WHEN A NEW ADDITION TO THE LAKES OF KILLARNEY MADE QUITE A SPLASH
TWO of them are now as familiar on the Lakes of Killarney as swans dipping for tadpoles and anglers telling tall tales but there was a day when one waterbus – not alone two – wasn’t made welcome in the shadow of Ross Castle.
Over three decades have now elapsed since confrontation broke out on the pier when a 60-seat cruiser was put on Lough Lein with the permission of the Office of Public Works.
It led to absolute consternation with environmentalists and traditional boatmen swapping their oars for placards and staging demonstrations against those who dreamed up the idea in the first place.
A man always ahead of his time, entrepreneur and hotelier Maurice O’Donoghue joined forces with father and son publicans, Teddy and Rory O’Connor, to introduce the first ever non-traditional boat on the lakes, offering scenic 90-minute cruises to local and visitors.
Gardai had to be summoned to Ross Castle on a Saturday afternoon in May 1987 when tempers flared and a crowd of up to 50 objectors descended on the pier to voice their objections to the plans.
At one stage the gardai, led by the indomitable Sergeant Jack McGrath, had to intervene when there were attempts to interfere with a floating dock use for passengers to embark and disembark from the covered vessel which offered shelter to passengers when it rained.
A flotilla of traditional wooden boats that gathered immediately in front of the pier was also cleared but there were very heated verbal exchanges when the waterbus passengers later returned to dry land.
The traditional boatmen directed much of their anger and frustration at then Taoiseach, Charles J Haughey, who they alleged had used his influence to ensure the OPW granted a licence for the operation of the craft despite an earlier High Court injunction which prevented its use.
The main argument put forward by the objectors was based on concerns that the vessel would pollute the jewel in Killarney’s tourism crown and that it would set a dangerous precedent that could end up with jet-skis, speed boats, windsurfers and all sorts of water-based leisure activities on the lakes which were famous all over the world for the sense of tranquillity offered.
As it transpired, they had nothing to fear as the only other vessel to join the original waterbus on the lakes was another one – owned and operated by a group that included some of the traditional boatmen that protested on the Ross Castle pier that tension-filled Saturday afternoon back in 1987.
Whether it as a case of commercial necessity or imitation being the best form of flattery remains to be confirmed.
WHEN MICHEAL HEALY-RAE INSPIRED A MACRA FIELD EVENING VICTORY
HOW far could you throw a wellington? Any idea how many marbles it would take to fill a regular-sized bucket? Could you guess how many currants were in a traditional cake of bread? Fancy your chances of outsmarting a lad doing the three-card trick?
Imaging then the fun they had at the traditional Macra na Feirme field evenings back in the 1980s when the annual get-togethers attracted hundreds of people to community fields for all the fun of the fair and so much more, including stock judging and several farm tasks.
Macra branches all over the county were busily attempting to ensure their field evening was the better than the event in the neighbouring parish and while a healthy rivalry materialised, it was all good-natured fun and banter.
The event, which continued for hours, usually ended up with a dance, a chat and a laugh over tea and sandwiches – ocasionally something stronger – and the crowning of Miss Macra in the local hall and the following week the attention turned to the next field evening which helped while away the long nights of summer.
Way back in 1983, with competition between branches reaching fever pitch, it was Kilgarvan Macra that stole the show and, in the process, it clinched the sought-after perpetual shield for the best field evening.
And that’s hardly surprising given that one of the main driving forces in the branch at the time was a young whipper-snapper by the name of Michael Healy-Rae who looked quote dashing in a suit and tie – and without his trademark cap – at the official presentation ceremony.
That’s the said Michael, arms folded, on the right hand side of the front row, and right alongside him is another committee member, Mary Harney, but, for the purposes of clarity, it’s not the lady of the same name that Michael would later encounter along the corridors of power.