Monday, December 14, 2009


This is a piece I wrote recently and is published in the latest edition of the Dun Laoghaire Borough Historical Society Journal. No 19. 2010. Enjoy!!

I love being near the ocean, and have done since I was a little girl. Growing up I had an acute awareness of the nearness of the sea, the shore at Seapoint being about a mile from our house.

In the summers of my childhood the sun shone a lot, we rarely got sunburnt and the world was a safe place. From about the age of EIGHT, along with friends, I would spend day after day of the summer holidays at Seapoint. I learned to swim there, just beyond the rocks in front of the Martello Tower. The Martello Tower, that in the 70’s housed a shop that only opened during the summer. On hot days, we would enter its damp, dark and chill interior to buy ice cream in a wafer. Oh what bliss it was to walk home, hair wet and sticky from the salt water, legs tingling from the sun and neopolitan ice cream dripping in pink and green rivulets down my fingers.

As autumn came, the routine of school enforced order back into my world. The days grew shorter and the importance of Seapoint in my life receded. But as weather became colder and the nights darker, the sea spoke to me again. I would lie in bed on stormy winter nights and listen to the mournful and lonely sound of the fog horns. The loudest sound was that at the end of Dun Laoghaire Pier and I could usually pick up a fainter sound possibly from the Bailey or even Kish lighthouse.

I would imagine what kind of ships might be taking shelter from the weather in Dublin Bay. Who were on such ships? How did it feel being buffeted around by the waves and the wind? I imagined such vessels becoming illuminated briefly every few minutes as the lighthouse beacon swept across the water. And the call of the fog horn. How I loved that sound.

And as I lay in bed imagining and listening, my mind would wander to the dark, overgrown graveyard on Carrickbrennan Road, in Monkstown which contained the graves of many of the men and women who drowned in some of the numerous sea tragedies that occurred in the 1800’s in Dublin Bay. Our school was also in Monkstown and our teacher, who was a native of Dun Laoghaire had told us most of the stories of the ship wrecks in the area.

In particular the story of the troop ship Rochdale which got into trouble shortly after leaving Dublin Port in November 1807 stuck me as particularly sad. In a fierce snowstorm the ship was observed in difficulty off the coast at Blackrock. But the weather was so atrocious that those onshore could do little to assist. The ship was wrecked on the rocks by the Martello Tower in Seapoint. There were no survivors and 265 lives were lost that bitter night. The tragedy was that had they known how close to shore they actually were, many might have made it to safety. Instead Seapoint was strewn with mutilated bodies the following morning. All were buried, probably in a mass grave, in the old graveyard in Monkstown.

Winter storms also brought to my childish mind the disaster that befell the Dun Laoghaire Lifeboat crew, all of whom lost their lives on Christmas Eve 1895 when they went to the aid of the ship SS Palme.

The echoes of these tragedies was carried by the mournful tones of the fog horn, as I lay in bed, secure in the knowledge that unlike the unfortunate sailors, I was safe and secure.

And now I live with my own family, a few miles further inland and I miss that sound still. Sometimes I sit in my suburban garden on a sunny afternoon, listening to bird song, the sound of passing aircraft and the hum of a neighbour’s lawn mower, when a seagull cries from the playing field beyond the hedge. His call brings with it the smell of salt water and a tumble of old summer memories. And I smile and dream. And as I revisit these old childhood sensations I can just about still hear the lonely, ominous call of the fog horn. And I shiver as a cold breeze cools my skin and again I think of those unfortunates who lost their lives in the place where I learned to swim.


  1. Hi Barbara,

    Lovely piece of writing thanks and congrats on getting published - are you sure you weren't looking for men down at seapoint!!! I didn't realise there was such history attached to our local coastline. Living in Shankill I love a Winter's night tucked up in bed and I can hear the sea roaring -

    Well done Maureen

  2. Loved brought back memories of time I spent in Seapoint and the martello tower description was so vivid.... like Maureen I also learnt a bit of history


  3. Congratulations Barbara.

    I love your descriptions of your Summers at Seapoint. I love the sea and really don't get to visit often enough. Living where we do in England for us to get to a nice bit of coast, it is getting on for 200 miles, 300 or more to my favourite coasts! How lucky you were to have lived so close. Nice writing. :-)

  4. Enjoyed this piece Barbara. I have to say I miss the sea, the sounds,the smells etc. You brought it all back to me. As I imagine the sound of seagulls, I see the bay of Abbeyside. It calls to my soul. We have our stories of tragedy too. Not just in distant times. Comes with the fishing community. Congrats on getting published. May you have many more!

  5. Thanks so much everyone.

    Maureen - you didnt go to the right junior school - we got real education in Oliver Plunkett!!!

    Rita - but I guess you must have been talking or messing or something when Mrs McGloughlin was giving us the local history stuff!!! See I do remember somethings.

    Susannah: yep, I do really love living near the sea. Even now we can be at the coast in ten minutes. And the beauty of Dun Laoghaire is that about twenty minutes in the other direction and we are in some of the most beautiful scenery in Ireland in the mountains of Wicklow!

    Ann - you should write about being by the sea in Dungarvan and An Rinn - another really beautiful part of the country. Its good that you get to come home regularly to re-experience it all !!

  6. A lovely piece of work Barbara! It's so true about the sea - it carries so many emotions. Really enjoyed this!