Blow-ins Already on First Name Terms.

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(Pole calibrated to register the strength of the wind by the height of the waves. It’s a thought))

For the moment, our rowdy transatlantic visitors have left us, Abigail, Big Bertha, Caligula, Desmond, Frank, Godzilla, Henry the Devastater, Imogen…. There have been so many that I get confused by the names. I vividly remember Hurricane Charlie, but that was a one-off and we all knew Charlie. Whose idea was it to name every Atlantic depression in alphabetical order, creating a sense of malevolent beings sweeping across the ocean to wreak havoc across the country. Previously the weather forecasters referred to ‘a storm’ or a ‘deep  depression bringing high winds  and heavy rain from the Atlantic.’ The Skerries fisherman  would refer to ‘a gale of wind’ to remove any doubt. Now we have a sense of shrieking Valkyries and shambling thugs lurching towards us to do us harm. They employed millibars, marked on barometers. Now it’s hectopascals and poor little Buoy M5. We used to make barometers out of jars of water and inverted bottles. I doubt if anything ever registered but that is how amazing discoveries begin…provided you don’t get bored. I can’t imagine a jar full of hectopascals. “Don’t bring those dirty things into the house.” or was that frog spawn?

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Picture courtesy of R. O Shea.

Admiral Beaufort, from Navan, made it easier, by basing his wind scale on the  number of sails a man o’ war could safely carry. In this way, an officer coming on deck could gauge at a glance, the force of the wind. The landlubber’s version talks of smoke rising vertically, trees swaying, structural damage and hurricane force. The bottom line is  ‘take care out there.’ I suspect that forecasters give us the worst case scenario as they say, so that they can’t be accused of being caught on the hop. Poor Michael Fish will be forever blamed for overlooking a hurricane. It could happen to anyone. My sister-in-law slept through the whole thing, while in Bournemouth at a conference. She went for a walk in the morning and was dismayed by the untidiness of what is one of Britain’s leading seaside resorts. Meanwhile the good people of Sevenoaks, just up the road, were out looking for their eponymous trees. It blew Michael’s career away too. He briefly tried the music business but released only one song…said to be the worst recording since records began.

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I recall floods and storms before there were names; before global warming and climate change were invoked to explain everything.  The picture shows an aspect of the North Strand flooding in Dublin in 1954. This was the time of the collapse of the railway bridge over the raging Tolka. You may remember how the sea came right up to the railway at Fairview.  The army built a temporary bailey bridge. All that land east of the railway, East Point,  Alfie Byrne Road etc. is the result of intensive reclamation during the Fifties, modeled on the building of Europoort. The sea was driven back and new land came into being. If you want to learn about water management, ask the Dutch.

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Fairview Park on the left and the sea on the right.

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Griffins’ big tree was even bigger by the time that I made money out of it. We used to sit at the top of the tree and watch Mr. Bailey passing on his tricycle. Secretary to the Dublin Port and Docks Board and the only First Class season ticket holder on the Great Northern Railway, he was a formidable personage.  He was also Hon. Sec. and Treasurer to the Golf Club, which he ruled with an iron fist. When he spoke, even the birds were silent. However…he rode a tricycle. An elderly man in plus-fours on a tricycle. Did we catcall from our eyrie in the tree? Did we try to water-pistol his tweed cap?  We did not. His reputation was noised abroad… but we nudged one another and giggled. Was he responsible for the bailey bridge? It wouldn’t surprise me. We kept schtum. In February 1953 much of Holland  was inundated by a great storm from the west, a spring tide and torrential rain. The disaster gave rise in time, to the wonderful Delta dams.  It’s an ill wind, as they say. Our school was shut, due to the weather. Griffins’ enormous tree fell, fortunately, onto the lawn. Mrs Griffin engaged a gang of idle boys to chop off as many branches as possible. The Tom Sawyer effect. We arrived with saws, hatchets and axes….Health and safety? Forget about it. We had a wonderful day. She paid us hard cash when the tree had been reduced to manageable proportions. Hard cash, transmuted into Honey Bee bars and  black Cough-no- more bars, in Annie Murray’s sweet shop. If there were calories in those days, we had already worked them off.

The preeminent storm of that era was Captain Carlsen’s storm over Christmas  1951 into January 1952. There was a hero. Every boy wanted to be Captain Carlsen.  We followed his progress on his stricken ship Flying Enterprise, as the wind and seas of the Western Approaches battered it. Every radio bulletin reported his plight, alone on his ship, refusing to give it up. Aerial photographs  in the newspapers, showed him, a small dark figure against the immensity of the waves working on deck, trying to secure lines to the tug, Turmoil. The mate of Turmoil, Kenneth Dancy, managed to get aboard to help the captain. He also became a hero, except for the fact that he knitted Aran style sweaters, as a hobby and supplied them to his shipmates. We weren’t sure if knitting was a suitable activity for a hero. The episode was an heroic failure, still shrouded in rumour and occasional controversy. The ship went down eventually with its cargo of Volkswagen cars, coffee, rags(!) peat moss, gold, zirconium and pig-iron. Why had he not abandoned ship with his crew and passengers? We will never know. However, he gave us an enduring hero in those dark years.

