Other bits what I wrote

Co-ordinating book cover and outfit, anyone?

Skirt and book setIt might go the same way as the 1970s fashion for ties cut from the same fabric as the shirt underneath them but hey, it was worth a (completely coincidential, honestly) shot…

What Becomes Of Us got its first airing in front of a very full house in the Gutter Bookshop in Temple Bar on Thursday April 2nd. There was some top speechifying from Ivana Bacik and Ciara Considine, and a little bit of reading out loud by me. Many thanks to Bob at the Gutter for hosting such a great evening and to Ciara, Breda, Joanna and Susie from Hachette for all their work on the book’s behalf. With Ciara and Ivana

And here’s what people are saying about it…

It was reviewed by Louisa Cameron on Arena on RTE Radio 1 on April 1st (about 19 mins in on this link).

“A thoughtful, poignant and insightful novel … there’s a hint of Binchy in McKervey’s ability to tell a complex, entertaining story with intelligence and wit” (Irish Times)

“A beautifully written account of a time when women, still subjugated, were determined to fight for their rights. It’s also a story of friendship, neighbourliness, what family really means, and where it can be found … All of the characters are superbly drawn” (Irish Examiner)

“An impressive debut … There is plenty to admire and contemplate in this enjoyable portrait of Ireland’s many-layered past” (Sunday Business Post)

“An assured debut” (RTE Guide)

(This shelfie is the before shot. I’m glad to report that the after shot was an empty display)

book display

Other bits what I wrote

When grand isn’t good enough

The ever-persuasive Bob Gray from Red & Grey design asked me to work with them and illustrator Barbara Hoffman on an advertising campaign to highlight the work of Ashoka, an organisation that I had to admit to him I didn’t know much about. (Bob soon changed all that). The end results are now on a billboard near you. In Ireland we tell each other that everything is ‘grand’ over and over. But it’s not, and Ashoka is an organisation stuffed full of people who are determined to challenge ‘grand‘ and in doing so, make things better for everyone. CHANGE5CHANGE CHANGE2 CHANGE3 CHANGE4

Other bits what I wrote

The Hennessy Literary Awards

At the 44th Hennessy Literary Awards on February 24th, Sara Baume was named Hennessy New Irish Writer 2015, Paula Meehan was inducted to the Hennessy Literary Awards Hall of Fame, Simon Lewis won the emerging poetry award and I won the first Fiction Prize. (Woo hoo). image





Books featuring drinking, yes; I’ve seen plenty of them. (Raymond Carver is the obvious choice I guess; David Lodge also writes fantastic drinking scenes in The British Museum is Falling Down). But a book that actually is a drink – that was new to me. And as you can tell from the phoIMG_4322to – Margaret Halton of United Agents is on my right – I’m very happy with my lot. As well as the personalised, book-bound bottles of cognac we received, Hennessy also put up a generous prize fund. A big thanks to Hennessy, to Ciaran Carty, Martina Devlin and Xiaolu Guo.


When the nominations were announced in January I wrote, ‘there are few outlets for short stories, and even fewer that publish so consistently and with such a profile as New Irish Writing. Just being accepted for it was a big deal for me; getting this far is extra jam on the bread.

I got the jam and then some.



The group photo is from the Irish Times website.


Other bits what I wrote

26 is the magic number

A couple of years ago I came across the collective 26. I don’t remember exactly how, but most likely while reading an old blog piece by writer-for-business and one of 26’s co-founders John Simmons. A highly regarded copywriter and former writing juror for D&AD, his books on writing and why tone of voice matters in design and advertising are must-reads for business writers. I recommend starting with We, Me, Them & It then if you’re thirsty for more (sorry) Innocent: Building A Brand From Nothing But Fruit. I took two of his D&AD copywriting workshops some years ago and he is as enthusiastic and encouraging in person as in print. After one of the workshops he asked if he could include a piece I wrote in his book Twenty-six ways of looking at a blackberry. (My answer: ‘cripes, yes please!’)IMG_3748

So I linked on over to 26 and found a creative community united by a love of words and a determination to make words work and live harder. What’s not to like? It’s a busy, friendly not-for-profit, run for and by its members. In 2014 I signed up for two projects: 26 Atlantic Crossings and 26 Designs.

26 Atlantic Crossings was a collaborative exhibition between 26 visual artists from Prince Edward County in Ontario, Canada, and 26 writers from Ireland and the UK, who ‘gave voice’ to a piece of their artwork in the form of a sestude. (It was new to me too: John Simmons’ invention, a sestude is a piece of writing with exactly 62 words, i.e. 26 in reflection). The this-side-of-the-Atlantic bit was organised by John and Faye Sharpe. My editor was Tom Collins. I was paired with artist David Boorne, who lives with his wife on a farm in Prince Edward County, 300k in from Toronto. The farmhouse dates from the 1880’s, which as Dave said himself, is an old house by Canadian standards. His artwork was a sculptural series of frames, itself forming one long framed piece. I loved the idea of the frame being the content itself, and I wrote a piece about the imaginary pictures that may once have inhabited each. One of the many things I enjoy about 26 projects 26 acis that they are encouraged to develop and turn and find their own forms. 26 Atlantic Crossings evolved into a book designed by Sophie Gordon.

With 26 Designs – managed by Katie Treggiden & Ellie Parker, and my editor was Elena Bowes – six of us were paired with 26 new designers during London Design Festival, and asked to write 100 words in response to one of their designs. These pieces were illustrated and all featured in the new design magazine Fiera, edited by Katie. I was lucky enough to be pulled out of that hat with London-based designer and bone china specialist Richard Brendon, who will be exhibiting at the V&A Museum this year. I had come across him before in magazine features about his stunning Reflect series, which brings life back to antique saucers that have lost their other halves, by teaming them up with highly reflective cups. He launched his new Speck series during the London Design Festival. Every piece in this collection is decorated with a seemingly random array of dots. Hmm, I thought. I sat down to work on my response to Speck just after I came back from an overnight stay in the Fastnet Lighthouse. The tiny dots breaking up the clear white of the china reminded me of the beam of the Fastnet lamp, and the way it touches the sea, flaring to life for a moment before moving on.26 designs piece The beautiful illustration is by Assa Ariyoshi.

I regret not putting my name forward for was 26 Ghosts, a ghost story writing project last year. At the time I convinced myself it was because I wouldn’t have something done in time, but really, I was afraid I wouldn’t come up with anything at all. Afraid of a ghost story? Tut Tut. That’s not the 26 way.

