Portelet Bay, a Forgotten Tragedy

The Great War 1914-18 didn’t touch the Channel Islands directly. True, many Jerseymen joined up to fight, and many never returned. And a POW camp popped up on the sand dunes with hundreds of Germans enjoying a little holiday there. But generally speaking, life in our quiet island continued as normal.

On the site of the present day Highlands College was a Jesuit school, Notre Dame de Bon Secours. On 6th July 1915 a group of students set off for their annual picnic with a school master. Their destination was Portelet Bay on Jersey’s south-west coast.

The weather was poor – cloudy and windy. Nonetheless the boys, seeing the tide receding, decided to bathe. Few were able to swim, but ventured into the shallower waters off the western edge of the causeway leading over to Janvrin’s tomb.

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It appears that a large wave swept the boys over the causeway to the deeper waters on the other side.

Eight boys were drowned.

Bat Out Of Cork

It was December 2009 when I left Ireland to return to Jersey after two years. The financial crisis had done me in. Here’s my final blog from Ireland, and my final run in the city of Cork.

Back On The Rock

The present lousy weather isn’t, of course, confined to Cork. However yesterday (Saturday) in the city centre was one of the gloomiest, wettest and windiest days it is possible to have. Happily the city has places like the excellent English Market and the Crawford Art Gallery to dry out in whilst hoping that the River Lee remains where it is on the spring tide. The recent flooding was most unwelcome with the Mardyke, including the first class UCC sports complex, being particularly badly damaged.

Today (Sunday) was a distinct improvement with only a couple of drenchings as I made my way from Togher up Spur Hill and into the countryside beyond. At three miles I hit a nice rhythm and, with a little right and left, found myself on a proper country lane – the type with grass growing down the middle. It is not so easy to find these…

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Jersey’s German Dead

During their five years uninvited stay with us, it was inevitable that a number of Nazi Germany’s forces passed away. Natural causes accounted for many. There were drownings, accidents and the odd suicide and execution. In the latter months particularly, growing numbers died at the General Hospital after sustaining battle wounds in France or in the seas around the Channel Islands. Shortage of anaesthetic at that stage meant that many died badly.

The bodies were added to those who were prisoners of war here during WW1 but who passed away during their stay.

Most were interred at St Brelade’s churchyard. Below are then-and-now shots of the Rectory grounds. The first (thank you Peter Knight) was taken in 1947 and shows a number of marked graves. The wooden crosses replaced the original iron crosses. These graves were eventually moved across the road into the main churchyard. The second image is from much the same spot, taken today.

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This is the main German cemetery in 1945, presumably after the Occupation (credit Jerripedia).

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In 1961 the bodies were exhumed and re-interred at the military cemetery at Mont de Huisnes, St Malo, France.

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The Acid Test – Heaven or Hell

Here’s a golden oldie. Why not ponder your impending doom and calculate whether you’ll make it into Heaven or whether you’ll have the Devil prodding you with his fork for eternity. Let me know your score.

Back On The Rock

Following on from yesterday’s post I reckon St Peter must have a marking guide when people apply for admission at the Pearly Gates. It makes for consistency, especially if he’s having a bad day and he’s tempted to give every blighter the thumbs-down.

And presumably the Ten Commandments are still the acknowledged source of compliance with God’s standards. No one told me otherwise so it’s as good a way as any to measure myself up against. Not that age 60 means I’ll be applying shortly (life expectancy in Jersey is 79) but it’s good to be prepared.

So, marks out of 10 – 1 = irredeemably awful, 10 = top marks.

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. I’m off to a flyer here. But wait. What if Peter were to question me about Rory Gallagher, Stevie Nicks or Trevor Francis? Gods in my eyes. Best own up…

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Mizen Mountains 3 – Letterlicky Cairn, or ‘The Old Bog Road’

On the further subject of Irish bogs, here is a majestic post with some equally majestic photographs from West Cork from the wonderful Roaringwater Journal blog.

