Cork navy officer: 'I have a family on my ship and one at home'

Corkman Lt Cdr Sean Linehan tells LINDA KENNY about being made captain of his own ship and celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Irish Naval Service this year, and about the sacrifices he’s had to make
Cork navy officer: 'I have a family on my ship and one at home'

Lt Cdr. Sean Linehan in front of his ship, the L.É Samuel Beckett, with his wife Carol and their sons, Gearoid, Eoin, and Paudie.

FOR Corkman, Lt Cdr. Sean Linehan, September 4 last was an indescribable moment of pride for him.

Standing on the bridge of the L.É Samuel Beckett, the ship he has captained since April, and the leading vessel in a flotilla of four naval ships to travel into the port of Cork as part of the recent 75th anniversary celebrations of the Irish Naval Service, Sean felt a sense of surreality at it all.

“I was standing beside the Taoiseach, the Minister for Defence, the Lord Mayor of Cork (all fellow Corkonians), the Chief of Staff, and other dignitaries, and we received a guard of honour from the local frontline workers and local blue light services as we entered the port, and a fly-past by the Air Corps.

“Being from Cork, and with my own ship twinned with Cork, leading the Parade of Sail into the Port of Cork was a very special moment for me,” says Sean.

“But, to see my wife Carol on the quayside and my boys who were bouncing up and down with excitement and shouting ‘Daddy! Daddy’, was a real lump-in-the-throat memory,” he adds.

The job requires a lot of time away from the family.

“We couldn’t do what we do at sea without the support of our families,” explains Sean. 

“When you are posted to a ship, you go away for four weeks at a time, and return to Haulbowline for a further two weeks where the crew would carry out routine maintenance.

“We might have an occasional Guardship Weekend where you return to base to refuel, re-stock rationings, and change the crew. However, generally, our routine schedule would be four weeks at sea, two at home.”

Lt Cdr. Sean Linehan.
Lt Cdr. Sean Linehan.

While the 75th celebrations were a huge milestone for the Irish Naval Service, for the hardworking and dedicated men and women who make up its backbone, it was a moment of huge joy and pride, hearing their families cheering them on. “It underlined to them the importance of what they do”, adds Sean.

“Being away from family and friends for long periods of time can be tough and even more challenging is fitting in with established family routines, like school runs and GAA training, when you are on land. Carol has carried a lot of that load in our house.

“The naval service becomes our second family and you develop very close bonds with people at work. It is truly like a home away from home. 

"So, it was fantastic to be able to bring our families on board the ships to let them see where their loved ones worked and to give them an appreciation what they do.”

Originally from Douglas, Sean joined the navy in 2002, at 19, and celebrated 19 years of service last month.

“When I finished school, I wanted something different, more challenging,” recalls Sean.

“The Naval Service trains you to be a leader but also a team player, to make decisions on your own, and to use your initiative. I have learned so much about myself too down through the years.”

“I enlisted as a cadet and became a commissioned officer in 2004. After completing my degree in Nautical Science in the National Maritime College and passing my Naval Watchkeeping course, I took on my first posting at sea in 2008. This is my fourth rotation to sea.”

“When you qualify, you are expected to be responsible for a department, for their training, career progression and development. I was 25 or 26 and put in a management position.

“When you are at sea, not only are you carrying out routine work like patrolling the activity in the seas, you are also preparing and training for all eventualities on board the ship like fire-fighting, damage control, mechanical failure, etc. Everyone from the captain down takes part in these exercises and each has a role to play.

“You could be in the middle of a training exercise and get tasked to assist in a rescue operation of a vessel in distress, or tasked with covertly shadowing a vessel of interest.

“Our extensive training prepares us to easily adapt to unexpected situations, to be very resourceful and to think outside the box. We are encouraged to think we can achieve anything we put our minds to, that nothing is impossible”.

In April, Sean got his first captaincy and took command of the L.É Samuel Beckett.

“It was a moment of huge personal pride for me and all my extended family,” Sean says.

The Naval Service is the State’s principal seagoing agency and maintains a constant presence 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, patrolling the 833,000 square kilometres of the Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ-one, a rich maritime jurisdiction, 10 times the landmass of Ireland and the largest area to be patrolled in Europe.

It also conducts a number of other non-fishery related tasks such as search and rescue, diving operations, humanitarian relief, and work combating the drugs trade.

In 2017, Lt Cdr Linehan was part of Operation Pontus, a bilateral agreement between Italy and Ireland to provide humanitarian assistance to hundreds of refugees off the coast of Libia.

“I remember us coming across about 150 people crammed together on an inflatable platform which had been originally designed to take 40-50 people, maximum.”

“We carried out a lot of operations in three months and assisted in the rescue of approximately 900-1,000 on our ship alone.”

“Unfortunately, there were casualties too. People fell overboard. Your heart went out to see the stress of these refugees and their children, who were the same age as my lads.

“For them to have to resort to such extremes, to be willing to put themselves and their children in such danger, you realised something bad must have been worth fleeing from.”

“I was responsible for embarkation, getting migrants safely on board our ship the W.B Yeats, and ensuring they got medical assistance until we disembarked them in Italy.”

“We are well trained to curb our emotions in times like this, to come across with calm and reassurance. We learn to identify with calmness what is in front of us and tailor our reactions accordingly.”

“Naturally, when you see loss of life, you can’t help thinking of your own kids and feel so fortunate for the life we have here.”

There are strong bonds that exist across all frontline services. And in the past 18 months, the naval service has also played a vital role alongside the HSE in Covid test centres in Galway, Cork and Dublin.

“We provided people from ships to assist in a variety of roles from admin in the tents, initially, to being trained in Covid testing itself,” says Sean.

What a role model Lt Cdr. Sean Linehan is for his three young boys, Gearoid 7, Eoin 4, and Paudie 18 months. He embodies the naval philosophy that nothing is impossible.

The Naval Service is currently recruiting. If you are interested in applying, please go to www.navy.ie.

For specific enquiries about recruitment in the naval service, email navy.recruitment@defenceforces.ie

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