Sunday 30th May 2021 dawned bright and breezy, a perfect day for my rescheduled fundraising walk to Dunmore East on behalf of the local RNLI lifeboat. The plan was simple enough in principle, to walk from Cheekpoint to Dunmore East, but as near to the water as possible. To make it more enjoyable I planned a few stops along the way with friends and acquaintances to learn something of the rich heritage of the area. And so, paying heed to the tides, I departed at a very late hour (for me) of 11.30am. Six hours later we walked into Dunmore East. Here’s a flavour of the trip.
My wife Deena was to provide the vehicle support and she also had some tips for fundraising including a bucket into which people who were minded could deposit a few quid. And although I had my doubts I thought it at least worth a go. Funds had already come in online, as I had planned to go the previous Sunday, but rain had put paid to that idea. At the Crossroads at Cheekpoint a nice surprise awaited as my younger , bigger, brother Robert had decided he was going to join me. And lo and behold we had only started out and someone (Mrs Jacqui Power) stopped in a car and gave us €10 and then some walkers gave what cash they carried, and some man who follows me on twitter popped €50 into the bucket. Deena was right again!
Deena and her Dad and Mam were waiting at Faithlegg School to step a bit of the road with us, and soon after we met Damien McLellan who was my first organised guest of the day as we walked the Coolbunnia Rd and over the Hurthill/Hurtle/Whortle.
Several others made contributions as we wandered over the Hurthill, which was beautiful under foot and lovely and cool under the trees. As we walked down towards Passage a chap on a bicycle passed and doubled back to give a donation too. We turned off the road to head up over the Hill of Passage, from where we could look across to Ballyhack, where the Church of St James was on the hill. Medieval pilgrimage was an important aspect of local life and to know more check out Damien’s fine blog in History Ireland.
The views were spectacular in the sunshine off the hill, and visibe to the right in the photo below is St. Anne’s (Church of Ireland) Passage East. It was built in 1740’s on the site of an older church founded by the Knights Templar I believe. It was deconsecrated and sold in 1970’s. Now a private residence. I would have loved to have gone down the steps here to Passage and along the strand. But we were keen to go through Crooke.
Next stop was the ruins of Crooke Church and associated castle which has had an amazing history, built by the Knights Templars initially, taken over by the Hospitaller’s and I’m guessing wrecked after the arrival of Cromwell. Its reputedly the burial place of the Croppy boy – Geneva Barracks is only a field or two away. The iconic lancet windows still give a sense of its previous importance.
It was all sand and beach for the next few miles. And it was pleasent walking, as Breda managed to put the dispute about Henry to one side and regale us with stories of the Cockle Pickers, her parents and what it was like growing up in such a beautiful area and also raising her own children on the strand. Almost everyone on the Crooke Road and along the Barrack Strand gave us a donation and the walking was just grand under foot. A mile along we bumped into my sister Kate and her husband Ber and the way was lightened a bit more.
Woodstown Beach was very busy on the day and I’m sure we must have looked a strange bunch to all those children running around and parents cooking BBQs. According to Canon Power from his famous Placenames of the Deises says: Woodstown in Irish is “Tráig Mhílis – “Myles’s Strand” He elsewhere refers to Myles as an unknown but important man, possibly legendary (what I take to mean located in some of the old works like the legends of the four masters etc) As we approached the 12 KM mark, and the heat intensified, I’m not sure anyone was listening to me about Myles. But they were online, because as I went along and posted to Facebook and Twitter people kept on donating. A gentleman out walking the beach stopped us to put money in the bucket and to explain that he always supports the RNLI as they saved his life in the English Channel in 1978. As we approached Knockaveelish or Cnoc Mhílis – Myles’ Hill related to the man we mentioned previously, I was relieved to see Deena approaching, with a cheery wave and a flask of tea. And she also had some extra motivation as the teens and twenty-somethings decided to join in.
At Killea I kneel in the shade of the wall as I try to text ahead to let the troops in Dunmore know that we are nearly there. (The biggest challenge was actually trying to see the phone screen all day with the blinding sun) Apologies and many thanks to the kind lady who came over and asked about my health. I must have looked disheveled 🙂 The poor woman must have thought I was for the graveyard. A few steps down towards the village and Deena again approached us…cheery wave but no tea this time. But at least I knew we had a lift home.
