Monday, 2 March 2020

Wexford's Deep Sea Sailors

Isn’t it odd how the character of towns can change? 

My hometown of Wexford is a case in point. Known originally as Menapia on Ptolemy’s 3rd Century maps, the Vikings didn’t even arrive until 6 centuries later and change the name to Weis-fjord.

Being the closest town to Britain and mainland Europe it was conquered so often Monty Python and his merry band probably came roaring up the Slaney with divilment on their minds but got stuck in one of the many pubs that used to line the quayside.

For Wexford was always a busy port and its young men sailed the world over.

A majority of these came from The Faythe on the south side of town.

It was there that one side of my family, the Morans, originated. The most renowned was Capt. James Moran, a skipper of one of the old three-mast vessels.

He was my grandmother’s father and sailed often to Odessa in the Black Sea bringing back God knows what. 

Alas on one such expedition he encountered a violent storm off the coast of Cornwall, his ship the City of Bristol went down and all hands were lost.

His two sons, Matthew and John also became merchant marines as did my father. There’s definitely salt water in my blood.

However, Wexford’s young men no longer go down to the sea, as Herman Melville put it Moby Dick.

Certainly many still work on the ferries from Rosslare to Fishguard in Wales or even further afield to Le Harve in France but I never hear of a “deep sea” Wexford sailor anymore.

These men usually sailed off for six months at a time to various parts of the world, be it on tankers out of the Persian Gulf or on the London to Buenos Aires run, to name two routes my father worked on.

After such long voyages the companies would usually give their thirsty mariners a couple of months leave at home.

Did the young men grow tired of such a life, or did wives and girlfriends refuse to put up with such a routine?

As a boy I loved to go with my father to one of the pubs frequented by these deep-sea sailors.

It would usually be in the early afternoon. Two or three of them would already be sequestered at the bar smoking and, more often than not, studying horse and dog racing form.

They would barely acknowledge each other while enjoying their first pint or glass of whiskey, but eventually someone would throw out a question.

“What was the name of that bar in Sydney I met you in, Jem?”

My father’s brow would furrow in concentration before he might reply, “Jaysus, John, it’s on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t for the life of me remember.”

Then some other salt would interject, “There was one night I ran into the two of yez three sheets to the wind in the Rusty Anchor, was that the one?”

Then the floodgates would open and as I sipped my Fanta Orange they’d order up a second round, and a succession of exotic locales would be rattled off, as they wondered if that gorgeous waitress still worked in Sammy’s Bar in Valetta, Malta? Or if Kevin Connors still ran the boarding house on Geary Street in San Francisco, or had Tom Rossiter chucked in the Cunard Line for a job on the oil rigs up off Aberdeen?

Wexford seems like a lesser place without these independent men who took a little piece of the old town with them on their travels and brought back new ideas and the ways of the world upon their return.

Most have passed on now but about 10 years ago I saw one of them sitting on a bench by Wexford quayside. He was old and weatherworn, but still alert and staring out across the harbor.

I could tell he was thinking of his seafaring days for he had a twinkle in his eye, and I fancied he was reminiscing about the gorgeous waitress he had dallied with in Sammy’s Bar in Valetta.

Knowing the type of men these Wexford sailors were - I bet she had fond memories of him too.

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