This month next sees the launch of a new book that gives a vivid and fascinating first-hand account of Ireland’s worst ever maritime disaster when 50 people lost their lives in the early morning of January 8, 1979, after a fire broke out aboard the Betelgeuse, a French-owned oil tanker, at the Gulf Oil Terminal in Bantry Bay. The fire small at first but then spread rapidly to erupt into a massive fireball accompanied by an explosion that cast debris far and wide and reverberated as far as 50 miles away throughout West Cork.
Living with the Whiddy Disaster has been written by Brian McGee who is the last surviving member of the Gulf Oil crew on Whiddy Island on that fateful night. With other colleagues he put his life at risk fighting non-stop through the night to prevent the inferno spreading to the 12 oil tanks on the island, which would have had disastrous consequences for the town of Bantry. His bravery and that of his co-workers was recognised at the time and remarked upon in the subsequent Tribunal of Inquiry set up by the government.
Although Brian had his life spared that night, unlike seven other Gulf employees and the crew of the Betelgeuse, the disaster took its toll by sending him into a mental hell that he would have to endure for many years, bringing him close on a number of occasions to suicide. He tells the tale of his recovery after a long battle and how he found the solution in a new-found spirituality and a rediscovery of his faith.
He also criticises strongly the findings of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the disaster, which he believes were unjust in their treatment of one particular individual and consequently diverted attention away from those who were really to blame.
Living with the Whiddy Disaster will be launched by Dr Denis Cotter at the West Lodge Hotel, Bantry, at 8pm on Friday, November 28. All are welcome.
The book will be available for sale at a price of €9.99 in newsagents and bookshops throughout West Cork. For more information, please call 086 8778393.