I wanted to acknowledge this wonderful achievement by a blog regular, David Carroll. David wrote his first guest blog for us in January 2017 and has been a firm favourite since. In that story, Memories of a Harbour Boy, David recalled growing up in Dunmore East including the comings and goings of the lifeboat and crew. His obvious love of place and subject has been one of the most significant elements I think, in the success of his book on the Dunmore East Station. But the wonderful achievement of raising over €31k in the challenging covid times, bears testament to not just his engaging writing style or attention to detail, but also to the genuine respect and high regard the lifeboat crew and wider volunteers are held. I have already shared the news via my usual social media channels, this post is specifically aimed at the tides and tales community who subscribe by email and who may have missed the details. Andrew Doherty. The official communication starts from here:
Dunmore East RNLI was delighted to receive monies raised from the sales of the book Dauntless Courage by author David Carroll.
‘Dauntless Courage’: Celebrating the History of the Dunmore East RNLI, their crews and the Maritime Heritage of the Local Community, was written, published and sold out during lockdown. Restrictions and lockdowns made it impossible for author David Carroll to be in Dunmore East while writing his book but, thankfully, David and his family were able to visit the Dunmore Lifeboat station recently, where he was wholeheartedly welcomed by the volunteers of Dunmore East RNLI.
David Carroll the son of Captain Desmond Carroll, a former Harbour Master in Dunmore wrote a book on the history of the Dunmore East RNLI Lifeboats and the community from which the crews are drawn. David grew up in Dunmore East and whilst moving from the village in his 20s to pursue a career he has always retained a great love for the maritime heritage he inherited growing up in the village.
After several years of researching and writing, it has been a labour of love for author David Carroll to produce such a fine book, with all proceeds going to the RNLI. A publishing committee was formed and consisted of members of Dunmore East RNLI and a total of 66 businesses contributed to the cost of printing, therefore 100% of the price of the book is going to the RNLI. Recently David was finally able to hand over the huge cheque to the very appreciative volunteers of Dunmore East RNLI.
David Carroll, author of Dauntless Courage said: ‘I felt very privileged to have been invited to write a history of the Dunmore East Lifeboats. I enjoyed every single minute carrying out the necessary research and writing the various chapters, but the success of the book is down to all the volunteers and the great team, organised by Brendan Dunne who promoted, packaged, and distributed the book in difficult circumstances. A special word of thanks is due to all who gave us permission to use their interesting photographs and wonderful paintings. Our printers, DVF Print and Graphic Solutions, designed and produced a magnificent book that we all can be proud of and will be a fitting testament to all who served in the station since the Henry Dodd first arrived in Dunmore East.
Brendan Dunne, Dunmore East RNLI Crewmember, said: ‘As volunteer crew of the Dunmore East lifeboat we are delighted with David’s book Dauntless Courage and grateful for such a significant amount being raised for our charity. The book itself is well written and researched. It truly captures the legacy of those that have crewed the lifeboats here since 1884 and of the lifesaving and maritime heritage of the village. It ensures their contribution to saving lives at sea in all weather conditions will not be forgotten’.
I’m indebted to David Carroll for this On This Day contribution to the blog today August 19th 2021. In it, David, who has written several guest features, explores the near-tragedy that occurred this day in 1988. Thankfully the keen eyes of a child playing at Dunmore East led to a quick response and ensured that four lives were saved.
While researching and writing ‘Dauntless Courage’ – the history of the Dunmore East RNLI lifeboats, I came upon the official service report from the Dunmore East lifeboat station and subsequent newspaper reports of the rescue of four sailors from a Galway Hooker that sank in Waterford Harbour on Friday, August 19th, 1988.
Knowing that the ‘Galway Hooker’ holds iconic status in Ireland’s maritime heritage, culture, and identity, I was keen to obtain additional information to make an interesting inclusion for the book. What was the name of the hooker? What type of hooker was it? Was it a restored hooker from Connemara or maybe one built in the revival of these iconic vessels that was taking place on the East Coast of Ireland? Due to time constraints, and with some reluctance, I had to omit the story from the book but vowed to return to it at a later stage to obtain the missing details.
The Galway Hooker was the traditional boat of Galway built of strong and hardy oak to withstand the rough seas of the Atlantic. The boats were easily recognised by their strong sharp bow and sides that curve outwards. They have one mainsail and two foresails all on a single mast. It is a gaff-rigged sailing boat meaning the sail is four-cornered, fore-and-aft rigged, controlled at its peak by a pole called the gaff. Traditionally painted black with eye-catching red sails these beautiful boats are something to behold.
There are four types of Galway Hooker: Bád Mór (35–44 ft.) and the Leath Bhád or “half-boat” (28 ft.) These two larger vessels were used to transport turf across Galway Bay. Two smaller vessels are known as Gleoiteog and Púcán. Both are usually 24–28 ft. but are differently rigged. The gleoiteog has the same lines and rig as the larger hookers. These boats were used more commonly for transporting people and fishing.
The hooker that sank in Waterford Harbour in 1988 was a ‘gleoiteog’, one of the smaller hookers. From newspaper reports at the time, I knew that the owner of the vessel was Professor Ivan Cosby, a lecturer in International Affairs at a Japanese University but originally from Stradbally, Co. Laois.
For many people and especially music lovers, Stradbally is best known as the site that has hosted the award-winning ‘Electric Picnic’ arts and music festival held each year at the end of the summer since it began in 2004. Stradbally Hall has been the seat of the Cosby family since the reign of Edward VI.