I shall know better next time.

Thanks to Rosa aged five for the ’26’.


The General Synopsis At Midnight

A Keeper’s Woman

IMG_3117This shortie-short story was broadcast on RTE Radio 1’s Bookshow on Saturday January 31st. It was inspired by a visit to Ballycotton Lighthouse last summer, part of a project to explore the Shipping Forecast thanks to the Maeve Binchy Travel Award, which was open to students of UCD’s English, Drama & Film department. Of all the lighthouses I saw during the project, I found Ballycotton to be the most imposing in terms of its relationship with the land. It’s black for a start, and although it’s on an island, it’s close enough to the mainland to feel both part of the community as well as separate. (This photo shows what was once keeper’s housing beside the lighthouse. The red covers over the old windows made me think of two eyes, crossly watching.)

A Keeper’s Woman

We’d say to one another, and we’d nod saying it, wasn’t herself the luckiest woman in Ballycotton? And though they had gone and painted the lighthouse black, and in our hearts we wondered was that the worst of luck, we would say what great fortune Enagh had, that she’d always know where her husband was, and what he was up to. He’d not be touching a drop out there neither, one of us would be bound to say, and Josie would let a wail out of her till whoever was nearest would grab her hand and go, ah don’t mind, your Tommy will come right yet. And Enagh would give us that thin smile of hers that isn’t a smile at all, only the thing she does with her face before she walks away. And back she would go to her house on the hill. We’ve heard it said the Commissioners above in Dublin send her and that little lad the best of everything. Coal, and wool. Schoolbooks. Soap even, so we’re told. And when winter falls and the days die without ever getting to grow into themselves, we would watch Enagh standing alone at the harbour, staring across the black water at the lighthouse sprouting strong as a weed over on the island. We’d watch her two lips touching each other as she waited for him to light the lamp. She would count to ten between each flash, the boy shivering beside her. Ah sure, don’t be worrying yourself Enagh, we would say. What man ever came to harm in a lighthouse? And black or not, we’d mean it too. Yes. We all wanted to be a keeper’s woman.

Other bits what I wrote

The search for Josephine Rowe

(This is a longer version of a piece which was first broadcast on Sunday Miscellany on RTE Radio 1 on January 25th.)

The dead aren’t easy to find. You’d think they would be, what with death notices in newspapers, indexes of wills, and even the online census to hurtle us back in time as far as 1911 whenever we want. And yet, when I went hunting for a woman called Josephine Rowe, who died in 1945 (and even that piece of information was hard won), she proved surprisingly elusive.Macushla sheet music But the story doesn’t start in 1945 – how could it start where it supposedly ends? – so let’s go back further. To 1910 maybe, because it was about then Josephine wrote a poem called Macushla – the literal translation is my pulse, but it’s used to mean my darling or sweetheart – which was set to music by a man called Dermot MacMurrough. It is a sentimental plea for love; a tale of longing and loss and despair. John McCormack, in one of his earliest outings for the Victor Label, recorded it in 1911. On this recording, he was accompanied by the Victor Orchestra and it was produced by the Victor Talking Machine Company. Someone sure understood what branding meant in that company. In this 1911 version you can hear his highest voice ever recorded, yet to my one-hundred-odd-years-later ears it sounds so forced: the high, brassy crackle of his voice over the repetitive fuzz and static of the disc itself reminds me of the train in the story The Little Engine That Could valiantly struggling, “I think I can I think I can” up the hill. John McCormack’s recording was to be the first of many. In 1933 Macushla was used in an American movie Paddy The Next Best Thing, and five years later, unlikely as it sounds, in the film Hawaii Calls. Fast-forward sixty years and Frank Patterson sings it in the film Michael Collins. Zip forward again and not only does Hilary Swank have Mo cuishle embroidered on her boxing silks in the movie Million Dollar Baby, but the crowd sings the song at various points during the film. More recently, Rufus Wainwright has given it a defiant heartbreak I never could discern in previous versions. You can find him on YouTube, dressed in well-worn lederhosen, singing Macushla in cities around the world. His mother, the late folk singer Kate McGarrigle forced him to learn it, he jokes. So what about its author? I became curious when I wrote What Becomes Of Us, a book set in 1965-1966. There is a scene in which a central character, a child called Anna, sings Macushla to herself, unintentionally imitating the speeded-up whine of the old record player it’s played on. Josephine Rowe was born in Carlow in 1861 or ’62, where her father had a jewellery and watchmaking business. A respected and popular man, when Matthew William Rowe died in 1899 the Leinster Express reported that, ‘his disposition won for him a large circle of friends, who deeply mourn his death. Mr Rowe had passed through many of the painful scenes which have occurred in Ireland, and his retentive mind could recall the sad scenes of the cholera and the famine years.’ The report doesn’t mention that he went bankrupt in the year his daughter was born.

But what of his daughter? Josephine seems to have ping-ponged from Ireland to England and back for decades. The 1881 census records her as a pupil teacher in Kent, by 1889 she’s in Dublin and marrying Joseph Crawford, a clerk from Rathmines. There is no sign of her in the Irish census of 1901, but in 1911, the UK census finds her aged 50, married for 21 years and without children, alone in lodgings in Twickenham. She lists her occupation as ‘lyrical writer and journalist (unattached).’ I presume that unattached means what we would now call freelance, rather a reference to her solitary status on census night. Not long before that, in December 1910, her poem The Lights O’ Lundy was published in the North Devon Journal. This poem isn’t up to much in my opinion, so I have decided to believe it’s just a piece of its time, and shouldn’t be subjected to too harsh a contemporary scrutiny. Lundy is a island in the Bristol Channel, twelve miles from the Devon coast. These days, it is permanent home to about twenty people. I came across it – so to speak – during my exploration of the Shipping Forecast as part of the Maeve Binchy Travel Award. Her poem has a Macushla-lite quality to it: ‘Oh! flashing lights o’ Lundy/ I see you softly gleam-/ Across the waster of waters,/ You fling your silvery beam.’ It continues in that vein for some time, as you can see.

