“STEADY AS SHE GOES” – an un-put-downable masterpiece, reviewed by Donal Kennedy


“Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been to sea” –
Samuel Johnson.

I was merely a Summer Soldier or a Summer Patriot, unlike the frozen sans-culottes of Washington’s Continental Arm  army at Valley Forge rallied by Tom Paine’s pamphlet “The Crisis” at “the times that
tried men’s souls.”

My adventures with the part-time, Second Line Reserve of Oglaigh na hEireann took me no further into danger than the stews of Kilkenny and the fleshpots of Skerries and the Holy Ground behind
Cobh (when I was at Summer Camp in Spike Island). And I had never been to sea beyond Ireland’s Eye, one mile, or twenty minutes on the oars from Howth Harbour, before I first crossed the Irish Sea
at the age of twenty two in 1964.

By that time I had manned a desk at Aston Quay, by Dublin’s O’Connell Bridge, in the Headquarters of IRISH SHIPPING LIMITED, the State Owned operator of Ireland’s Merchant Marine,

By chance in my local Red Cross Bookshop I discovered “STEADY AS SHE GOES”  described as “A true-life story of coming of age in the 1950s Irish merchant navy, with adventure, romance and
heartbreak.”

I bought it out of curiosity. Its author, Waterford -Born John Molloy, was only two years older than myself and had signed up as a Deck-Apprentice in 1957 and after four years, at 21, had served his Apprenticeship and qualified as a Third Mate, two months before I joined the desk in Aston Quay.

His memoir ends there, and by then he had lived a life more eventful than most civilian landlubbers could hope to enjoy or fear to endure, if they lived ten thousand years.
 
He first served on THE IRISH CEDAR and changed to the newly built IRISH ASH in London in April 1959 and remained for 124 000 miles until signed off at Southampton in January 1961, The vessel took up
cargoes where offered and unloaded them as they were required like a global taxi service. The cargoes might be 11,000 tons of grain, or coal, bauxite (aluminium ore) anywhere in the world. It involved hard work, including physical and brain power, months at sea, interspersed with short and hard play in port. As an apprentice he sometimes took the wheel in hurricanes, typhoons, and tidal waves which could last days in which other ships and smaller boats, with their crews, perished. On one occasion his ship rescued a Japanese seaman had survived for thirty hours in the sea. Finding the area where he had fallen required precise navigation and skilful handling
in heavy seas. This landlubber had never handled  anything bigger than a pushbike by the age of 21.

The story goes at a cracking pace and I could not put the (521 page) book down, never knowing what I’d find in the next paragraph. The vessel was chartered for a while by a Japanese company trading from Singapore to Borneo to Australia and back to Japan. Hard work, hijinks, low-jinks, jokes, rough-house and gentleness and a long romance with a poignant ending make this a book to savour.

A WARNING TO PEDANTS-

There are a few, recurring  misspellings,  and sometimes words are slightly misused. For instance,
“spiritualism” is used where “spirituality” is meant and plurals have superfluous apostrophes, eg “plural’s.”

“ARE THESE SINS, FATHER?”  –

As the youth asked in the Confessional, about close encounters with girls, “If they weren’t, we’d all be at it, son” said the priest.

They are easily forgivable sins from such a storyteller.

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