Wednesday, January 3, 2024

To boldly go - the poetry of Captain Quirke


From Beam 12.1

I kind of like that poem, conjuring up an image of a lightship captain leaning on the handrail and gazing out onto a perfectly calm ocean. Not to mention the ambiguous last line - is it the crew of the vessel he is talking about, or the drowned mariners of yesteryear? And it appeals to my sense of symmetry, with the lines beginning A, A, A and And.
The Quirkes, like many lightshipmen, were from the Faythe and Parnell Street in Wexford (the Grandad in me is dying to say they were Quirkes of Faythe) but their naissance in the wonderful world of engineless boats seems to have started with a Gaul. 
Philip Quirke was a carpenter / joiner in Wexford in the late 1800s and his children included Mary, John, Barnaby and Peter. It was Mary who started the ball rolling, marrying one Richard Gaul in 1898. He was a seaman aboard a 'floating light,' the Lucifer lightship, in 1911. John also worked on the lightships though on a more temporary nature, filling in for absent or ill crew members as the need arose. He had spent most of his working life serving on ocean-going vessels. In fact, at the outbreak of the First World War, he had found himself on a vessel in a German port and ended up being interred in a prisoner-of-war camp for four years. He died aboard the Lucifer LV in 1933.
Barnaby Quirke joined the service in 1907 and served on many, if not all the lightships. He became Mate in 1927 and Master in 1933, finally retiring in June 1942. It wasn't to be a long retirement, for he died six weeks later at his home in Kilmore Quay.
(There were two later Quirkes, James and John, who joined the service. They may well have been Barnaby's sons but I stand open to correction on that one.)
The final sibling, Peter, took over from his father Philip in the carpentry business but his son, Bernard, born in 1904, joined the lightships in 1929, becoming Mate in 1940 and later Master. He served at Barrels, Blackwater, Skulmartin and Codling during his long career of lightshipping and poeticising. 
Captain Quirke, I am aggrieved to say, probably never had a first mate called Spock. 

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