herald

Saturday 20 April 2019

The sea tragedy that brought out the very best in Dubliners

THEY were eight days that touched each and every one of us in Skerries and as the entire community watched the People of the Year Awards on Saturday night, the events of those eight days in April of this year during which two of our fishermen were lost, came flooding back.

For a whole week we took to every available vessel to search the seas around Skerries, or in groups on land to search miles of coastline, for two young men, Ronan Browne and David Gilsenan, neighbours, lobsterboat fishermen, who had failed to return from just off Skerries shore on Friday, April 1.

RNLI, Coast Guard, Naval Service, Garda Sub Aqua teams, the Air Corps, Civil Defence and a fleet of volunteer boats assisted as the search widened from Howth to Clogher Head and beyond.

As hopes of finding the two alive and well began, heartbreakingly, to fade, all we wanted was to find Ronan and David and bring them home to their families to be laid to rest.

The feeling in the town was extraordinary, and as the young wives, families, mothers, brothers and friends of the two young men held a vigil at the harbour each day, suddenly it wasn't unusual to see people embracing each other in the supermarket queue and wiping tears from their eyes. The streets became quieter and the words most softly spoken were, "Any news?" We searched the miles of coastline around Skerries on foot each day, hoping for the best, expecting the worst. Then, when our community learned that the volunteer vessels, fishing boats and pleasure craft were having trouble affording the fuel to keep the search going at full capacity, a small group organised a Walk Of Solidarity.

A few hundred people were expected. At least 10,000 showed up on the night. We said our words of prayer, even those of us who don't believe in a god prayed and crossed ourselves and we walked the six kilometres along the beaches and through Skerries until the head of the group met the tail where, as the walk was ending, some were only still beginning - and still more came. The community had contributed more than €50,000 in all. A big push was expected now, a final concentrated search effort seven days in, when it was hoped the two men would be found. Some 60 additional vessels were due to arrive from all over the east coast.



The waters off Skerries would likely look like Dunkirk. Then it seemed our prayers were answered. At around 2am on April 9, Ronan and David were found... together, tens of miles north, by a boat called The Guiding Light. Later that day, when the sun went down once more, the town met as one again, thousands with candles this time, in thanks and remembrance... and to light the way home for Ronan and David.

In one extraordinary week, Skerries found a renewed sense of strength in community and a reconnection with the waters that surround our headland that we had all but forgotten.

We will all take something different with us for the rest of our lives from the experiences of April 1 to April 9, 2011, but not one of us in Skerries has not been deeply touched.

Indeed, as Joe Duffy said on television as Ollie Grimes and Martin Scully accepted the Community of the Year Award on behalf of Skerries, this was a story that touched people all around the world. Ronan and David's wives were there on Saturday night, one a wife for just six months, the other a mother of two young children, watching from a table near the stage.

It was a moving occasion and there were tears as Skerries' story was recounted on screen. But later there were smiles too. Ronan and David left a legacy when they were taken from us, searched for and found: a town that knows from real experience how to come together and look after their own when the chips are down.

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