The Lights of Lundy In 1923 her second book, entitled Lyrics, Irish and Other was published. It was available to purchase for three shillings and sixpence directly from its author, now based in Gloucester. Does selling her book by mail order from her house imply things weren’t going too well? Possibly. As it would seem to have been in her life, in her writing she had only the one Macushla: a song which, for all its syrupy nostalgia, resonates with our sentimental hearts. A hundred years later I wonder would she have been dismissively referred to a one-hit wonder and consigned to bargain bins and the occasional just-before-Christmas live performance? Josephine Rowe died in Gloucester on April 1st 1945. The National Library of Ireland and Trinity College each have a few signed copies of her books and manuscripts in their collections. According to the UK Index of Wills and Administrations bequeathed her effects to a solicitor called Robert Tweedy Smith. She left £160, 14 shillings and sixpence; by far the smallest sum recorded in the dozen other deaths that keep her company on that particular page of the Index. This solicitor had also inherited money from a spinster in Worthing some years before. His name appears on passenger lists of ships that sailed to New York, New Zealand and Jamaica. But his life, and how he spent the small sum that was all Josephine Rowe owned when she died, is a story for another day.

With many thanks to JJ for the tip-top research.
The shorter version of this piece can be heard on Sunday Miscellany, RTE Radio 1, January 25th. Piece starts 38 minutes in. 

Other bits what I wrote

Keeping good company: the 2014 Hennessy nominees

I’m one of 18 writers shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Awards 2014. The shortlist was announced in The Irish Times today – January 24th – and there’ll be a big do (what the article describes as a ‘gala ceremony’) on February 24th. This year’s panel are writer Martina Devlin, facilitator Ciaran Carty and author Xiaolu Guo (be still my beating keyboard: I have a big writer-crush on her, since I read Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth in 2008). There are few outlets for short stories, and even fewer that publish so consistently and with such a profile as New Irish Writing. Just being accepted for it was a big deal for me; getting this far is extra jam on the bread. Formerly in the Irish Independent, New Irish Writing is moving to The Irish Times. So many Irish writers got an early (or even their first) run out in New Irish Writing – the list includes Mary Costello, Patrick McCabe, Deirdre Madden, Neil Jordan and Sebastian Barry, as well as one of my favourites Éilís Ní Dhuibhne. She is going to be presented with the Irish PEN Award for Outstanding Contribution to Irish Literature 2015 in February.

My story, The Dead of Winter, was published in May last year. It was inspired by the sight of Rockfleet Castle, in Co Mayo, on a wet summer day in 2013. We were on a boat tour of the bay with a clatter of kids and friends on a rainy summer holiday. Dark and inaccessible, the castle had a solid dignity that stuck with me. Then I came across Granuaile and her meeting with Queen Elizabeth in a book of my daughter’s about pirates. Four hundred years ago two of the most powerful people in Europe were women. I find the story of the only time they met very moving, because the reason for that meeting wasn’t power or status; it was love. I took Éilís Ní Dhuibhne’s folklore module on the creative writing programme in UCD, and an exercise she gave us was to use folkloric motifs and structure. I remembered that boat trip, and Granuaile, and wrote the story in response. the dead of winter image

The Dead Of Winter

Typical, just typical. I’ve trudged five cold, rain-sodden miles out from Newport to visit Grace O’Malley’s castle only there’s nothing to see. Not even a sign – unless you count the tatty Office of Public Works: Keep Out notice swinging from the broken railings, which I don’t. What was I expecting to find, I wonder? A boom-time Interpretative Centre? Jaunty, pirate-themed cafe? I jam my hands harder into the pockets of my fleece. Even a leaflet would have been nice.

Rockfleet Castle sits at the edge of the water, squat and square and solid. It must be black as soot on the inside. Now that I’m closer (that gap in the railings somewhat undermining the creaking authority of the Keep Out notice) I can see that the castle is the edge of the water: its walls climb from the sea, a gift thrown to the land.

I have taken myself away from my life for three days.

‘That’s all I want,’ I told my husband, ‘three days away.’

‘A mini-break?’ he said. ‘There’s great deals, hotels are on their knees this time of year. But I’m too busy to take time off.’ He was sitting on the end of our bed, clipping his toenails. ‘Maybe… ‘ he said, ‘if Mam took Cuan, and Jack went to your sister? I’ll think about it.’ Each slim sliver he placed neatly on the floor, and when he was finished he gathered them into a pile. A tiny white shoal dropped into the bin under his night table. For me to fish out, I supposed.

‘By myself,’ I said.

‘You want a mini-break by yourself?’ He looked puzzled. I realised he could imagine only the holiday we would take together. Us, sipping Guinness in country pubs; us frittering away a day in deciding where to have dinner. He thought I wanted the holiday I would have with him, only without him.

‘I want to be alone. For three days. That’s all. I won’t get through the winter otherwise.’

‘But what about the boys?’ he said, in bed now, the glow of the iPad ghoulish on his face. He thinks I make too much of it. Of her. That it – she – consumes me. That I alone tighten the iron band around my heart. I know he thinks it, and he knows I know.

Water laps the sides of the castle, licking the stone.

‘You alright there?’

‘Jesus!’ I jump, whirl around, ‘You scared me half to death!’

‘Sorry.’ The man is wearing an oil slicker and black bobble hat. He steps back and holds up his hands as though I am cranky dog, liable to nip. He looks older than me, though that could be the beard. He points down a half-hidden slope that leads to a small jetty. The prow of a boat bobs in and out of sight. ‘You were getting fierce close to the edge.’

‘I was looking for a door.’

‘It’s around the far side, but the castle’s shut up for the winter. You’ve no fear of ghosts then? It’s haunted by Grace O’Malley herself.’

‘Yeah,’ I say, ‘Sure.’

He nods and I can’t tell whether he didn’t get that I was being sarcastic, or just didn’t care.

‘She died here, but her head was buried out on Clare Island and her body is said to set sail from here every night in search of it.’

‘There’s no such thing as ghosts.’

‘There’d be no such thing as ghost stories, so,’ he shrugs. ‘I’ll take you out in the boat, if you want? I’m done fishing, there’s feck all out there today but it’s light enough for a half hour.’

‘You’re a fisherman?’ I say stupidly. I’ve never met a fisherman before, which now strikes me as odd, considering how much fish I eat.

‘Yeah,’ he says, ‘But in the summer I do better from the tourists. Two hour tour, 20 euro a head. Seals, mussel farms, Louis Walsh’s summer house, the lot.’ When he nods the bobble on his hat jigs up and down. ‘They can’t get enough of Louis Walsh.’

