All at sea

The very first thing that strikes you when you visit Clogherhead is the sea. It strikes you literally. You can hear it. You can see it. You can smell it. Venture too close and you will feel it! You can sense its enormous presence, looming large over life itself. Though it is life. The bringer. The giver. Sometimes the taker.

In this corner of the Wee County, the influence of the sea is omnipresent. It’s part and parcel of the very fabric of existence, as much a component of the local people at their very blood and bones. Of course, the sea itself is not just a geological phenomenal … it is also a key natural resource which has served the locals well over the years.

Traditionally, the men of Clogherhead made a living off the sea. It generated jobs and spawned whole industries. Paddy Hodgins and Paddy Rath are two Clogherhead men with fascinating stories to tell. The former was harbourmaster in Clogherhead for 46 years; the latter was a prolific sailor who voyaged around the world on some of the most prestigious vessels known to man. Through the eyes of these two incredible men, Wee County 2004 explores the never-ending link between Clogherhead and the vast expanse of water that simmers below it to the east.

Master of all he surveyed
Paddy Hodgins was harbourmaster at Clogherhead for 46 years, from 1950 until 1996. It was a job he practically inherited as the post was passed down from generation to generation of his family. The Hodgins family lineage boasts a century of involvement with the harbour – Paddy’s father Hugh and grandfather Pat also acted as harbourmasters before him.

Though it’s almost a decade since his retirement, Paddy is as affectionate about the harbour in Clogherhead as he ever was. In 1986, he initiated a campaign for a large scale upgrade of the facility and he remains adamant that sweeping improvements are urgently required:
“Clogherhead needs a good, safe, all-weather harbour to shelter and accommodate our boats. We’re very much exposed to the north and the east. The pier is 120 years old now and it needs a good job done on it. The fishermen have formed an association and have been promised £8m to spend upgrading the harbour, so hopefully that will happen.”

For 46 years, working for Louth County Council, Paddy’s brief as harbourmaster was to deal with all issues relating to the harbour in Clogherhead. It was a demanding post, which required extreme vigilance and total dedication. A great deal of responsibility rested on Paddy’s shoulders. It was he who was charged with lighting the lights, looking after the boats, and ensuring that everybody got to shore safely. He notes: “As I live right on top of Clogherhead, overlooking the sea, I could always see the comings and goings and that was a great advantage, which enabled me to act as coastguard.”
Given his innate love of Clogherhead, it was appropriate that Paddy became one of the most respected men in the area. He knows the history of the seaside village well, so it’s apt that he has etched a special place for himself in that very history.

Referring to the tremendous seafaring tradition that is synonymous with Clogherhead, Paddy notes: “Clogherhead has had a great fishing tradition from the time the pier was built in the 1880s. In the early days, there were 28 boats propelled by oars and sails, with five men in each boat. They used to fish from Gyles Quay to Balbriggan, and the fishing was a substantial employer.”

The coming on stream of motorised boats in the 1920s, along with seine netting, improved matters considerably. As well as herring drifting, the waters off Clogherhead were rich in cod, whiting, plaice, haddock and sole. Indeed, though he would later spend most of his life on the mainland, Paddy partook of a spot of fishing himself, as he reveals: “In the 1940s and ‘50s I used to go out herring drifting to Howth and the Isle of Man on the 50-ft boats.”

Paddy spent three summers on the sea before restricting himself to angling and small boat fishing. “A lot of the other young fellas went fishing and worked on the trawlers,” he explains.
At the height of its popularity, there were 32 fishing boats working out of the harbour, each with a crew of five or six men. “They used to land every day but now that the boats are so much bigger they go our for five or six days at a time. Today, they have to go further afield, to Howth or Dunmore or even around to Galway.

“Fishing is a very dangerous business because you have to go out in all weather and fishermen have to be very careful. Times weren’t always as good as they are now. They have a lot of state-of-the-art equipment these days, but it’s not that long since they didn’t even have life jackets!
“Fishing has always been a great tradition in Clogherhead and I suspect it always will be. At the moment, we have the most modern fleet of well-equipped boats in the country, so it will remain a huge part of life in Clogherhead.”

A sailor went to see…
Paddy Rath enjoyed an extraordinary live on the oceans of the world. The Clogherhead-born sailor worked on some of the finest vessels ever built, including the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth and the QE2. He worked on the deck of the latter-named ship for 18 years, 1968-86, as an AB (able-bodied seaman), including when it acted as a hospital ship during the Falklands War in 1982. Having first taken to the sea in 1950, Paddy retired in ’86. Reflecting on his career, he says he has no regrets: “I’ve had a wonderful life.”

You certainly wouldn’t think it if you met him, but Paddy actually turned 82 in March 2004. He’s in remarkable health. “I always kept myself active,” he explains. “I’ve had lots of good health and the sea contributed to that. I’ve had a great life and I enjoyed it. There were ups and downs, but mostly good times.”

When Paddy worked on the QE2, he was on duty for eleven weeks at a time, with a month off in between. He estimates that he has been around the world about 18 times! He also spent a total of eight or nine years on and off working on oil tankers in The Gulf, often working in temperatures of up to 108 Degrees. It sounds like tough going? “I’ve had a great life,” Paddy says with a twinkle in his eye.
For Paddy, there was never going to be any life other than one at sea. He explains: “The sea is in you and that’s it. All my relations went to sea too – my father, uncles and brothers – as well as my friends. I was working from I was nine years old and left school at 11. I remember working for eight old pennies a day. I never got any education, but I educated myself and it was a good life. I was never out of work.
“It never leaves your system. I’m still beside the sea now and I often go to the harbour or out to the head of Clogher…

Often, he looks out across the great expanse of sea to his east and thinks of bygone times, but there are no regrets whatsoever: “I missed it for a while, but things are going alright. I can still get about and I’m fairly active, so I’m thankful for that. There were lots of ups and downs at sea but you take the good with the bad. There were plenty of hurricanes and storms on the Atlantic in particular and we were lucky to survive those. I nearly came unstuck on the Atlantic a few times!

“I was fortunate in that I got to travel all over the world. I enjoyed the life and I enjoyed the sunshine. That’s one thing I miss … you don’t get a lot of sunshine around here! I had a great healthy life and I feel like a millionaire now because I’ve still got my health and that’s the most important thing of all.”
These days, Paddy is enjoying his retirement, though he notes that the old ways seem to be dying out in the area: “There aren’t as many going to sea now as there were back in my day. The tradition is dying off. People are going for other jobs instead. Sailing isn’t as attractive as it was, with all the upset around the world. It’s not safe any more. The old days were the best. You could travel the world safely and, when you were home, you could leave your front door open. It was a different world. It’s a sadder place to live in now.

“We had little or no money, but we had peace of mind and a bite to eat. I’ve had a marvellous life. I have great memories and good health. What more could a man wish for?”

Taken from Wee County 2004