Country diary: Dalkey, Ireland

Graham Long visits Dalkey harbour and gazes at seals fishing in the waters along with the fishermen

Dalkey's tiny Bullock harbour has been a fishing centre since the middle ages. With the annual blessing of the boats only a few days away, a group of men was hard at work on one hauled up on the quay. A few metres behind them two grey seals fished among the rocks. They surfaced every few seconds to gather breath before plunging again to work their way along the outcrop's base. As they nosed down between the boulders, their pale grey flippers broke the surface like hands held together in prayer. After a time, one came up with a fish in its mouth. It threw it into the air but grabbed it again the moment it hit the water, much too quickly for hovering gulls to snatch a meal.

There are two species of seal around the Irish coast. The common seals have friendly faces that, with their speckled coats, could make them marine teddy bears – especially the pups. They seem to offer a personal relationship that the blotchily spotted grey do not. These have a haughty face and rather look down their noses. There were several around the harbour during the blessing. Inquisitive by nature, one held itself head and shoulders out of the water to study the crowds.

The RNLI lifeboat Anna Livia came in from Dun Laoghaire for this important event. With the traditional king of Dalkey, sovereign of the illustrious order of the lobster and periwinkle, in attendance, the service included prayers for all seafarers. This year, it also provided an opportunity to mark the retirement of coxswain Ken Robertson after 25 years' service and countless rescues. Those on the quayside knew just how much is owed to our lifeboatmen and were glad to brave the squalls to show their appreciation.

Contributor

Graham Long

The GuardianTramp

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