Although the plan was now to meet Conor Donegan in the village to hear about the activities off the coast of Waterford in WWI, the crowds were such that we just had to keep on moving. Although by a lucky chance we happened to bump into the infamous Bob Desmond who told us all about what a wonderful place Cork is. We were delighted to get some shade and a break in the park while Aine Whelan gave us a short talk about the Great Auk, caught off the local coast in 1834. The bird is now preserved in Trinity College and represents the last recorded sighting of this flightless bird in Ireland. The species became extinct when the last known individuals were killed on a small island off Iceland in 1844.
And so into Dunmore and the lifeboat station. Due to Covid we needed to stay outside but it was with a real satisfaction and I must admit a fair bit of relief that we made it. 22 KM over 6 hours, although that included a lot of stops. The bucket had over €400 in it when counted, and online the figure was almost €900 and with the many others that made up Team Dunmore had managed to raise a really impressive €5,800
You can check out the team here. And if you enjoyed this virtual tour you can still contibute for another few hours. May is not over for a few hours yet. Many thanks to everyone who contributed to make the walk such a success, many thanks to all who made donations, who chatted to us along the way, and well done to all my team mates in Team Dunmore East. But ultimately many thanks to the fundraising committee of the Dunmore East RNLI and to the crew who do the real hard work. A walk on a sunny sunday is a meer walk in the park in comparison.
The Irish newspapers of Christmas 1831 were alight with speculation after a ship sailed onto the sand banks of Bannow, Co Wexford with no crew. Aboard was a full cargo, some blood-stained clothing, a box of silver dollars and a dog. The ship was the La Bonne Julie of France and here’s what I could find of her story.
The morning of Thursday 15th December 1831 dawned dry and bright on the SW Wexford coast after a storm that blew the previous day had passed off. Off Baginbun the people of Bannow Bay observed a three-masted (barque from most accounts) sailing vessel, sails set and apparently on an eastern course. But there was something in the direction of the vessel that caused concern and as the morning wore on, the people onshore became increasingly worried. They waved clothing and raised their voices in warning, for it seemed the crew of the ship were unaware of their proximity to shore.
Speculation must have been rife. Was the crew asleep, drunk or was it something more sinister? As the day went on the ship came closer and yet no answer was given from the ship. Eventually, she grounded on soft sand on a bar at a location that is not exactly specified. Bannow Bay is mentioned in one report, Bannow Island in another. The map above may give a sense of the location, but I’m open to correction.
A crew of the local coastguard (I’m guessing her that it was Fethard as again it is not made clear) (Additional info post publication. Mick Byrne was of the opinion that it was most likely the “Bar O the Lough” coastguard unit at Cullenstown, they had a boathouse nearby) set out by boat to investigate the grounding, and boarding they were greeted with a mysterious scene. The only living thing aboard was a brown coloured pointer dog. The ship had a full cargo of fish and fish oil and it was speculated initially that it had sailed from Newfoundland, but the ship’s log later proved this to be incorrect. The ship was the La Bonne Julie (most newspapers called her Le Belle Julie) of Bordeaux. She had sailed from her home port some weeks previous en route to Dunkirk with a 13 man crew.
Of her crew there was now no sign. A box of dollars was discovered along with the ship’s log and papers. Some bloodstained clothing was found in a sailors bunk. But otherwise everything seemed as it should be aboard. News of the mystery spread and speculation was widespread. The fact that earlier reports stated the ship was in perfect order only added to the confusion.
However, later reports mentioned some damage to the vessel. One report had the following to say “the main sheet had been carried away, and was lying over her side in the water. The iron stay or traveller had snapt [sic], it is supposed, and she got a dreadful lurch so that a sea-washed the entire crew overboard…”[i] The conclusion about the crew was highly unlikely I would think.
The same report carried the news that the Coastguard had removed all clothing, bedding etc from the ship and had burned it on the beach, despite the “… entreaties of the many poor who came from all parts to get what they could…” The inference here was the tradition of locals taking what materials they found from shipwrecks as rightful salvage for their own use. The authority’s concern however seems to have been a fear of Cholera which was then rife.
