THE GIFT OF LIFE: FREEDOM!
What better gift to give to any one or any creature than the gift of life. And this is what we saw on Sunday last on the Bull Island in Dublin when Bran finally set off after 6 months of rehabilitation at the Irish Seal Sanctuary. The following account is seen through the eyes of one of the members of the Sanctuary:
The car is packed up from the night before, it's 11.00 am and time to head off to the Bull Island, about 40 minutes drive away. The 'grey matter' is working overtime - will it rain? (forecast says 'possible' showers - in other words they don't know), is everything packed?, have we forgotten to tell anybody?, will people turn up on the day!
11:45 am and we cross the causeway and drive slowly up to the Interpretive Centre. One car outside and some commotion beside it. Recognise one of the faces, Derek Davies from RTE. He and his film crew are the first to arrive and manage to lock their keys in the car. Is this some kind of omen for the day? The keys are quickly rescued and their equiptment retrieved and set up. Gradually a few more people arrive. 12.30 pm and John Creedon arrives. By 1:00 pm about 500 people have arrived. It's time to begin. The sun is shining. A quick prayer that all goes well.
Address the crowd. Tell them a little about the Seal Sanctuary. Ask them, no beg them, to donate a few quid. This is what keeps our head above water, if you pardon the pun. Introduce a few people to speak; Willie Soffe (Fingal Co. Manager, who tells the crowd that he is donating a coastal site to the Sanctuary), John Creedon (who tells of his train journey that morning from Cork and the wildlife he saw on the way), Adi Roche (who has brought along 20 Chernobyl children) Eamonn Hewitt from StenaLine (who has provided the sponsorship for Bran's satellite tag), Shane O'Dea (who rescued the seal) and finally Don Conroy (who every kid in the place wanted to hear).
1:30 pm exactly and its time to make our way down the beach to the release site. Eugene, Kevin and David are already there staking off the site. The crowd has grown to well over 2,000 at this stage. A huge line of people all walking in the same direction along the beach. The walk will take 40 minutes. What a site! The mobile phone rings. Derek Mooney ("Mooney Goes Wild on One") is live on RTE Radio One. We do a quick interview as we walk along. The phone line breaks up, but he promises to get back to us before he goes off air. 2:15 pm and we arrive at the release site. The lads have done a great job staking it off. Only problem however, is that the tide is going out fast. Where is Brendan and the seal? Panic sets in. Don is called into action again to entertain the crowd. Frantic calls on the mobile to locate Brendan. Suddenly they appear around the headland and the mobile phone rings again. Live on air again with Derek as the seal arrives. A huge cheer.
We have a big problem now. The tide has retreated 500 yards. There is no way the seal can walk that far to the water. A quick discussion. A small channel of water is all that's left. The channel leads to the sea. We have to be quick. No time for any more speeches. The children from Chernobyl are let in to see the seal. Cameras rolling. Celebrities in place. Countdown begins; 10, 9, 8, ..., zero!!
The box is opened. The children step back. Bran emerges, smells the salt water, and is off across the wet sand. A collective "Aaah" from the crowd. Unlike other seals, Bran has a small device attached to his head. This is a small satellite tag which has been fitted by Bob Cooper of the New England Aquarium. High tech equipment (transmittor) which will send back messages reporting on his progress at sea along with a multitude of scientific data.
Quickly Bran makes it to the channel. Brendan, Bob and Emma direct Bran to the open body of water. A lone adult seal watches from a sandbar half a mile away bemused by it all. In no time Bran hits open water and off he goes.
The crowd slowly begin to disperse. Lots of old friends come up to offer congratulations. Storm clouds start rolling in. Wet weather ahead. 2 mile walk still ahead back to the cars. This time facing into the wind. The rain starts. Torrential rain and it lasts till we arrive back at the cars. Nothing can dampen our spirits now. Its days like this which keep us going through the long cold wet months of the winter. A quick change of clothes and back to the Interpretive Centre for a warm cup of tea courtesy of Pat Corrigan. Where would we be without supporters like Pat and everyone else.
Pack up everything into the car again. A small child comes up just as we are leaving. "Will Bran be back tomorrow?" he asks, eyes wide open. The innocence of it all. Long may it last!