Written by Gene Cahill
Photos by Gene Cahill, Dee Mac, Fabian Murphy
“All shadows of clouds the sun cannot hide
like the moon cannot stop oceanic tide;
but a hidden star can still be smiling
at night’s black spell on darkness, beguiling”
At 3.45am on Saturday morning 6th May, the stillness and darkness of night was punctured by laughter and small light beams on the slipway of Shandon Boat Club along Cork City’s marina. Kayaks were unloaded from cars and vans and 2 large currachs belonging to Naomhóga Chorcaí were lifted from their inverted hold along the river banks and made ready for a trip up the River Lee. A few miles away, on the grounds of University College Cork, almost 20,000 people were gathering to walk 5km around some of the outskirts of Cork City. They would be joined, in spirit by over 150,000 people in 150 over 4 continents who were walking from Darkness into Light in aid of Pieta House – a charity which provides help and treatment for those at risk of suicide and self harm. According to Pieta House, the worldwide Darkness Into Light event “is vital for our fundraising, for raising awareness and for bringing people together as we do everything we can to bring about a suicide-free world.”
I was part of a group who decided to kayak up Cork City’s River Lee, paddling from Darkness into Light. We were joined by 8 rowers from Naomhóga Chorcaí who would crew two Currachs and row alongside us. We departed the slipway at 4.15am, the same time as the walkers departed UCC. Our plan was to paddle and row up the Lee and meet with the walkers as they emerged onto Distillery Walk. Our kayaks were lined with all manner of decorative lights, some obviously taken out of the Christmas decoration box! With head torches also shining, we cut a strange sight as nine kayaks and two currachs made their way down the Lee and into the City. A small and lit flotilla of water craft softly breaking through the darkness as night began to fade. The nearby roads were relatively quiet with only the odd taxi or street cleaning vehicle visible on the roads. On our approach to the Port of Cork, where the Lee splits into two channels, we noticed a slowing taxi along the quays with the driver looking down on us, at what I imagine was an unusual sight for him/her to see at this time of the morning. It was still dark as we made our way slowly down the North Channel. The city, for the most part, was still sleeping and there was a stillness and quiet aura blanketing Cork that cannot be experienced in daylight hours.
As we paddled under North Gate Bridge, one of the original gateways to the old city of Cork, we could see masses of people, many wearing the yellow Pieta House t-shirts, walking down Sunday’s Well and onto Distillery Walk along the banks of the River Lee. It was a moving sight to see such numbers, walking casually but purposefully. Our kayaks and currachs gave us a distant, objective view of the power of what Darkness Into Light really represents. Over 20,000 people in Cork City made a deliberate effort to get up in the early hours of the morning and walk to raise funds and awareness for a very worthy cause. There was a strength and power in the numbers I saw that filled me with hope and admiration. People care and were prepared to come together to show they care. To stand and walk in solidarity with people whose lives are too often frequented with darkness. This mass movement of people, by our very presence, were shining a light on a terrible darkness that everyone knows is there but is too often ignored, sidelined or dismissed.
By 5am, our flotilla of kayaks and currachs were about a hundred yards from Lawrence’s Bridge at the start of Distillery Walk when a number of walkers noticed the lights slowly moving down the River Lee. Some of them stopped and looked over the rails to see who or what was approaching. As we exchanged salutations – walkers meating kayakers and rowers, all out for the same cause – a large round of spontaneous applause broke out that sent shivers up the spine. It was a magical moment of togetherness that is impossible to put into words. As the walkers walked, and the kayakers paddled and the currach crews rowed, greetings and banter passed back and forth from the banks to the river. Again the sheer power and numbers of the walkers hit me. Male and female. Young and old. Children, parents, grandparents. Married couples and dating couples. Single people and widowed. Students, workers and the unemployed. The fit and the not so fit. Diverse. United. Powerful. E pluribus unum – From many one.
We accompanied the walkers along the River for a few hundred yards until they crossed the Harland and Wolff Mardyke pedestrian bridge and made their way along Mardyke Walk. We rafted our kayaks up just beyond the bridge and took a few photos of this demonstartion of people power. We exchanged greetings, encouragement and jokes with the pedestrians as they walked above us. The currachs circled, their crews joining in the moment. And as the last of the walkers crossed the bridge, there was silence and stillness once more. The sun had not yet risen, but the darkness was slowly fading as light began breaking through. In that quiet moment of reflection, the words of Dean Koontz from his novel Lightning seemed so apt: “In tragedy and despair, when an endless night seems to have fallen, hope can be found in the realization that the companion of night is not another night, that the companion of night is day, that darkness always gives way to light, and that death rules only half of creation, life the other half.”
It was now time for us to paddle and row back to the Marina. The first rays of the new rising sun were now beginning to shine through the darkness on our return. We were accompanied on our journey back by a magical rendition of the dawn chorus by our city’s birdlife. It was the perfect end to a most perfect early morning. When we reached the slipway of Shandon boatclub at 6am, we thanked each other and bade farewell. Some of us went back to bed, some of us went to work, others went home to their families. Separate and disparate lives, but united in a common cause that morning.
In the early morning of 6th May 2017 in Cork City, thousands walked, nine people kayaked and eight people rowed. From Darkness into Light. Those of us who were there, know and understand the words of Turkish author and playwright Mehmet Murat Ildan: “Darkness is a great opportunity to discover the divine face of the light.”
Kayakers: Gene Cahill, Tracey Coughlan, Nigel Ducker, Gerry Geaney, Liam Geaney, Tom Mahon, Michael McNamara, Fabian Murphy, Kate O’Neill
Currach Crew: Jimmy Austin, Marie Hassett, Kate Magner, Rose Magner, Martin O’Donoghue, Jack O’Keeffe, Ed O’Leary, Suzanne O’Sullivan
Author’s note: Thank you to my fellow kayakers, the crews of Naomhóga Chorcaí and the 20,000 walkers in enabling me to be part of a most worthy cause and most enjoyable experience.