The report continues to describe how the cargo had been removed and put into bonded stores in Wexford. The Coastguard were doing this on the basis of The Crown and the Lord of the Soil, a rule of salvage giving the legal owners of the ships manifest a claim to their goods. If none came forward the salvors could claim, or the landlord of the land on which the ship had grounded. Although it would appear that such matters were never that simple.
As I mentioned at the outset theories into the ship and its missing crew were vividly described in the newspaper reportage of the time. Such Ghost Ships during the days of sail were a common enough occurrence, and in many circumstances a crew abandoned the ship, oftentimes in a hurry, leaving all their belongings behind. The weather had been bad the day and night before the ship was discovered. Perhaps her crew did abandon the ship and were in turn lost themselves? I found no reports of bodies being washed up at the time or in the subsequent weeks, however.
Cholera was also considered. Having left Bordeaux where the illness was then widespread, did some of the crew bring it aboard. Did they perish, one by one, to be buried at sea until no one remained? But who would have thrown the last man to die overboard? The illness was rapid and a feature was the weakened condition of the ill.
An attack was also speculated. Some wondered had the ship carried some treasure, like the locally fabled Earl of Sandwich when four of the crew turned pirate, murdered their shipmates, and left with a treasure. It’s a story featured in my latest book. One report, which was widely reprinted in numerous newspapers, told of an incident at a pub in the Faythe in Wexford Town. The “respectable and intelligent publican” noticed two foreign sailors entering his bar in the early hours and observed that one was armed with a bayonet, seemingly of French origin. Challenging the sailors, they hurriedly withdrew.[ii] If the sailors had turned on their crewmates, however, why would they have left the box of dollars behind?
The wreck of the La Bonne Julie was later auctioned as a derelict, suggesting that she never moved from the sand bar in the shallow waters of Bannow Bay. A report in the Waterford Mail stated that “A survey has been held on the hull, which was found in such a bad state to be pronounced not seaworthy”[iii] This description is at variance to the following advert however.
The cargo and value of the ship and what was sold all wound up in the Admiralty court. And over many weeks and months in the following year various hearings took place to decide on the vexatious matter of salvage rights and who was entitled to it. I can’t pretend to have followed it. There seems to have been some doubt into the legal owners of the ship in the court and these “alleged owners” were not willing to pay salvage over to the Coastguard men who had boarded the ship that day in Bannow. Two are mentioned in the reports I saw, Nobel and Doyle*. At issue was that the “alleged owners” felt that the Coastguard were paid for their work and as such this should preclude them from any claim. This was hotly contested. There was also mention of a merchant named George Beale who felt entitled to a share. In this situation, it was again argued that no payment be made. At court it was stated that “…owners must be satisfied of the name of every man engaged, the time employed, and the price per day paid…”[iv] There were some further pieces in the papers, but I could not find a conclusion.
I could find no further information as yet about the La Bonne Julie and as such I will have to leave it as just another one of those perplexing mysteries of the sea. My own opinion is that her crew abandoned ship and that their decision was the wrong one. It’s ironic that the crew in their haste left what was supposed to be man’s best friend behind. Ultimately the one living creature that stayed aboard had better luck. The pointer dog was taken in by the local landlord, Boyce. Hopefully he had a long and happy life thereafter.
Next Months blog brings me to Dunmore East, and a story of the Italian salvage operators from the 1930s.
[i] Newry Telegraph – Tuesday 27 December 1831; page 4
[ii] Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent – Saturday 31 December 1831; page 4
[iii] Waterford Mail – Wednesday 28 December 1831; page 4
[iv] Dublin Observer – Sunday 04 March 1832; page 3
*Olivia Murrey left me a note on facebook to sat that Edward Nobel was Chief Officer at the Bar of Lough coastguard unti from 1829-1835. However there was no Doyle on the station or any adjacent station
Due to the poor weather of late, I have decided to reschedule my fundraising walk to Sunday 30th May. Its disappointing after all the support and the meet ups I had planned, but I am hopeful that the following week will be just as good. Many thanks for all the sponsorship both for me personally and for the team. Its wonderful to see.
I decided to take part in a fundraiser for the RNLI this year and I have joined with the Dunmore East crew. Fundraising has been difficult for all manner of charitable/sporting bodies with the Covid restrictions so this is my way of trying to contribute.
People are making all kinds of efforts in an effort to raise some badly needed funds. To contribute is very easy, you can donate online to any of the Dunmore East team here.
