Memories of a cruel sea remain for Danny

Michelle Nic Phaidin

Reporter:

Michelle Nic Phaidin

Excitement was in the air and the poster flapped in the light breeze as his father nailed it to the pole in the small leafy village of Bruckless.

Excitement was in the air and the poster flapped in the light breeze as his father nailed it to the pole in the small leafy village of Bruckless.

Wee Danny Byrne put his small hand up over his eyebrows in an effort to shield himself from the glare of the white sun as he studied his father. Francis Byrne looked down and smiled at his young boy, it was coming up to election time and he was getting ready to afford Fine Gael all the support that they needed. Thirty years later, Danny affectionately remembers this occasion as one of his fondest memories of his father.

Danny’s father, Francis (40) met his untimely death on his boat the Skifjord on October 31, 1981. His brother, Jimmie (16), was also on board the 140 foot vessel. Danny was a young boy of eight years of age and attending Bruckless National School. His memory of that fateful night is one that he recalls at this time of year. “It was a rough night, there was an awful storm and they were fishing out of Burtonport, their home port was Killybegs. Communication was different at the time, there was no communication like texting then, it happened overnight and we were all in bed. They had gone on the rocks sometime the week before that so when my mother received a call from a journalist she thought that he was questioning her in relation to that event. It was a traumatic way for her to find out what had happened, “ he said.

When his mother understood that the reporter was calling in relation to news that her husband’s boat had struck a reef off Burtonport the reality of the situation became tragically clear. Word spread like wildfire through the close-knit village. Kettles were boiled and sandwiches were made as neighbours quickly made their way to the Byrne household.

Wide-eyed children walked tentatively through the home as they inwardly prayed that their daddy and brother would come home safe. Darkness quickly fell silently fell across the parish.

Local doctor Frank Curran called to the house to see how the family were coping. The coming hours would see Seamus Byrne, a cousin from the Middle East flying home and co-ordinating a full scale search.

Neighbours donned their outdoor clothes and gathered together in the face of crisis. Figures could be seen combing through the furrowed fields close to the coast as days dramatically drew to a close. Frustration and desperation wore out hope as the news began to seep home. Bodies were found and the dead brought home to where families stood, their heads bent and tears cutting through their sorrowed faces. Danny’s father’s body was not one of them. His body has never been found.

“When news finally hit home. It was a difficult time, it was leading up to Christmas. There were a number of survivors but unfortunately my father was not one of them. My brother’s body was found, my father’s never was. It was so long ago but every Hallowe’en you do remember that day as does my family, “ he sadly recalls.

His mother, Winnie busied herself with chores following the tragedy. She worked from dusk til dawn single-handedly raising her large family.

“Enormous credit is due to my mother, she was left with eight children, She raised us well which was an incredible feat and our family remain very close, “ he said.

The young man went onto study at Saint Catherine’s Vocational School and later studied hospitality management. “I went on to work in Castle Murray House at St. John’s Point. I worked there ten years and very much enjoyed it. I started off in the bar and ended up running it, “ he said.

The 38-year-old continues with his career in hospitality management being the operational manager at the Kildare and University Club on St. Stephen’s Green since 2005.

It’s a private club where many members of what might be termed the socially elite spend their time. For Danny it is his job but his heart is well and truly at home in the friendly village of Bruckless and at every occasion he comes home. “There were six boys and three girls in our family. Three of them are in the States, Anthony, Susie and Win. Win was named after my mother Winnie. Two of my brothers Pauric and Eamon live in Ardara. My eldest brother Francis jnr lives in St. John’s Point. My youngest sister Michelle lives at home. I am the seventh in the family, there are two younger than I am, “ he said.

Danny began his own battle a number of years ago to earn compensation for their loss and his unwavering strength and determination has sent repercussions to the very core of the system in this country. The Byrne family had applied for the “Lost at Sea Scheme” and they had been told that they were ineligible as the deadline had passed.

Over a year ago the Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, launched a scathing attack on the then Government’s refusal to fully debate her report on the Lost at Sea Scheme. Her report recommended payment of 250,000 to the Byrne family who she said were wrongly excluded from the Lost at Sea Scheme. At the moment, hopes are growing that Taoiseach Enda Kenny will implement the Ombudsman’s report.

Danny is involved in politics and played an important role in getting Lucinda Creighton elected in Dublin South East. Through his battle with the system he has learned a lot about lobbying politicians and focusing on his goal when fault lines remain in the system.

In March of this year, he was nominated to the Seanad by Fine Gael, for the Industrial and Commercial panel. He may have not have proved successful on that occasion but the young boy who stood watching his young father mount a Fine Gael poster may now have his eyes set on a political future and the comig years will be well worth watching to see his progress.