I imagine my husband’s look of horror if he could see me now: alone in the dusk in a dead-end with this stranger, this sea-faring giant. My jeans are stiff from the rain and it’s awkward to climb down the metal ladder to the boat so I take off my thick gloves. I gasp when my hands touch the freezing iron and he – Murrough, his name is – grabs my elbow. Once again I picture my husband’s face (waves of horror, a distinct undertow of reproach) and all of a sudden I’m conscious of the scared thump in my heart and about to exclaim, no! do you know what? I think I’ll leave it for today after all, when he jumps back saying, ‘It’s them last few rungs are the tricky ones, people jump thinking they’re in, only they’re not.’

We chug out into Clew Bay, the engine announcing us to the darkening sea. I guess I can always fling myself overboard if I have to, though the water looks so unforgiving I decide I will take my chances on board. I feel an unexpected pang for the Seaview Hotel, for my small room with its commanding view of the leisure centre’s external ventilation system. Guilt had caused me to book cheaply and unwisely, and thanks to its Winter Warmer Offer – three nights for the price of two, breakfast and dinner thrown in – the hotel is humming with guests. My fellow bargain hunters are either much older than me and enjoying mid-week leisure time, or families with pre-schoolers.

‘I took the early retirement package,’ a man had confided to me in the lift, his pinkish cheeks and juniper breath telling a story of golf, of gin and tonics at the nineteenth. ‘And we’ve not looked back since.’

I am that holiday oddity; a woman alone. In the restaurant I’ve noticed older women looking curiously at me. The mothers of small children regard me with something more like envy: I know they are picturing my long hours of unbroken sleep in clean sheets, and my not driving around aimlessly for an hour every lunchtime because the toddler refuses to nap in the twenty-euro-per-night-surcharge travel cot.

I have spent the last two days rambling up and down The Greenway trail before coming back to the hotel for a late swim when the pool is quiet. I have kept myself busy and alone. That way I can think about Poppy, can let her fill my thoughts entirely, and still play fair – more than fair; play kind – with the present. When I phoned home Cuan and Jack were chatty and said they missed me. My husband sounded tense and bemused and only when I hung up did I realise why: he hadn’t actually believed I’d go.

‘Who owns that house there?’ I point at the long low lines of grey stone; a ghostly shape flittering through a bank of winter trees.

‘Yer man who used be the American Ambassador. Funny enough, no-one gives a feck to see his house.’ The boat motors along for another minute and then, ‘Once upon a time,’ Murrough says.

‘What?’ This must be his patter for tourists. ‘A fairy story?’

‘A true story.’

‘Then you shouldn’t have once upon a time. If your story is true, it’s a legend and they can’t start with once upon a time.’ I am aware of how daft, how childishly pedantic, I sound.

‘It’s my story,’ he doesn’t look at me, ‘I can have it whatever way I want.’

I turn my head to the sea because my eyes have filled with tears.

‘Once upon a time,’ he says, then laughs, ‘Fair enough. In 1593, Grace O’Malley, pirate queen of Ireland, set sail for London from the very same harbour as ourselves. Her youngest son Tibóid – her favourite for reason of being born at sea – had been taken prisoner by the English and charged with treason, which carried a sentence of death.’

He pauses. I edge closer to the wheelhouse.

‘She sailed her ship the Malendroke as if her own life depended on it and when she got to the Thames Estuary word was sent to Queen Elizabeth. Pirate corpses hung along the Estuary, so she’d have known her fate if she didn’t play her cards right. Elizabeth sent her a list of eighteen questions, but when she received Granuaile’s answers she left her waiting six weeks before agreeing to see her.’ His voice is bigger than the story needs, I suppose he’s used to a chattering, camera-flashing audience. ‘It felt like a lifetime to Granuaile, but it was a good omen; she’d been warned she might be still waiting at Christmas.’

Christmas. Poppy died on December twenty-second, three years ago.

‘She had meningitis,’ I’ve heard my husband tell people, but to me meningitis had her. It consumed her, destroyed her. And now, when summer is over and the boys go back to school, I feel the draw into winter as a tug to that date.

I close my eyes and let four hundred years fall away. Two women living men’s lives face each other. A Queen trussed up in a farthingale, face harshly painted, rotting teeth shored up with pieces of stale bread. Bright and garish, she is a flightless tropical bird. Grace O’Malley has hair woven from waterweeds and loose, homespun clothes. Her face is raw from a life at sea. They are the two most powerful women of their age and the only time they will ever meet is for one to beg the other for a life.

The boat lurches and seawater slops over my jeans. Spray touches my eyelids and they shoot open. Through the wet light of the wheelhouse his yellow oil slicker gleams like gold.

‘-and so,’ he is saying and I realise I must have missed a bit, ‘Granuaile’s words worked. Elizabeth released her son and let her ply her trade in peace in these waters. The Queen was so impressed she had her lads draw a map of Ireland with Granuaile included as a chieftain of Mayo. She was the only woman ever to be named a chieftain.’ He pauses and raises his eyebrows till they disappear under his hat. ‘And,’ he adds with a grin, ‘they all lived happily ever after.’

‘How do you know so much about her?’

‘My own people are descended – I don’t know how many greats back – from her grand-nephew, he was another Tibóid.’ He turns the wheel in a wide arc. ‘Let’s head in now, maybe we’ll get a seal or two to perform for us on the way.’

We head back for the harbour and Newport and the road to Dublin and my life of the last three years and the years before that and the years yet to come. I can’t see it, but I know Croagh Patrick rises, tall and broad and severe, from the mists on the land to one side. I turn my back to it and look at Rockfleet looming ahead, the moon turning its grey stone to silver. The castle was owned by Granuaile’s second husband, Murrough says, but under Brehon Law she divorced him by calling Richard Burke, I dismiss you, from a window and lo! it became hers. ”Twas easier done in them days,’ he grins.

I picture her on the turret, red hair fizzing and gossamer-thin nets spinning from her fingers as far as her eye could see and her heart could want.

He tucks his boat into the crook of the harbour and we clunk up the ladder. My lungs are full of sea-cold air, my throat scratchy with salt. I offer him twenty euro. ‘Ah, you’re grand,’ he gently pushes my hand away, ‘You didn’t see much after all.’

And from up ahead I hear the wind grab the loose Keep Out notice and beat it, beat it hard against the railings.