My own idea is to walk from Cheekpoint to Dunmore East on Sunday 23rd 30th May. Now of course I will be trying to stay off-road, so my plan is to stick as close to the river and the old coastal paths as possible, so as such I will be following in the steps of the earliest people to live in the area.
And I am also looking forward to meeting some friends along the way to tell me something about the harbour’s rich history as I go. So far Damien McLellan will meet me at the Hurthill and walk with me to Passage East to talk about medieval pilgrimage. Breda Murphy will meet me in Crooke and walk along the Barrack Strand to talk about the cockle pickers. Michael Farrell will meet me in Killea and tell me some of the political struggles to do with the Land League, Aine Whelan will meet me in Dunmore East Park where I will learn more of her research into the finding of an Auk on the coast. Conor Donegan will tell me about his research into the WWI rea in the village and Brendan Dunne will meet me at the end and hopefully have a basin of ice for my feet. I’m hoping a few more might be added to that list before Sunday 🙂
These stories will be posted online that morning on my Twitter and Facebook accounts in the hopes that followers can enjoy the experience and perhaps be encouraged to contribute themselves. Hopefully we will get some fine weather, and I can get a few class landscape photos too.
So check out my progress next Sunday 23rd 30th, join me to learn something of the harbour’s rich history, and perhaps consider making a contribution to the Dunmore East RNLI team, or to my own fundraising page. Thanks to the many contributions I have received so far, it’s very much appreciated.
I would like to thank David Carroll for this guest post on Captain Albert Bestic who served aboard the RMS Lusitania which was torpedoed on this day, May 7th 1915. Third Officer Bestic was one of those that survived. Over now to David for his account.
Growing up in Dunmore East during the 1950s and 60s, I was constantly regaled by my father, a Master Mariner, of stories of shipwrecks, great exploits and heroic deeds by seafarers and explorers. Names that were always to the forefront and that were given tremendous respect were Sir Robert Falcon Scott, and Irish Antarctic explorers Sir Ernest Shackleton and Tom Crean, a member of three expeditions to Antarctica. It is sad to think and an indictment of the lack of respect shown to Ireland’s maritime heritage that it is only in recent years that the latter two and other Irish explorers have received the proper recognition and celebration that they deserve in their native land.
Another name that kept cropping up during my childhood was Captain Albert Bestic, who was Junior Third Officer on RMS Lusitania, torpedoed off the Old Head of Kinsale on May 7th, 1915. My father had served with Irish Lights for a short period before World War Two and would have known Captain Bestic on a personal basis. I can still remember the excitement that followed when my father received a copy of Captain Bestic’s book, ‘Kicking Canvas’, an autographical account of his maiden voyage as an apprentice aboard a sailing ship called the Denbigh Castlein 1908. The Denbigh Castlesailed from Cardiff and its destination was Peru. The ship had a treacherous crossing and endured many storms. The ship was feared lost until it finally sailed into Freemantle, Australia and then proceeded to its destination of Peru, a voyage that had taken over a year to complete. This traumatic voyage did not deter Bestic and he continued to work his way up the nautical career ladder to become a professional deck officer in the Mercantile Marine.
Albert Arthur Bestic was born on August 26th, 1890 and grew up in South Dublin. Bestic is not a name of Irish origin, his family descended originally from Huguenots in the Normandy region of France. He was the second child of Arthur and Sarah Stephenson. He had an older sister Olive who was born in 1888. He was educated at the Portsmouth Grammar School and St. Andrew’s College in Dublin.
As a boy on holidays in Scotland, he had seen the Lusitania in the Clyde. “If I could sail on a ship like that,” he had thought, “I’d go to sea.” He added: “To me she was my dream ship. I saw her first when in her regal beauty she sped along the surface of the Clyde upon her trials. My boyish heart went out to her in admiration.”