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I confess I’m stretching things a bit here: the 297m peak in the townland of Letterlicky, West Cork, fits well enough into my definition of mountains – anything above the 200 metre contour line. But is this one on the Mizen? We think of our own village of Ballydehob as being ‘The Gateway to The Mizen’ in the south-east, and it would be logical to have another ‘Gateway’ at Durrus, where the northern coastline of the Mizen meets the Sheeps Head. If you draw a straight line between these two points, then today’s subject misses out. But – there are no straight lines in nature, and this peak is a continuation of a natural ridge line that rises down on the Mizen near Mount Corrin and runs east.

But if you are uncomfortable with my concept of what is or isn’t the Mizen, just go with the subtitle of…

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Bog Poetry

Working the low bog lands, farming turf for fuel, has long been a traditional industry in Ireland. It is hard, back-breaking work – the likes of me wouldn’t last the morning. The lads that work the land would laugh at the romantic notion that there is anything ‘noble’ about it. But I think there is. The connection to the land, to their forefathers, is deep.

Bog (Irish Times)

Credit Irish Times

A local writer friend of mine, Yvonne Heavey, dashed off a poem as a tribute to the turf workers – she joined them one summer as a young teenager in the Irish Midlands. No poet I, but I jumped in and had a bash at re-phrasing her poem. It was fun. So in the style of William Drennan (apologies to him), here is what you might term a Mock Celtic Revival poem simply entitled The Turf Workers by Heavey/McCarthy.

As Drennan has told of the Emerald Isle
God saw it was good and bestowed a sweet smile
On its shores north and south, on its mountains so green
Nor did he forget the lowlands between
Though the lakes of Killarney are wond’rous to see
And the Cliffs of Moher have great majesty
It’s the lowlands so rare that God loves the best
And the lads that labour there, reluctant to rest
Ancient land, blessed soil, your gifts we collect
You give and we take, but for sure with respect
The bog lands laid down over thousands of years
Have seen laughter and love, famine and tears
Nearby the bones of ancestors who dwelled
They too worked the land, by hunger impelled
Westmeath to Roscommon, Longford to Clare
When they needed you, you were always there
So laughter done, the boys start to work
Backs bent, legs braced, not thinking to shirk
For them not the comfort of computer or pen
But ageless connection with their countrymen
With spade and with hand they dig and they turn
No clocks they watch, a few euro to earn
For these men of Ireland connect with the land
Not for them sitting down, coffee to hand
From morning to night they work steadily
The rows designated, endless to see
Fellow turf workers, I was once one of you
As a young wan I was there, summer of ‘92
Blisters, bad back, I experienced it with you
You welcomed me in, I was one of the crew
Bog dust, bog frogs, I knew them well
When the rain swept across, it might have been Hell
But you carried on, so I did too
I wouldn’t be beaten, I was as good as you
The laughter we shared, the bad jokes we told
Then on with our work, digging for gold
And at the end of each summer’s day
We’d wend our way home, counting our pay
Never doubting we’d do it again
The next day

The Temporary

Yesterday I picket up my pocket camera and headed off for a nice easy run. This particular spot in the south-west corner of the island has always fascinated me. It’s on the Railway Walk, the course of the railway which ceased to operate in 1935.

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The track to the left was the 1885 original, running over to the quarry at La Moye, now used by the Jersey Waterworks Company.

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In 1899 the extension to the Corbière Pavilion was laid – this heads off to the right and this is the how the old Corbière station looks today.

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That rock in the foreground is the Table des Marthes, Neolithic, but little else about it is known.

Returning to the top picture, after the extension was laid the left branch was abandoned, but for a while there existed a temporary request halt right at the spot where the bench stands. It was named The Temporary.

The Last Time?

Somewhere in space floats a piece I wrote many years ago. It mused away upon the subject of knowing when one has attained his/her peak. My best example was the Cuban high-jumper Javier Sotomayor. In 1993, in Salamanca, Spain, Sotomayor broke the world high-jump record, setting a new mark of 2.45m (8ft ½in for you ‘Muricans). Here he is, 27 years ago.

That record still stands. No one has seriously threatened it.

My question is, as the bar wobbled and settled, the crowd erupting, did Sotomayor know, in his heart, that he had reached the limit of his powers? Or did he believe that the next day, or the next week, he would break the record again?

