Between Galway & Gethsemane 

6th April 2023

There is a seafarers’ memorial situated at the Middle Pier in Howth. Its central design is a Celtic-maritime meld, surrounded by dozens of plaques memorialising those lost at sea. 

All are men. Many are young. 

Perched between a car park and the rocky harbour shore, this is a low-fuss kind of memorial. I pass it by frequently and admit I rarely give it attention. 

Until today, when I was drawn by a bunch of wilted flowers, secured above one of those plaques. 

Motivated more by curiosity than remembrance, I stooped to make out the plaque’s engraved message.

Squatting and squinting, the depth of sorrow felt by the family of Steve Redmond slammed into my chest, as I read. 

They had, I imagined, chosen each word very carefully. 

Steve Redmond, Fisherman

Lost outside Howth Harbour

10th March 1991. Aged 18 years 

I looked up. The flowers must have been placed for Steve’s anniversary. A special one; 2023 would have been his 50th year.  

What a thing, to lose your life at 18 years. And to lose it while working. 

I continued to read, with increasing difficulty. The grind of wind, rain, sea salt and bird shit seemed determined to obscure the words. 

‘You are so wonderful to think of, and so hard to be without’

You are. It was as if Steve’s family was urging him back into the present. And so hard to be without. There was little ornamentation in the sentence; these were phrases any parent might use. It was such a beautiful, pure sentiment. 

To experience loss is a tragic, heroic act of humanity. I do not know the Redmond family’s suffering. But if we live long enough, every person must walk through Gethsemane. 

‘Gethsemane’, that byword for mental and spiritual anguish, comes more freely to mind today. 

Today, being Thursday of Holy Week in the Christian calendar. It is the day Jesus makes his way alone into an olive garden, in the certain knowledge that he must die. Only the olive trees of Gethsemane witness his acceptance. 

Sitting on the wall, my mind wanders briefly to 1991. We often think of those left behind, but what of Steve himself? What unspeakable suffering visited him that Sunday in March, as he struggled for life within sight of shore and home, three weeks before Easter? 

I could have wept as I thought it through. 

‘Sadly missed by Dad, Mam, Joyce and Shane’ was the plaque’s simple sign-off.

Pensive yet curious still, I could find no Google reference to the young fisherman, nor to the incident. Absentmindedly, I chose the next most searchable name. His sister, Joyce. 

To my surprise, Joyce Redmond of Howth appears in many news articles. 

It transpires that she is an accomplished bodhrán player who spent time in the west of Ireland during the 90s. One day, so it goes, she bumped into an American musician, Steve Earle, looking for directions on the streets of Galway. Between the jigs and reels, they struck up some chat, and spent some time together. 

Subsequently, the American wrote a song about their encounter. His now world-famous song, Galway Girl, speaks to Joyce’s enormous charm and charisma:

So I took her hand and I gave her a twirl

And I lost my heart to a Galway girl…

I’ve traveled around I’ve been all over this world

Boys I ain’t never seen nothin’ like a Galway girl

In his song, Earle had captured the wonder of the fisherman’s sister. Just as the fisherman’s family had, on their plaque, captured the wonder of a beloved son. 

I continued on my walk, the whole occurence here described lasting no more than five minutes. 

A curious mood came upon me, slouching as I was between Galway and Gethsemane. 

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