Later, while in the service of the Denbigh Castle, he once again saw the large liner sweep by. As he looked up at the liner, he saw, “a photographic impression of four big funnels, tiers of decks, fluttering handkerchiefs, the name ‘Lusitania’, in gold letters, and a roaring bow wave.” When the ship “streaked by”, it created a large wave that sent all the men into the lee scuppers. The sailors began cursing at her, but not Bestic. He vowed one day that he would stand upon the bridge of that ship! 1
In early 1915, Albert married Annie Queenie Elizabeth Kent, originally from Belfast but by then living in England. He sailed to the United States as an officer aboard the Leyland liner, SS Californian, that is best known for its inaction during the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912 despite being the closest ship in the area. To Bestic’s great surprise, he was informed that his next assignment would be as the junior third officer of the Lusitania– his dream ship! With many officers, joining the Royal Navy for the war effort, Cunard’s recruitment policy had altered.
The RMS Lusitaniahad been launched on June 7th, 1906 at the shipyard of John Brown & Co, Clydebank, Glasgow. The ship, and her sister ship RMS Mauretania had been built because of negotiations between the British Government and the Cunard Line with a view to being capable of taking back the prestigious ‘Blue Riband’ for the fastest Atlantic crossing. She was the first British passenger ship to be built with four funnels, with a gross tonnage of 32,500 tons and an overall length of 785 feet, and with seven decks for the use of passengers.
On September 7th, 1907, after the completion of her trials, she sailed from Liverpool on her maiden voyage to Queenstown (now Cobh) and New York, watched by a crowd of 200,000 spectators. On her second voyage, in more favourable weather conditions, she did achieve the distinction of taking the ‘Blue Riband’, a record that would stand for the next twenty-two years.2
Lusitaniacompleted her last peacetime voyage from New York, arriving in Liverpool on the day Great Britain declared war on Germany, August 4th, 1914. Lusitania was not requisitioned by the Admiralty but continued to sail for Cunard once a month to New York. Between December 16th and March 13th, 1915 four more successful round voyages were made, although these were not without incident.3
The waters around the British Isles were dangerous places for Allied shipping, and in April 1915, the German Embassy in the United States published warnings in the New York newspapers that passengers, travelling on Allied ships, travelled at their own risk. At the time, the Lusitania was taking passengers on board at Pier 54, New York, for the homeward voyage, departing on Saturday May 1st, 1915, with 1,266 passengers, including many wealthy and notable Americans, and 696 crew aboard, including Junior Third Officer Bestic, making his first voyage on the ship.
On Friday, May 7th, 1915 at 11.00hrs, Lusitania broke through the fog into hazy sunshine on its voyage from New York to Liverpool. To port was an indistinct smudge, which was the Irish coastline. But there was no sign of any other ships. Captain William Turner, Master of the Lusitaniahad expected to see HMS Juno, which would have acted as an escort. There was no sign of Juno.
At 11.55hrs, Captain Turner was informed of U-boat activity off the southern Irish coast. At 13.40hrs, Captain Turner saw a landmark as familiar to him; a long promontory with a lighthouse on top of it, which was painted with black and white horizontal bands- the Old Head of Kinsale. To avoid reported U-Boat activity in the area, Captain Turner was instructed by Vice Admiral Coke of the British Admiralty to change course and head for Queenstown.
However, at 13.20 hrs, the German U-Boat U-20 under the command of Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger spotted the smoke from a steamer with four funnels astern approximately 12-14 miles away. Once the U-boat closed into its target, it fired a single torpedo.
At 14.10hrs, the torpedo struck the ship with a sound which Turner later recalled was “like a heavy door being slammed shut.” Almost instantaneously there came a second, much larger explosion, which physically rocked the ship. A tall column of water and debris shot skyward, wrecking lifeboat No. 5 as it came back down. On the bridge of the Lusitania, Captain Turner could see instantly that his ship was doomed. He gave the orders to abandon ship. He then went out onto the port bridge wing and looked back along the boat deck. The first thing he saw was that all the port side lifeboats had swung inboard, which meant that all those on the starboard side had swung outboard. The starboard ones could be launched, though with a little difficulty, but the port side boats would be virtually impossible to launch. 4
At 14.11hrs the Lusitania has started to send distress signals from the Marconi room. “SOS, SOS, SOS, COME AT ONCE. BIG LIST. 10 MILES SOUTH OLD KINSALE. MFA”. The last three letters were the ships call sign.