The General Synopsis At Midnight

‘Sailing By’ (and saying goodbye)

The General Synopsis At Midnight kicked off when Gordon Snell presented me with the inaugural Maeve Binchy Travel award in UCD’s Newman House on May 27th 2014. With Gordon SnellAnd look, here we are. I think the chap standing between us is a pickpocket. Since then, I visited the 31 Sea Areas of the Shipping Forecast by land, water and air and – in the case of those I explored through their folklore or history – by making things up. And now, six months later, it’s time to put the map away and listen to Sailing By, the music by Ronald Binge that accompanies the 0048 broadcast. (Have a listen, but be warned: it’s hypnotic.) If you’re new to this project, then the easiest thing is to back to the beginning and work your way forward. It’s a blog, not Serial – I know, right? as Sarah Koenig might say, like, right? – it doesn’t really matter if you read them in the wrong order, but it would make more sense to start here, Counting Down To Midnight.

Among other highlights, I’ve curled up – literally – in a curved bunk high in the Fastnet Rock lighthouse and nodded off while watching its six-tonne lamp flash 50 kilometres into the dark night. In a heatwave I tootled around the Isles of Scilly, where in 1707 Admiral Sir Cloudsely Shovell lost his fleet of four ships to the rocks because he couldn’t understand what direction they were heading. (Unlucky for him, yet a happy ending for the rest of us because the Board of Longitude was established as a result.) I’ve sat next to Craig Snell, a Maritime Forecaster in the UK Met Office, while he explained how he writes a Forecast. I’ve got lost – many times – and found the unexpected as a result… Yet where better to end the project than at a celebration of the ninetieth anniversary of the first official airing of the BBC Shipping Forecast? It was, I reckoned, probably as close to visiting all the sea areas in one go as it’s possible to get. (Apart from listening to the Shipping Forecast itself, that is.) Charlie Connolly who wrote the wonderful travel guide Attention All Shipping, had a one man show on board the Cutty Sark recently. As he said himself, ‘I’m one man and I’ll be making a show of myself, so it’s probably appropriate’.cutty sark morning

A state-of-the-art tea clipper from the days before steam ships, and now the nautical equivalent of a Grade I listed building, the Cutty Sark is in dry dock in Greenwich in south-east London. Greenwich has the atmosphere of an open-air maritime museum: a Grade I listed air hangs over the entire town, and the spidery masts of the Cutty Sark rise delicately above a genteel row of eye-wateringly pricey houses. It’s strange to see a boat butting up so close to buildings and cars in a city; it is a brighter, Georgian version of the Hitchcock film Marnie, in which a vast ship forms an abrupt and unsettling end to a red-bricked terrace. Time flies by here – literally, because outside the Royal Observatory nearby a long piece of brass set into the ground represents zero degrees longitude, so you can hop from east to west and back again in a trice. On a wet day, you don’t even have to change puddles.

To an audience of Shipping Forecast fans in the Cutty Sark’s tiny theatre space, Charlie Connolly’s tour began and ended in Greenwich and more than delivered on his promise of, ‘history, travel, stories, iffy jokes, a bar and an interval and everything.’ on the cutty sark(And there I am, in the aforementioned interval). Now, it’s not that I was expecting Captains Birds Eye, Pugwash and Hook to be in the front row or anything, but I did look around the audience and assume that like me, they were all armchair enthusiasts; people who love the Forecast for its poetry, but don’t depend on it for their livelihood or welfare. Since I began this project, many people have asked me who still uses the Shipping Forecast these days? Who needs it, now that all the information you could possibly want is available online? It was one of the first questions I had for Craig Snell when I pulled up a chair at his desk last July. The BBC too has been asking this question: last year it sent out a questionnaire to members of the Royal Yachting Association, the national governing body for boating, enquiring how they get their information about the weather when they’re at sea. If the answer had come back ‘duh, the internet,’ would that have meant the death knell for the Forecast and its nighttime companion music? Radio 4 controller Denis Nowlan said the survey showed – phew! – the Forecast on Radio 4 longwave continues to be a primary or secondary source of marine safety information. An informal survey the BBC Feedback programme held at the Cornish fishing port Newlyn revealed that, although younger fishermen are less likely to use it as their go-to source, it’s because the longwave broadcast isn’t at the mercy of digital signals and technology that it’s still relied upon.

That the Shipping Forecast is still relevant for those using it for marine safety is good to know, yet an incident in May this year unintentionally highlighted its enduring popularity with us landlubbers. The 5.20am broadcast on Friday May 30th failed to air because of a technical whoopsie, and listener reactions ranged from, ‘I didn’t know whether I should leave the house or not,’ to ‘but if UK submarines don’t hear it, don’t they begin a nuclear attack?’ (That Royal Navy nuclear submarines commanders are required to leap into attack mode if they don’t hear the Shipping Forecast is a long-standing urban myth. It has been roundly poo-poohed by the Navy, though methinks they doth protest too much…)

One thing that has stuck with me over the last six months, but particularly when I went to York during my visit to Sea Areas Humber and Dogger is: how do we ever really know where we’re going, despite all the preparation? The Shipping Forecast is a guide; a prediction not a certainty. As Sir Cloudsely Shovell and the crew of the Cita (among many, many others) could tell us, we are human and we can so easily be wrong. And yet, for those of us who tune in late at night because we love the language rather than need the information, it isn’t a prediction at all. Viking, Cromarty, German Bight, Fastnet, Rockall, Malin… these form a lullaby that conjures up dreamlike, inky seas. Viking invasions and U-Boats. Long-dead pirates and islands battered by storms. For us, the Shipping Forecast becomes a promise of hope, and of a new day breaking.

400px-UK_shipping_forecast_zonesThough my explorings and wanderings are over, in another way the project is beginning, because now I have the fun of playing with all this fact and trying to turn it into fiction. I’m ending The General Synopsis at Midnight by listening to today’s lunchtime broadcast. Showers are expected later today in my nearest area, Irish Sea, in case you’re wondering. Did Craig Snell write this one? Thanks to the Maeve Binchy Travel Award I am able to picture him sitting at his desk in front of a bank of screens, painstakingly making the world at sea safer and more knowable for the rest of us. At the words Northeast Fitzroy, Sole I’m back on St Agnes on the isles of Scilly chatting to a stranger about why a man would choose to be buried standing up; with FaeroesSoutheast Iceland I’m on a boat in the ninth century determined to find a land that supposedly doesn’t exist; with Lundy, Fastnet I’m staring up at the black tower of Ballycotton lighthouse…


With many thanks to:
Professor Margaret Kelleher, Dr Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Niall McMonagle and James Ryan: the UCD Maeve Binchy Award committee.
John Gore Grimes and Captain Harry McClenahan of The Commissioners of Irish Lights.
Imelda Rogers and the UK Met Office, Exeter.
The Binchy family, and to Gordon Snell particularly for his kindness, support and enthusiasm.

