Michael Cavanagh: The singing skipper

The sea and music have been the two big passions of Michael Cavanagh’s life. The trawler skipper has combined the two in a DVD ‘My Work and My Music’.

The sea and music have been the two big passions of Michael Cavanagh’s life. The trawler skipper has combined the two in a DVD ‘My Work and My Music’.

The DVD has proved a huge success for the Greencastle man who skippers his trawler, Father McKee - a 45,000 tonne vessel, out of Killybegs.

He has sold almost all of the 800 DVDs that he produced and has donated the 2,500 euro raised to the to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin.

He has sold many of the DVDS in Donegal, but he raised 5,000 euro from the Faroe Islands where he is a regular visitor though his work and also raised €1,000 from two companies in Denmark who bought DVDs and 1,000 from a company in Norway.

The DVD features songs that Michael has written himself. He has loved music all his life and has a passion for gospel and country music.

The film also gives an insight into life on a modern trawler and allows viewers to get a glimpse of what life is like at sea for a modern trawler crew on a typical fishing trip.

The Faroe Islands feature strongly in the DVD and Michael has developed a strong affinity for the islands and its population of 48,000 people.

He has been going to the Faroes since 1996 and now visits regularly to sell fish for fish meal.

“I have met a lot of people there. The people love their music. I am treated like royalty there. As soon the boats lands I am gone - there is somewhere to meet me and I am brought for dinner or lunch.” There is a wide mixture of religion there, he says, which add to the musical scene including Plymouth Berthern, Lutherans, Baptists. “They are very, very much into their music. There are more musicians per capita than anywhere else that I am aware of.”

During his visits there he has struck up friendships with a group of musicians who perform gospel music every Thursday night. He says he has been very impressed with the standard of musicianship on the island. “There are more musicians per person there than any where else I have been,” he said.

Many of the songs have been influenced by events in his life , he says. One of the songs, ‘ We are Irish Fishermen’ deals with the issues facing the fishing industry while another deals with his arrest under an investigation into claims of fraud by individuals involve din the industry in Killybegs in 2004.

The film shows the two aspects of his life, he says. “Some know me as a fisherman, some know me as someone who plays gospel music in church. I love singing. It’s something I have always done. I love gospel and country gospel. There is no such thing as bad music - just different tastes. Anything I have made from singing I have given away.”

Speaking to the Donegal Democrat, by phone, while skippering the Father McKee north of the Isle of Lewis, he said he was pleased with the reaction to the DVD and delighted with how much it raised. As well as selling almost 800 copies he received a host of letters and cards from people who bought the DVD. “I got cards and letters from people who said they enjoyed it. So if they are happy enough to put that in print there is no reason not to be happy with how it turned out. I’m not a professional entertainer but Its harder to sell if you are not a professional entertainer. I was quite happy that I did what I did.” His music has also been played on Highland Radio in recent years and sales from a CD also raised around 15,000 euro. In total he has raised around 35,000 euro in recent years for charities including the RNLI, the Donegal Hospice, the Foyle Hospice and the coastguard service in Donegal.

He paid for the recording of the songs and the production costs of the DVD himself to maximise how much he would raise for charity. He is very grateful to all those who stocked and sold the DVD as well as everyone who purchased them.

He does not play his music live much but has performed regularly at the blessing of the fleet in Killybegs.

Michael has been in the fishing business for over 40 years. After three years in the merchant navy he started his own business. Now 63, he still enjoys the work. “I love the sea and if I did not enjoy it I would not be doing it.”

The businesses has changed so much in those 40 years. Technology has made a huge difference, illustrated by the fact that he is talking while he is 270 miles out at sea. “You couldn’t do that a few years ago. That was not the case when I started. There was very little connection with home and you were away for a few weeks. It’s much easier now and the boats are very comfortable. Everyone has their own cabin and it is a totally different environment to what it was 40 years ago. It is safer now too. The boats are higher out of the water. It took a lot of hard work over the years to get to this stage.”

The weather has changed over the years as well and higher winds are experienced more frequently than 20 years ago. “Just because the boast are safer it does not mean you can take more risks. You still have to be aware that the sea is the master. And the conditions can change in a very short time. When you are looking down from a satellite you are just a dot.”

He says the changes over the years have occurred without much help from the authorities. “It was pure determination. There has been no financial backup from anyone.”

The other changes that have come have been the quota system and the administration involved. “The amount of paperwork involved is unbelievable. If I was a farmer we would get a couple of weeks notice before an inspection. We are inspected every time we land.”

The sea has been an important part of his life for over 40 years and he is able to combine the two aspects of his life well, music and fishing, he says. “Being at sea is a good place to write songs and meditate.”

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