An extract from Lusitania website describes vividly the drama and mayhem that unfolded:
“At the port No 2 boat station, Junior Third Officer Bestic was in charge. Standing on the after davit, he was trying to keep order and explain that due to the heavy list, the boat could not be lowered. Suddenly, he heard a hammer striking the link-pin to the snubbing chain. Before the word “NO!” left his lips, the chain was freed and the five-ton lifeboat laden with over 50 passengers swung inward and crushed those standing on the boat deck against the superstructure. Unable to take the strain, the men at the davits let go of the falls and boat 2, plus the collapsible boat stowed behind it, slid down the deck towing a grisly collection of injured passengers and jammed under the bridge wing, right beneath the spot where Captain Turner was. Bestic, determined to stop the same situation arising at the next boat station, jumped along to No. 4 boat, just as somebody knocked out its link pin. He darted out of the way as No. 4 boat slid down the deck maiming and killing countless more people, before crashing into the wreckage of the first two boats. Driven by panic, passengers swarmed into boats, 6,8, 10 and 12. One after another they careered down the deck to join 2 and 4. The sea was now swirling over the bridge floor. Then the stern of Lusitania began to settle back, and a surge of water flooded the bridge, sweeping Captain Turner out of the door and off the ship. As the Lusitania sank beneath the waves, that same surge of water swept Junior Third Officer Bestic out through the first-class entrance hall into the sea. The Lusitania was gone, and with her had gone 1,201 people. It was now 14.28 GMT, on Friday May 7th, 1915.”
“He was still at his post on the port side of the ship when he saw the last wave charge up the deck. Without a lifebelt, he jumped over the side and tried to swim clear of the ship but was still “dragged down with the ship.” He tumbled in the water and noticed the water getting lighter as he was pushed upwards. He swam upwards for what felt like minutes, and when he burst to the surface, he realized that he was inside an overturned lifeboat. He made his way under the gunwale and felt a hand as Seaman Thomas Quinn pulled him by the collar to the top side of the boat. When Bestic surfaced, he only saw wreckage and people struggling in the water where the great ship had been. He could hardly bear the sound of hundreds of men, women, and children crying out in the water, “the despair, anguish and terror of hundreds of souls passing into eternity.”
Fearing that the capsized boat that he was on would soon be overwhelmed, he struck out on his own, swimming towards land miles away. A current carried him off by himself but could still hear the cries of children in the water. The cries soon stopped. He lost his sense of time and place, imagining that he was a young boy seeing Lusitania sail by again. Then Bestic found his own collapsible and hauled half of himself over the gunwale into the boat, the other half of him still in the water. He soon realized that this boat was taking in water. Bestic struggled to keep afloat by plugging his collapsible boat with any flotsam that was around him.
Bestic soon sighted a young, dark-haired man swimming in the water and called out to him. After the young man got himself on the boat, he quipped, “I suppose it’s no use asking you for a cigarette.” “I’m sorry,” Bestic apologised, “Mine have gone rather soggy.”
The two men rowed and bailed water from their boat to keep warm and came across the body of a young girl. They then came across a woman in a lifejacket, seemingly in shock. Her heavy, soaked garments required that both men pull her out of the water and into their boat. She asked them, “Where is my baby?” “I’m sorry,” Bestic answered, “we haven’t seen any babies.” To their horror, the distraught woman threw herself overboard. The young man grabbed the woman and lied, “Your baby is safe. I saw it taken into another boat.”
The woman allowed herself to be helped into the boat again. Bestic chided himself for not thinking of the lie. The small, waterlogged boat picked up a dozen or more survivors before they could not take on anymore. Hours passed and Bestic feared that it would be dark before help came for them. He found a watertight tin of biscuits and passed them out to everyone in his boat, “Chew these biscuits. You’ll find that working your jaws keeps you warm.” He had learned this from experience when he had sailed around Cape Horn. The lifeboat was quiet as all on board busied themselves with chewing instead of making conversation.
Four hours after Lusitaniasank, their collapsible was picked up by the trawler Bluebell. If help had come any later, the skies really would have been dark. In the messroom of the Bluebell, Bestic saw Captain Turner alive, sitting by himself. Bestic went up to him and said, “I’m very glad to see you alive, sir.” “Why should you be?” Turner asked. “You’re not that fond of me.” “Fondness doesn’t enter into it, sir. I’m glad to see you alive because I respect you as my Captain and I admire you as a seaman.”