Sir Roger Bannister ran 3:59.4 for the mile in 1954, breaking the mythical 4-minute mile barrier. A few months later he ran even faster, then decided to retire to concentrate on medicine. I’m sure he knew he could never again equal those times.

And so, after running a lousy 58.34 for 10k last Sunday, should I do a Bannister and pack in the running? Or at least the racing? Having just turned 67, and with a dodgy knee, I’m not going to improve by much. Another marathon is way out of my reach, and I’m beginning to think a half-marathon might be as well.

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Arm action needs attention

I’ve had a good 16 years at it, having started aged 50. I was never a natural runner but I like to think I at least attained ‘respectability’ as regards race times. Three marathon finishes, maybe 20 half-marathons, innumerable shorter races. I’ve loved race days, pinning on a number, chatting with like-minded souls before, during and after races.
Taking up running certainly saved me from sliding into an unhealthy, overweight mid-life. Time to pack it in though. Just go out for enjoyable little spins with the Jersey Joggers. Forget racing.new shoes

Nope. I’m not finishing on a lousy 58.34. These new babies, £120 worth, will soon have me flying again 👍 😃

Bray Beach by Gerard Byrne

A rare re-blog from me, deserves a wider audience.

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My god, you gotta love Bray beach. In the summertime that is. January is a whole different kettle of fish. Icy wind that could cut you through like a sharp knife to butter and lashings of rain to match it as well. I’m not here by choice or by chance. Nowhere left in the town to sleep. All the best spots have been taken. All the good temporary bedding from the large supermarket bins has been took. So all I have left to fall back on tonight was my trusty rain proof sheet. But forty five minutes ago, my cover was blown off by what I could only describe as a mini hurricane which seemed to search me out at the back of the public toilets. Nothing fucking public about them. Shouldn’t be locked at night if they’re for the public. And that’s what I am. Maybe not like most…

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Dust Off the Gunboats

The United Kingdom leaves the European Union tonight. Us oldies remember the EU as the Common Market which the UK joined in 1973 after years of General de Gaulle saying ‘Non’.

Here in Jersey (Channel Islands) we had no say in the 2016 referendum in which a narrow majority of the UK population voted – unexpectedly – to leave the EU. With only a basic knowledge of the issues involved I too would have voted in favour of leaving. Everything that has happened since has only confirmed that gut instinct.

Of course the arguments on either side didn’t cease on the announcement of the referendum result. There have been repeated calls for a second referendum so that the ‘correct’ result could be achieved, once people had come to their senses and realised the implications of what they had done. Quite rightly (in my view) those calls were batted away. Ireland has a history of repeating referenda in slightly different forms until the desired outcome is achieved. In 2013, Jersey held a referendum concerning electoral reform. The result was ignored. The UK upheld the principle of going to the people.

I think that the issue of immigration perhaps tipped the balance in 2016. There were scare stories at the time that might have had some running for cover. But the UK has always struck a good balance in this regard, better than most jurisdictions. And it will continue to do so outside of the EU.

But my hypothetical vote would have been cast mainly on the concept of sovereignty. The EU has more or less swallowed up the UK in this regard. Even though we have had a seat at the table it is France and Germany who have wielded the power. 900 years of Anglo-French wars and two catastrophic world wars with Germany have never augured well for future accords. But no one seriously thinks that world security and the likes of NATO, will be endangered. Neither will the many cross-border protocols, such as those for the sharing of vital security information. It is in the interests of all parties that they be maintained.

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Send a gunboat

Post referendum, much of the concern has been about trade deals, tariffs etc. My inexpert view is that there will indeed be teething problems, hardship, stress for those who trade cross-border. But history has shown that markets sort themselves out pretty quickly, and this will be the case once more.

Interesting how the Scottish nationalists now see a window of opportunity to further their ambition to secede from the UK. A greater concern is the island of Ireland, part in and part out of the EU. How that is handled trade-wise and security-wise will need wise heads.

So, Remainer or Leaver, it’s all done now. I’m an optimist. How about you?