"Waiting on the Shore" Sculpture Revealed

By Patricia McElhone

Sligo Champion, August 14, 2002

Last Saturday, August 10th. 2002 marked a very special occasion for Rosses Point when the sculpture "Waiting on Shore" was officially unveiled by Capt. Frank Devaney and Mrs. Myra Bruen-Curley.

The ceremony was held in brilliant sunshine and was attended by hundreds of people, some of whom had travelled long distances to be there. Special guests included Bishop Christopher Jones, Monsignor Gerard Dolan, Reverend David Griscome, Mr. Padraig Branly, Chairman of Sligo County Council and Garda Superintendents Jim Sheridan and John Fitzgerald.

The sculpture, commanding a superb view of Sligo Bay, Coney and Oyster Islands and Knocknarea, stands as a memorial to all those men from the Rosses Point parish and the Sligo community who have lost their lives at sea, whilst also honouring the village women who watched and waited for the return of their men. The figure also epitomises the qualities of a past generation of Rosses Point women and thanks to the vision and sensitivity of the sculptor, Niall Bruton, captures exactly the character of these women.

In years past, many of the Rosses Point men went to sea – it was their life and livelihood. Fathers and uncles already at sea, found jobs for sons and nephews. Young lads from 14 years of age joined ships in the Merchant Navy to sail the seas, learn their trade and bring money home. Lads who were on the threshold of life, proud to be counted among the strong men of the village, suffered homesickness, sea-sickness, cold, wet, heat and hard work, but remained firmly set on a way of life that would always be as unpredictable, as cruel, as exciting and ultimately as hypnotic as the sea itself. The men sailed away and left mothers, wives, sisters and daughters, who in their turn and in their way, became victims of the sea.

Lives were marked by leavings and homecomings. Leavings were lonesome – home comings were celebration and in between was the waiting. Storms at sea, delays in ports and poor communication left these women always waiting.

Some older Rosses Point women were legendary. Among them, Mrs. Capt. Michael Gillen who sailed with her husband on voyages to South Africa, Calcutta and Boston – through the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. Aunt Delia McGowan also sailed round the world with her husband while Maggie Gillen rowed with her father to light the perches on the channel. These perches were 15’ high and had to be trimmed, re-fuelled and lit every day in all kinds of weather.

In 1974 Maureen Devaney joined Ocean Fleets as the first female midshipman ever to sail, travelled to West Africa and the Far East during her training: studied and worked on company ships to eventually get her Mate’s Certificate and come ashore to marry. Maureen’s achievements by any standards were impressive but to challenge male supremacy in this exclusively male profession of 30 years ago, was to encounter many difficulties along the way – to blaze a trail and bring honour and distinction to her Rosses Point forebears.

War took a terrible toll on the merchant ships which sailed in convoy. Those lost were seldom recovered, so that instead of waiting, women mourned – children wept. Every wave of the sea lapping round Sligo Bay would be a reminder that somewhere in the deep, restless oceans, loved ones had perished.

And so this woman "Waiting on Shore" lifts her face in anguish, too deep for words. Her hands, strong and suppliant, express a hope that is almost defiant – as if to say "Look and see – surely love and sorrow like mine must pierce the heavens". Her feet, firmly planted, like a sturdy tree, will keep her steady, rooted - will keep her going for what ever lies ahead. In this figure there is grace and pride.

Today in Rosses Point, the spirit and courage of Rosses Point men and women lives on in those who continue to go to sea. There will always be boats – trawlers, fishing boats, yachts and small boats. Young people will learn to sail – the sea continues to work its magic.

But it would be a sad day that old times would be forgotten. And so now we have this sculpture in all its symbolic truth and tragedy in this most beautiful setting, facing out to sea, embracing Coney Island, Oyster, the Metal Man, Sligo Bay – which will stand as a memorial to all those in the Rosses Point and Sligo community who ever have, who now do, and who will yet sail the seas.

May God grant them peace - and safe harbour.