on the land. RNLI lifeboats from every West Cork station joined the search as did countless Civil Defence volunteers and divers. The name Union Hall seemed strangely appropriate throughout it all because what was previously a large concrete pier turned into a kind of hall complete with feeding stations for the rescue workers, respite huts, and support services.

The pier became all things: an open door, a home, a hall, an inhabited place throughout those long, dark and damp days. It represented a ‘union’ too of men and women working together in their respective capacities.

They, and the families of all the deceased, found their release at 12.04pm on Wednesday February 8th when the teams recovered the remains of the fifth man, the Tit Bonhomme skipper Michael Hayes.

1Fr Pierce Cormac leading a decade of rosary on Union Hall pier with the families. (Photos: Niall Duffy)

 

The inquest heard evidence that four of the five crew who lost their lives died of either drowning or hypothermia, while the fifth, Attia Shaban, suffered a fatal head injury.

The sense of loss for the families was overwhelming, but so too was the sense of relief that their bodies had been recovered from the sea, and that the real grieving could begin.

In April of that year, President Michael D Higgins travelled to Union Hall and ‘on behalf of the people of Ireland’ he thanked everyone involved in the search.

‘Rather than allowing yourselves to be defeated by loss and tragedy, you showed strength of spirit and the power of the collective,’ he said.

The President said people would remember that the people of Union Hall demonstrated an unparalleled capacity for kindness and fortitude during the 26-day search that followed the sinking of the Tit Bonhomme.

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