In 2004 Cape Clear Island Museum & Archive, County Cork, Ireland organised a number of events in recognition of the 150 years of the Commissioners of Irish Lights having built a lighthouse on the Fastnet Rock which is less than four miles from Cape Clear.
The Museum and island Co-operative arranged the erection of a monument on a hillside where one views both the old disused Cape Clear Lighthouse with Signal Tower alongside and the Fastnet Lighthouse. The monument was unveiled on May 23rd by Captain Owen Deignan of the Commissioners of Irish Lights.
The Fastnet Lighthouse Exhibition presented at the island Museum illustrates the history of the Cape Clear Signal Tower (c. 1805), Cape Clear Lighthouse (1818-54), the Fastnet Lighthouse of 1854 and that of 1903.
Fastnet:An Charraig Aonair, by Éamon Lankford, Director of the island Museum, details the history of the Fastnet Lighthouse and also covers the tragedy that befell the 1979 Fastnet Race.
From Cape Clear one sees the Fastnet Rock which is the turning point for the biennial Fastnet Race. Between August 13 to 16th, 1979 the Fastnet Race was torn by a storm that led to the loss of 15 lives among racing sailors and the sinking of five boats.
The twenty-fifth anniversary of the most tragic event in yachting history was honoured on August 15th 2004 by Cape Clear Museum & Archive. Included in the day’s events were the presentation of the 1979 Fastnet Race Exhibition, unveiling of a Memorial and book launch. At the island Museum, John P. Bourke, Admiral of RORC unveiled the specially commissioned Fastnet Race Memorial by Cork sculptor Don Cronin. The symbolic piece is in limestone and glass. The names of those who perished are written on glass symbolising that their names are forever written on the waters around the Fastnet.
John P. Bourke, Admiral of RORC unveiling the Fastnet Memorial, Dr. Éamon Lankford, Fastnet Remembrance 2004 Director and Commodore John J. Kavanagh (LE Deirdre, 1979).
Ted Crosbie of the Irish Examiner daily launched the book Fastnet:An Charraig Aonair by Dr. Éamon Lankford, founder/ director of the Island Museum & Archive which contains an account of the 1979 Fastnet Race and the part played in the rescue operations by the Baltimore Lifeboat and the Irish Naval Service.
Present at the opening of the 1979 Fastnet Race Exhibition was the Deputy Mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr. Jim Daly, Lt. Cdr Nial Manning of the Irish Naval vesel LE Emer and officers, Capt. Harry McLarnan of the Granuaile, vessel of the Commissioners of Irish Lights, Baltimore Lifeboat under Cox Kieran Cotter who was a member of the crew who rescued the crew of Regardless and Marionette during the Fastnet storm of 1979. Also present was Commodore John J. Kavanagh who was Lt. Cdr. of the naval vessel LE Deirdre which located some 17 yachts during the 1979 storm and guided rescue services to their location.
On behalf of the island Museum Terence C. Johnson, Chairman of RNLI (Ireland) presented citations to Christy Collins, Cox of the 1979 Baltimore Lifeboat, Kieran Cotter, present Cox, Capt. Neil Manning of LE Emer, Commodore John J. Kavanagh (retired) and Peter Whipp of the 1979 Fastnet Race yacht Magic who along with Neil Kenefick a member of the 1979 crew of Golden Apple of the Sun have helped to establish ‘The Fastnet Race Remembrance Collection’ as part of the Cape Clear Island Archive.
The Royal Ocean Racing Club, organisers of the biennial Fastnet Race gave the twenty fifth anniversary Fastnet Remembrance Ceremony undertaking wholehearted support and a plaque presented by RORC is mounted in the island Museum. Ted Turner presented the Museum with a copy of a painting of Tenacious winner of the Fastnet Race 1979 and a number of others presented charts and photographs of yachts which participated in the 1979 race. A considerable number of accounts of the 1979 Fastnet Race have also been received. During the day’s event at Cape Clear a number of participants in the 1979 race were interviewed by television networks, radio stations, press and the Museum’s recording team. It is hoped to have some of this material available in the Island Archive.
John O’Donnell, SC, sailed Sundowner in the 1979 race along with his father Barry and Nicholas and in 2004 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the tragedy of 1979 John wrote a poem called The Wave. Nicholas O’Donnell read the poem to a hushed audience at the Museum and this was followed by the fine singing of Rory Allen of Ballymaloe of ‘The Fastnet Race’. The ballad was penned by Kathryn, daughter of Donie O’Sullivan, Secretary of the Ballycotton Lifeboat during the ‘Fastnet storm’ of 1979.
The highlight of of the 1979 Fastnet Race Remembrance on 15th August 2004 was a very moving Remembrance Ceremony at 5.30pm conducted from the deck of the Irish Naval vessel, L. E. Emer under Lt. Cdr Neil Manning positioned at sea off Cape Clear and in view of the Fastnet. The vessel of the Commissioners of Irish Lights, Granuaile, under Capt. Harry McLarnan, stood by, and the Baltimore Lifeboat with its full crew, Courtmacsherry Lifeboat, island ferries and yachts from Schull, Baltimore and Cork were alongside the naval vessel. Some forty participants in the 1979 race from both Ireland and Britain travelled in the boats which took part in the ‘Parade of Boats’ from North Harbour.
Over 400 people observed the ceremony from boats at sea . A wreath of wild flowers from the island was placed on the ocean by Kieran Cotter, Cox of the Baltimore Lifeboat. As each of the names of those who perished were called by Neil Kenefick of Golden Apple of the Sun, the ship’s bell was rung. This was followed by a period of silence as the wreath bearing the names of the fifteen sailors who were lost floated on the water towards the Fastnet Rock. A Prayer Service conducted in both Irish and English by the island curate Fr. Peter Queely and the Rev. Bruce Hayes, Skibbereen followed. Dr. Éamon Lankford read a message from the President of Ireland addressed to the bereaved families and the rescue services of Britain and Ireland. The assembled officers and crew of the naval vessel gave a salute as the ship’s bell was rung once more and a naval piper played the haunting tune ‘Going Home’ over the waters of the Fastnet.
The names of the fifteen sailors who lost their lives in the 1979 Fastnet Race have been inscribed in stone both at Cape Clear island’s North Harbour and in the Memorial at the island Museum.
We thank all who have visited our beautiful island and we warmly invite you to return.