Sea more / hear more:
Each of the 31 sea areas is explored in The General Synopsis at Midnight on this blog, and any interesting sources or references I came across are listed with each entry.

For other bits and bobs, I was on the Marian Finucane radio show on May 31st, and again on September 20th to talk about my stay on Fastnet.

And lastly… a piece I wrote for Sunday Miscellany on RTE Radio 1, broadcast on November 2nd 2014.

And finally, it’s time for Sailing By

The General Synopsis At Midnight

Sea areas Irish Sea & Thames: “I’m really passionate about whatever we come up with.”

Harrison Blue Plaque, London This trip was a quick hop from Area Irish Sea – once known as Area Mersey – to Area Thames, which runs from the border with Humber down to North Foreland in Kent. I was off to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich to see the exhibition ‘The Quest For Longitude’. Particularly apt today, as November 18th is the day the 2014 Longitude Prize opens for submissions. But we’ll come back to that. Let’s whizz back a bit first, to a time when fortunes were staked – and often lost – on long and often-dangerous voyages. So what? says you, sure aren’t there fortunes travelling the high seas every day? Well, yes, but nowadays those who take to the water have the distinct advantage of knowing where they are and where they are going. It was not always the case. On land there are fixed points so it has always been relatively easy to find where you are. Which meant that in the past, latitude was fine and dandy; it was easily measured by the angle of the sun or pole star above the horizon, but longitude? Figuring the distance east and west? ‘Dead Reckoning’ – plotting where the ship was on a chart from its speed and the direction it was heading – was once a popular method, but since the late 1400s the effort of coming up with something better had the finest international minds (including Amerigo Vespucci, Captain Cook and Galileo) chewing the ends of their pencils. For the British government, the unpleasant fate of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell and his 2,000 sailors just of the Isles of Scilly in 1707 was the final nail in the watery coffin. (You can read about it in my trip to the Isles of Scilly). And so in July 1714 the government decided to throw money at the problem: £20,000 in fact, which would equal about £2.5 million today. A competition dressed up as an Act, it was a rallying call to mathematicians, mariners and scientists to get the whole east-to-west thing sorted once and for all. As the Act said: “The Discovery of the Longitude is of such Consequence to Great Britain for the safety of the Navy and Merchant Ships as well as for the improvement of Trade that for want thereof many Ships have been retarded in their voyages, and many lost…” The quest was the hottest ticket in town, though satirized by many contemporary critics as a fool’s errand. A panel of Commissioners was put together to assess proposals, and a leading witness was Sir Isaac Newton. Five different systems looked as though they could be potential solutions: Timekeepers, Lunar Distances, Magnetism, Signalling and Jupiter’s Moons. With the ease of 2014’s hindsight, it’s tempting to snigger, ‘Jupiter’s Moons? You’re having a laugh,’ but each system was taken seriously and had its accuracy over 30 miles put to the test after a six week voyage to the West Indies. I suppose it’s not unlike The Apprentice of the C18th, only in this case the ‘apprentices’ actually knew what they were doing, and there was no Alan Sugar berating them from behind his desk in an glass-walled room apparently modelled on the ensuite toilet of a hotel bedroom.the contenders One of the main contenders was an estate worker from Lincolnshire called John Harrison, who had little formal education but was remarkably handy with clocks and machinery. His first submission to the competition was a chronometer, which he entered in 1735. By 1759 he had refined his machine down to the form of a pocket watch, which was tested on the HMS Deptford’s voyage from Portsmouth to Jamaica. Harrison’s son William carried it – in his pocket presumably, so no pressure on that trip, Will! – and on arrival it was found to be less than two minutes, or 18 miles, out. Success! Everything looked rosy until those in charge decided that he wasn’t quite the sort of chap they wanted to award the prize to. Harrison fought his corner for years. William was dispatched to Barbados on another trial in 1764 and this time the chronometer was accurate to within ten miles. Reluctantly, the competition panel agreed to give him some of the money on the condition he spilled the beans about how his invention worked. A copy known as ‘H4’ was made and taken on a jaunt by Captain Cook. He returned triumphant, clutching it in one hand and the first accurate charts of the South Sea Islands in the other. Despite this additional success for Harrison, it took a direct appeal to King George III before the committee would award him what he was owed. Yet even then, it wasn’t the full amount, and was handed over with ill-grace. During the decades the quest rumbled on, Harrison saw some serious competition from a curate and astronomer called Nevil Maskelyne, who came up with the Lunar Distance Method, which is all about measuring the distance between the moon and another body. Everyone goobserving suitt that? Good, because I’m already astronomically out of my depth. Maskelyne too was sent to Barbados (I picture him and William sweating in their powdered wigs, glowering at each other from the shade of opposing palm trees.) Harrison’s machine was more accurate, but Maskelyne’s system was cheaper. Maskelyne was appointed the Astronomer Royal in 1765, which meant he was one of the assessors of the prize as well as an entrant. Hmmm. One of his main jobs at the Royal Observatory (also in Greenwich) was making observations at night, and to ward off the cold he designed an ‘observing suit’, complete with padded feet like a baby’s sleep suit, to wear under his overcoat (that’s the top half of it in the photo). It’s on display in the National Maritime Museum and, as the information panel so delicately phrases it, ‘seems to have been well used.’ Pretty exciting thought isn’t it: this garment may be first known appearance of the Onesie.feet of suit Three hundred years ago, the problem of longitude was the greatest scientific puzzle in the world. It wasn’t just the British government who were trying to solve it either: at around the same time, competitions ran in Spain (our old mucker Philip II), France and the Netherlands. How to solve an equivalent problem in 2014 is the question posed by the Longitude Prize, which opens for submissions today. In an earlier part of the competition, a public vote decided that the rise in our communal resistance to antibiotics was the most important problem. Other contenders for this ‘best problem’ title were: paralysis, dementia, food, water and flight (the latter isn’t ‘why we can’t grow wings ourselves?’ you understand, but rather,’ how can we continue to trundle around the globe on planes without further harming the environment?’). The World Health Organisation estimates that on average antibiotics add 20 years to our lives, yet the rise of antimicrobial resistance is threatening to make them useless. The challenge of the Longitude Prize is to create a cheap, accurate, rapid and easy-to-use test kit for bacterial infections. It has a £10 million prize fund and it’s open to everyone, so if you’ve got a suggestion, drop them a line. I wonder what Alan Sugar’s current crop of apprentices would make of such a challenge? On the episode broadcast on BBC1 on Wednesday November 12th, the charming half-Irish project manager Pamela Uddin ended up in the firing line when her team’s ‘Relationship Guru’ boardgame failed to pass muster. Earlier in the process she described her commitment to the towering pile of dung her team were (inevitably, to my mind) bound to produce as, ‘I’m really passionate about whatever we come up with.’ John Harrison was a genius who spent four decades perfecting his chronometer. Harrison_H4_chronometerAnd yet, to paraphrase the voiceover at the end of every episode of The Apprentice, as of today, November 18th 2014, ‘the quest for longitude continues.’

