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Island community grieves over fisherman’s death

Island community grieves over fisherman’s death

Áine Ryan

LIKE a symphony orchestra the sun sparkled and shimmered over the bay as the lyrics of ‘The Island’ wafted out of the church of The Sacred Heart, Clare Island, last Friday afternoon. Unsurprisingly, Paul Brady’s poignant words proved too much for the grieving family, and close-knit island community, as islander, Sarah McCabe sang: “Right now I only want to be here with you/ Till the morning dew comes falling/ I want to take you to the island/ And trace your footprints in the sand.” 
It was one of two occasions, during the funeral service for the late Martin ‘Jamsie’ Burns, who drowned last Tuesday while fishing in his currach, when members of the huge congregation broke down. Earlier, when Mary Finn played ‘The Lonesome  Boatman’, at the Offertory, a chorus of heartfelt sobs rippled through the church.
During his homily, Father Ned Crosbie asked the whole congregation to pray together to help Nora and the family ‘to find a pathway to hope in their great sorrow’. He observed how Martin had always been ‘very much involved in community activities’, recalling how each Christmas he had built the crib, with the help of his children.
The late Martin Jamsie, as he was known locally, was married to Nora (nee O’Toole) and had three adult children, Brendan (29), Michelle (23) and Mary (22).
In a post-communion reflection, his niece, Patricia Dooley, said that Martin’s family home, in the village of Kille, was where the entire extended family gathered each year when they returned on annual holidays from England and the mainland.
She recalled how there was never a time when Martin was not awaiting their arrival on the pier ‘with a firm handshake, a warm smile and a hug’. 
The funeral Mass was concelebrated by Father Crosbie, a former resident priest on the island, Father Karl Burns, of Westport parish, and Father Tom Coonan, a regular visitor to the island. Octogenarian, Paddy Flynn, a neighbour of the grieving family, recited ‘Clare Island in Mayo’ at his graveside.
Speaking to The Mayo News yesterday, islander Padraic O’Malley, the chairman of the community co-operative, said ‘the community was still distraught’ and filled with ‘a sense of helplessness’ over this tragedy.
“Martin was the epitome of a good neighbour and a good community man. He was involved in the local GAA, the IFA, and was a member of the Board of Management of the school. Anything that helped to progress the island, Martin was both interested and committed. Whatever function – whether it was a play or a concert, a match or a session of music – Martin and Nora would be there,” Padraic O’Malley said.

Marine tragedies
TRAGICALLY, there were five deaths recorded off the coastline last week. The Marine Casualty Investigation Board has already initiated inquiries into the accidents. Martin Burns’s body was discovered by two islanders close to the island within hours of the alarm being raised, after he failed to return to the small pier below his house last Tuesday night. He had gone out to lift lobster pots and was wearing his life-jacket when found.
The community immediately rallied to provide support and comfort for the family.   After a post-mortem at Mayo General Hospital, Castlebar, Martin was returned to his family home for a wake on Wednesday night last. Island fishermen and GAA enthusiasts provided a guard-of-honour at his removal to the church the following day.
Many mourners from fishing and island communities along the west coast attended the services. 
In another tragic twist, the sad news of the death of honorary Clare islander and Ballintubber native, Christy Feeney, broke just after Martin’s burial on Friday afternoon.

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