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There is a pub in Cork called The Flying Enterprise. I must go in there sometime, just for pig-iron and raise a glass to a hero.  That storm needed no name other than Captain Henrik Curt Carlsen’s storm.

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Blow-ins and Little Green Men

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“Grandad,” said my four year old grandson, “what do Aliens call us?” Little boys delight in questions and jokes. Ideally a question can also be a joke. ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ That’s a cracker, as the late, great Frank Carson used to say. ‘Frank Carson, News at Ten, Balbriggan.’  Something to do with the way he told them. ‘They’re building new houses in Balbriggan. They’ve no chimneys on them. The people have to carry the smoke out in buckets. Ha,ha,ha!’ Strange goings-on in Balbriggan indeed. But I have digressed—by four miles. ‘Why did the chewing gum cross the road?’ Another cracker. ‘Because it was stuck to the chicken’s foot. Boom, boom!.’ “No, but Grandad, what do Aliens call us?” Pay attention. Stop rambling. “I don’t know. What do Aliens call us?”  “They call us Aliens! because they think we look funny and we are Aliens to them.” That’s a good point. Poor bare, forked creatures. We do look a bit weird, considered objectively. It is a well known fact that Aliens abduct people all the time and carry them away in flying saucers. They take them apart to see what makes them tick. Or is it ‘thick’?

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I have a lifetime’s experience of taking things apart to see what’s wrong with them; clocks, washing machines, bikes. I marvel at the ingenuity of the makers; the beauty of the finely machined parts; the intricacy of the mechanisms, but sadly, I have had very little success in reassembling them into working order…..probably just like the Aliens. People who have been dismantled and reassembled in flying saucers, always seem to have a screw loose here and there. Aliens are not as clever as they’re cracked up to be. Anyway, they’re just blow-ins. Came down with the last shower. Who do they think they are, coming down here and telling us what make us tick?  (Watch the spelling there.) Crowd of bloody know-alls. Probably came over the Hoar Rock Hill playin’ penny whistles.

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The news is that out there, beyond our solar system, there is a star, not unlike our Sun and a planet possibly similar to ours, with an atmosphere that could possibly sustain life. It’s 1400 light years away, in round figures. Next thing we’ll have bloody Aliens, who set out around the time of our Dark Ages, travelling at the speed of light to come here and tell us how to do things. Damned cheek! We’re doing fine, thank you very much. Bloody blow-ins! We are intelligent life-forms, as you have already ascertained from your numerous dissections and experiments. And by the way….I would like my frontal lobe and my liver back please…..if it’s not too inconvenient, of course.

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Intelligent life at work.

It is probably a shameful thing to admit, but my parents were blow-ins to Skerries, one in 1903 and the other in 1939. I was born here, which might make me a ‘local’. I might even be entitled to voice an opinion, tentatively, in an assembly of the people. In a few hundred years I may be able pass myself off as a native. If I live that long, my contemporaries will all be dead. I will be able to bang on about things that blow-ins and young whipper-snappers couldn’t possibly know about.  Nobody will be able to contradict me. Bred, born and buttered here, as a well known (native) Skerries man once said. While I’m at it, I must confess that my late and much loved mother-in-law was a Balbriggan woman, which means that I married, 51 years ago, a half-Balbriggan girl.  A desirable alien, perhaps. I’m grateful to my blow-in parents too.

I blame the Great Northern Railway. Since the 1830s railways have been stirring the gene pool, sending blow-ins all around the country to intermingle, putting it delicately, with the natives. This is supposed to be good for the health of the race. All sorts of hop-off-me thumb jackeens and culchies, intermingling with real Skerries people…..Don’t get me started. That lad, Saint Patrick, bloody Welshman; your men, the Vikings; bloody Normans! We were grand the way we were. Now we have AIB Bank encouraging decent, hard-working people with bright, engaging children, to put down roots here in our town. Where will it all end?

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Orson Welles scared the daylights out of people with his Martian invasion. That was only on the radio. We never even got to see them. There was panic and a rush to judgement. They do look a bit funny all the same. It’s rude to stare. If they had ears, now, like we have.  Like normal earthlings have….Ears would be good.

 There was this Skerries woman who was married to a Balbriggan man for fifty years. The poor, decent man died. Friends, sympathising with her at the funeral spoke of what a good man he had been. “He was,”she agreed, wistfully. “He was a good man…..for a stranger.” Maybe it’s time to give blow-ins and Aliens a break. It’s a very small, round world. We all get our turn.

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