The General Synopsis At Midnight is my exploration of the sea areas of the BBC R4 Shipping Forecast, thanks to the Maeve Binchy Travel Award. The earlier post ‘Counting Down To Midnight’ explains the project. A piece based on the project called ‘The Shipping Forecast’ was broadcast on Sunday Miscellany, RTE Radio 1, November 2nd.

Want to sea more?

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel, published by Harper. sepia greenwich

Finding Longitude: How Ships, Clocks and Stars helped solve the Longitude Problem by the National Maritime Museum and Richard Dunn, published by Collins. ‘The Quest for Longitude’ exhibition runs to January 4th 2015.

The General Synopsis At Midnight

Lost at sea: areas Hebrides, Malin, Trafalgar, Biscay… and the Baileys

Lusitania posterThe ocean floor is a surprisingly busy place. Teeming, you might say, with lost life. The UN reckons three million shipwrecks are scattered around the bottom of the world’s seas. Small yachts and fishing smacks, Viking longboats and German U-boats… the sea now owns the lot, regardless of what governments or salvage operators might think. The Irish sea area claim to fame is that there are said to be more ocean liners and U-boats sunk off Malin (on the Inishownen peninsula, Malin Head is the most northerly point of Ireland) than anywhere else in the world; the majority of them casualties of the World Wars.

When I went to the Isles of Scilly Museum – a place founded in 1963 because of a need to house all the finds deposited on the beach by winter seastorms – I was surprised by the contents of a display of bits and bobs washed up from the 1997 wreck of the Cita: tyres, Luck of the Irish keyrings, Dunnes Stores ‘St. Bernard’ brand shoes. It must be years since Dunnes decided that the luck of the Irish had run out as far as St Bernie was concerned and put him out to pasture. I always thought a C12th French century monk best known for his persuasive way with words was an unusual choice for a shop’s own-brand merchandise. (There were a few obligatory miracles of course, such as ridding churches of flies, and curing a child’s withered arm, but Saint-wise he wasn’t one of the biggies as far as I can see. Maybe Dunnes were referring to the dog?) Anyway, back to shipwrecks. On that trip, my flight back to Exeter from St Mary was delayed and to kill some time I flicked through a copy of the Wreck of Colossus – The Find of a Lifetime, which I found lying around in the café in St. Mary’s tiny aerodrome (okay, technically it was for sale, alongside handcrafted doilies and flower-illustration postcards, but I handled it gently).

Todd Stevens went to Scilly as a Cita salvage diver originally and ended up staying. Diving alone one day, he found a previously unknown additional site of the HMS Colossos, the 74-gun warship that sank in 1798. The ship was famously jam packed with a collection of Etruscan pottery belonging to Sir William Hamilton and – less famously – full of wounded soldiers on their way home from the Battle of the Nile. With his wife Carmen, Todd Stevens continued to explore this new area. Lying face upwards on the sand she found the most incredible thing: a twice life-size carved wooden figure that was once was part of the Colossos’ stern decoration (that’s it on the right). What struck me most about Todd Stevens’ book – and I didn’t get to read it all because a) I was out of sterling and b) my flight was called – was how honest he was about the thrill of the chase in salvage diving, and the frustration of having to leave a possible site behind and return to land. He makes it sound so addictive, the belief that just there, over there, under that rock, behind that reef, a moment of history lies trapped. A giant-sized, barnacle-encrusted ‘what if’. tresco-oscar-colossus-figurehead-2

But when something wonderful, such as the carving from the Colossos, is found, what happens then? So often it is conditions of the sea itself that can preserve wrecks and their booty. Removing them from these crypts sends time spinning forward. Shipwreck sites are nearly always graves as well as treasure chests. Understandably, the focus on the human cost of a shipwreck gets more prominence the more recent the disaster. Whizz back in time and the people tend to get forgotten about. We will never know who were the crew of fifteen on the 3,000 year old paddle-powered boat discovered in sea area Plymouth in 2009. Its cargo of copper and tin ingots, a bronze sword and three gold torcs are seen as evidence that there was a much more sophisticated European communications and trading system in operation than was preciously believed. Engineer Jim Tyson who took part in the dives said: ‘You have something in your hands that had not seen the light of day in 3000 years. The last person to do so must have died in the shipwreck.’ A thoughtful comment to make, considering that the temptation must be to jump up and down in delight with joy at finding a haul dating back to 900BC.

