The boat on the quay is part of the landscape of Beara—and not always on the quay, but sometimes upturned beside boreens and in fields. It is a reminder, not merely of the sea (for that is almost always within view) but of the dependence of so many Beara folk upon the maritime economy over the centuries. There are boats of all kinds: tankers and deep-sea transports, high-technology trawlers, small tall-prowed fishing-boats, and the fast launches and cruisers of those with money and leisure. But the seaward idiom is best represented by the myriad smaller craft in which so many of the population ply their trade with lobsters, or mussels, or crabs.
Ply part of their trade: for few make a living from the sea, and fewer still of those who use the small inshore boats. Ask any of these fisherman, and he will tell you (with a diatribe on those who govern the fishing industry) that he also keeps cattle, or drives a bus, or trades as a carpenter, or hires himself out with his digger, or works part of the year in Cork or Dublin or Liverpool—or a permutation of these. The fishing is only part of a sometimes complex personal economy.
So the boat on the quay—not yet redundant, but not moored and ready for the next tide—is a metaphor for Beara’s use of the sea. The kitted-out boats, bobbing by the tiny quays and jetties, are evidence of an optimistic activity, with the promise of the fishermen returning today or tomorrow; the broken hulks at anchor, or beached, or small boats rotting their timbers at the head of a creek or in patches of rough grazing a cable’s-length from the shore, are symptoms of abandonment, if not despair. But this boat is ambivalent, as is Beara; it is not yet certain that the future lies in taking out the little boats for a little harvest, but it is also not yet clear that the way of life is wholly redundant.
It would not be the first time that Beara, and other parts of the west coast, have turned partly away from the sea. In times of famine, in the terrible 1840s, observers noted that fishing was not being used to alleviate the deficiencies of the potato crop, because many of the folk who both fished and grew crops had perforce sold or pawned their fishing gear, and their precious boats, to buy food for survival (there was never a famine for those with money). That was an urgent abandonment under intolerable duress; today the abandonment, even if partial or temporary, is one of attrition.