Amongst the 1,191 who lost their lives were 786 passengers and 405 crew, and the trawlers Bluebell and the Wanderer from Peel, Isle of Man rescued most of the 771 survivors. In all, only 289 bodies were recovered, 65 of which are never identified. The bodies of many of the victims were buried at either Queenstown, where 148 bodies were interred in the Old Church Cemetery, or the Church of St. Multose in Kinsale. The bodies of the remaining 885 victims were never recovered.5
Courtmacsharry RNLI received news of the disaster and the lifeboat Ketzia Gwiltunder the command of Coxswain Timothy Keohane (Father of Antarctic explorer Patrick Keohane) was launched and set out to row the 12.6 nautical miles to the casualty, as in calm conditions the sails were of no use.
An extract from Courtmacsharry RNLI Return of Service log states: “We had no wind, so had to pull the whole distance- on the way to wreck, we met a ship’s boat cramped with people who informed us the Lusitania had gone down. We did everything in our power to reach the place, but it took us at least three and half hours of hard pulling to get there- then only in time to pick up dead bodies.”
The Courmacsharry Lifeboat then proceeded in picking up as many bodies as they could and transferred them to the ships on scene tasked with transferring bodies back to Queenstown. The final entry from the log stated: “It was a harrowing site to witness- the sea was strewn with dead bodies floating about, some with lifebelts on, others holding on pieces of rafts- all dead. I deeply regret it was not in our power to have been in time to save some”. 6
Included amongst the lost passengers was Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, one of the richest men in the world. Yet he showed himself willing to sacrifice his own life for the sake of others. He was travelling with his valet to Britain to conduct a meeting of the International Horse Breeders’ Association. He refused to save himself. He gave his lifejacket away and used the critical moments as the ship was sinking to put children into the lifeboats. He showed, according to a report in the New York Times, “gallantry which no words of mine can describe”. His body was never found.
Another famous person that drowned was Sir Hugh Lane, the Irish art dealer and nephew of writer Augusta, Lady Gregory of Coole Park. He is best known for establishing Dublin’s Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, but his famous collection, the ‘Lane Bequest’ has proved to be a controversial issue with ownership being disputed for almost a century between Britain and Ireland until an amicable arrangement was agreed.
There were harrowing scenes in Queenstown as survivors and bodies were brought ashore. The casualties of the Lusitania included 128 Americans, leading to outrage in the United States. President Wilson later dismissed the warning printed in the paper on the day of the ship’s departure, stating that no amount of warning could excuse the carrying out of such an inhumane act. However, it would not be until April 1917, before he went to a joint session of Congress to request a declaration of war against Germany.
In May 1915, a wave of anti-alien rioting spread throughout many English cities, particularly in Liverpool where the local Echo newspaper reported in May 2015: “Almost 600 people with Liverpool and Merseyside connections alone were on board the RMS Lusitania when it was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Ireland 100 years ago this week. At least 145 local crew members are recorded as losing their lives.”
As news of the attack on the Lusitania spread around the world, emotions and opinions became polarised. Britain and Germany each advocated for the justness of their side. The sinking became a powerful propaganda tool in the build-up to America joining the war and closer to home, many propaganda posters appeared that advocated for more men to join the war effort.
A year after the sinking of the Lusitania, Albert Bestic’s wife gave birth to their first child, Desmond. At that time, he was serving in the Royal Navy aboard minesweepers. His second son, George was born in Scotland in 1919 and his third son, Alan was born in England in 1922. Alan became a well-known journalist, initially with the Irish Times, and later as a prolific writer. One of his sons Richard, a name that many readers may recall, was an outstanding international correspondent with Sky News, broadcasting from around the world.
In 1922, Captain Bestic joined the Irish Lights Service. On December 19th, 1940, he was master of the lightship tender SS Isolda, which was bombed and sunk by the Luftwaffe off the Wexford coast. Sadly, six crew members, all from Dun Laoghaire were lost on that occasion. Relating this part of Captain Bestic’s maritime career must wait until another time.
Albert Arthur “Bisset” Bestic died in Bray, Co Wicklow on December 20th, 1962, aged seventy-two years. He is buried at St Michan’s Church in Dublin. The nickname “Bisset” had been given to him by Captain William Turner.
All images are courtesy of Maritime Historian Cormac Lowth, whose assistance with the article is very much appreciated.
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