Underneath the invisible lines that create the jigsaw that is the Shipping Forecast, all the sea areas have their own shipwreck secrets and stories. One of the quirkier ones is that of the SS Politician, which was fictionalised as the SS Cabinet Minister in the in the novel Whisky Galore! by Compton MacKenzie. An 8,000-tonne cargo ship, the SS Politican left Liverpool on 3rd February 1941, heading for Jamaica and New Orleans. Two days later she ran aground of the northern coast of Eriskey in the Outer Hebrides during a gale. The crew all survived and spilled the beans about the ship’s cargo to the locals. A clue as to said cargo is in the title of the book. Yip, malt whisky. And galore. 264000 bottles of the stuff in fact. Thanks to wartime rationing the island’s own supplies of whisky were long gone, so who could blame them for deciding to help themselves before the seals got the lot? It wasn’t stealing, according to the enterprising fishermen who dressed as women so as not to be caught with telltale oil stains from the ship’s hold on their clothes. Nope, all was fine and dandy, according to the rules of salvage. Problem was, the local customs and excise officer thought otherwise: Charles McColl insisted the police take action, with the result that a number of islanders were convicted. Their sentences ranged from a £3 fine to six weeks imprisonment. The Politican proved resistant to official salvage attempts and – this being wartime, you can imagine how distracted the bods in charge were – it was decided to simply leave the stricken ship where she was. McColl estimated that 24,000 bottles had been stolen already and that simply abandoning the ship to its fate would prove too much temptation, so he got permission to explode her hull. Now that must have been some sight for the recently drunk, also recently hungover but now sadly newly sober, islanders to witness. Whisky Galore was released as an Ealing comedy in 1949. I wonder if Charles McColl ever saw the movie?whisky-galore-poster-1-1024x770

In the same month the SS Politican brought such brief, unintended happiness to the Hebrides, the SS Gairsoppa took a direct hit from a German U-boat’s torpedo. It sank in less than 20 minutes at 50 degrees N, 14 west, close to where sea areas Shannon and Sole meet. Only three of the crew managed to escape in a lifeboat. They reached Cornwall two weeks later, where two of them died trying to get ashore. Last year, 2,792 silver ingots worth €27m were recovered from the site three miles (!) below the surface. Despite this massive haul, the SS Gairsoppa is relatively small beans compared with Ireland’s other shipwreck connections. Our biggest claim to shipwreck fame is generally taken to be the Belfast-born Titanic, which sank on its maiden voyage in 1912. However, fascinating as its story of hubris is, I’ll see your Titanic and raise you the Spanish Armada.

263px-Routes_of_the_Spanish_ArmadaThe route followed by the Spanish Armada – both intentionally and not – by this fleet begins in Sea Areas Trafalgar and Biscay. In fact, it covers most of our Shipping Forecast map, not that even the word ‘forecast’ would have made any sense at the time, this being centuries before Sir Robert Fitzroy.

In September 1588 Philip II decided he’d take a pop at invading England, and sent a fleet of 130 ships carrying almost 30,000 men with that express purpose. It didn’t go well, this tale of old against new: the heavy galleons of the Spanish were more like floating castles than ships, versus the newer Elizabethan ‘race ships’ that were low and fast, with much lighter armoury. The beautifully named Battle of Gravelines sent his fleet, well, fleeing. As the remaining ships tried to scarper, a combination of bad weather and poor navigation drove them towards the west coast of Ireland. Queen Elizabeth was concerned about a possible Irish/Spanish alliance against her and so her man on the ground Sir Richard Bingham (a tough cookie, as pirate queen Granuaile was soon to discover, and you can read about here) and the Lord Deputy William Fitzwilliam issued orders: “to make inquiry by all good means, both by oath and otherwise, to take all the hulls of ships, stores, treasures, etc. into your hands and to apprehend and execute all Spaniards found there of what quality so ever. Torture may be used in prosecuting this inquiry.” Ouch. 24 Spanish ships were wrecked off the Irish coastline, and it is estimated that 5,000 men died. In the centuries since, 10,000 pieces of treasure, from forks to cannonballs and rubies to coins, that once journeyed through what we know as Trafalgar and Biscay, have washed up on Irish shores.

And finally: to Bailey. Not the sea area this time, but a person. Two in fact. Maurice and Maralyn Bailey decided to move to New Zealand and so in June 1972 they set sail from Southampton on their 31-foot yacht, the Auralyn. Everything was going fine and dandy until, off the coast of Guatemala, a whale got up close and personal, with the result that – well, you can imagine the result. They roped their dingy and life-raft together and grabbed what supplies they could. From the dingy they watched their yacht disappear. In a diary entry dated March 4 1973 (but written after the event), non-swimmer Maralyn Bailey wrote of “a violent impact. The ship shuddered and there was tearing, splintering wood. We looked at each other. I dashed outside. As I went into the cockpit, I saw, off the stern, a huge whale. Around him the deep blue water was stained red“. If they had been told on that morning that they would still be on that small raft 117 days later, I wonder would they have stayed put or jumped in after the Auralyn? When their supplies ran out they survived on rainwater and by catching turtles, birds and even small sharks with their bare hands and a safety pin. Seven times other boats were nearby and failed to spot them as they drifted in the Pacific becoming increasingly malnourished and weak. 1,500 miles later the Baileys were spotted by a Korean fishing boat, the Weolmi 306. They had each lost 40 pounds in weight and could barely stand. The water had rotted their clothes and their bodies were covered in sores. In their 1974 book 117 Days Adrift (published as Staying Alive! in the US; please note the jaunty exclamation mark.) they wrote that to keep their spirits up they played dominoes and cards made out of pages ripped from a notebook; and drew up elaborate plans for celebratory feasts.

A year later the Baileys were back at sea in the Auralyn II.SS Hop - Unst

I came across this plaque dedicated to the crew of the SS Hop in a graveyard on Unst in the Shetlands in sea area Fair Isle. You can read about that trip here.

Oh, and if you think the Titanic was spectacularly ill-fated, then spare a thought for the Vasa, a Swedish warship that too sank on its maiden voyage. To be fair to the Titanic, she did get a fair bit into the journey before that iceberg got in the way. In 1628, the Vasa managed only to get 1,300 metres away from dock before foundering. In the 1950s the Swedes dug the ship out of what had become a busy shipping lane on the outskirts of Stockholm’s harbour. The custom-built Vasa Museum is a hugely popular tourist attraction, and the ship has become a symbol of what is known as Sweden’s ‘great power period’. (Not, you note, of a great shipbuilding period.)

The General Synopsis At Midnight is my exploration of the sea areas of the BBC R4 Shipping Forecast, thanks to the Maeve Binchy Travel Award. The earlier post ‘Counting Down To Midnight’ explains the project. A piece based on the project called ‘The Shipping Forecast’ broadcast on Sunday Miscellany, RTE Radio 1, November 2nd

Want to sea more?

Warships, U-Boats and Liners: A guide to shipwrecks mapped in Irish waters by Charise McKeon, Karl Brady, James Lyttleton and Ian Lawler. Published by The Stationery Office, Dublin (2012).

117 Days Adrift by Maurice and Maralyn Bailey published by A&C Black.

There are plenty of Irish resources about the Spanish Armada, such as and

And thank’ee Wikipedia for the Spanish Armada map.