My connection with Stradbally would be through my interest in cricket as the village is the home of Laois Cricket Club, where the members have laid out a new ground in a beautiful setting. To establish a ‘Stradbally link’, I contacted a great friend of the entire cricket community, Roland Bradley, the doyen of the Laois club and former President of Cricket Leinster. It just so happens that Tom Cosby, owner of Stradbally Hall, is also President of the cricket club and Roland very kindly put me in touch with him. This was the breakthrough that I was looking for! Tom, in turn, very kindly put me in touch with his Uncle Ivan, who now lives in retirement in the UK.
When I spoke to him by telephone, Professor Cosby could still vividly recall in detail, the unfortunate events of August 19th, 1988. He was also able to tell me about the gleoiteog, called ‘Mona ΙΙ’ and its brief history. Professor Cosby, told me, that he bought the gleoiteog in 1985 from Dennis Aylmer of Dún Laoghaire.
Mona ΙΙ had been built by Charlie Featherstone in Dún Laoghaire in 1979 for Dennis Aylmer, who was a Tea Buying Director of Lyons Tea. He also had a long involvement in the revival and restoration of Galway Hookers, stretching back to 1965. The Morning Star was a bád mór – the largest type of Galway Hooker – built circa 1890, and Dennis was one of the first people to restore a boat of this type and size. He still recalls the extraordinary tale of how he located and obtained the Morning Star in 1965, and managed the extensive restoration works involved. This story is even more remarkable because Dennis lived and worked in Dublin at the time, the Morning Star was in Connemara, and he had no means of transport other than his bicycle!
Mona ΙΙ was not a full hooker but a 22-foot gleoiteog, built on the scaled-down lines of the full hooker Morning Star. Being about two tons in weight, she could be trailed by road and over the next few summers, Dennis would bring her over to the West and take on the local boats at the races in Connemara including the famous Kinvara Festival. Dennis told me: “The best I could do in the races was second. I could never beat the legendary master hooker skipper Pat Jennings of Galway. By the time we got to Athlone, the message would get through to the West that “the Dublin boat is coming!”, and this all added to the fun”.
Dennis Aylmer told me that he was very saddened when he heard of Mona ΙΙ being lost in Waterford Harbour in 1988 in deep water with all sails set and was never recovered. He had a lot of knowledge about the event. His recollection was that the gleoiteog was hit by a considerable gust which laid her over, and Professor Cosby was unable to react quickly enough to let fly the main. Perhaps he did do so, but it may not have been sufficient. Being an open boat, as soon as the water came over the beam the chances of recovery would have been minimal. Very wisely, Professor Cosby had a life-raft aboard, which floated clear, and they were able to get into it, otherwise, there could have been a serious tragedy. Dennis also has a recollection that a little girl was playing in her garden in a house at Dunmore East, and was watching MonaII, and ran in to tell her parents about it. Having gone out again, she saw the boat had disappeared and said there was a little orange boat floating nearby (which was the life-raft). Her parents then came out into the garden and realised there could have been a problem and raised the alarm.
From the official Service Report for the ‘shout’ recorded by Dr Brendan O’Farrell, Honorary Secretary of Dunmore East RNLI, it looks as if the girl may have been in the house next to his own one. The girl would now be an adult and one is left wondering if she can still recall the events of that day in August 1988, thirty-three years ago?
Dr O’Farrell in his report states that the lifeboat cleared the harbour mouth within four and a half minutes of the first maroon being launched. Coxswain John Walsh was away on pilot duty, so John Murphy, hearing the maroons dashed to the Waveney class relief lifeboat Arthur and Blanche Harris 44-006, to take the helm. Crewmembers onboard were Mechanic Seán Kearns, his son Hugh and Frances Glody. The lifeboat left her moorings at 12.05hrs in a fresh SW wind that was described as force 6-7 by the lighthouse keepers at Hook Head. Conditions were moderately choppy. High water had been at 10.15hrs. Speed was of the essence. One of the oars of the raft was lost in the capsize, so the survivors were not able to make much progress with one oar. This is not a situation that you would wish for when you are remarkably close to the rugged shoreline near Hook Head.
Writing in the Cork Examiner on the following day, Saturday, August 20th, 1988, journalist Richard Dowling (later of RTE) described how the skipper of the gleoiteog Professor Cosby, and three unnamed English companions scrambled aboard their life-raft as the hooker foundered in rough seas off Dunmore East. The gleoiteog had been taken down the River Barrow from Stradbally to Waterford Harbour and had sailed for about two miles across to Hook Head where they capsized.
The lifeboat reached the survivors at 12.25hrs and arrived back to Dunmore East at 12.40hrs. By 12.50hrs, the lifeboat had been re-fuelled and was back on station. The entire rescue operation had taken less than one hour.
Dr O’Farrell, Dunmore East RNLI Honorary Secretary was fulsome in his praise for the lifeboat crew. In his report, he noted: “Very quick efficient work on the part of crew and Acting Coxswain.” The newspaper reports also tell us that Professor Cosby praised the lifeboat crew for their efficient rescue. He described the whole incident as a “tremendous disappointment.” The records at the Dunmore East lifeboat station show that a very generous donation was made to the RNLI in recognition of the rescue.
It is always sad when a boat that has given so much pleasure to its owners and was also very much representative of Ireland’s maritime heritage is lost at sea. However, we continue to be truly grateful to the RNLI that no loss of life took place in August 1988 as is the case in countless other occasions around the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland.
I wish to thank Brendan Dunne and Dunmore East RNLI for allowing me to access their archives to view the service report from August 1988. Over a long period, a number of other persons showed great courtesy to me when I contacted them in connection with this story and I would like to acknowledge their kind assistance: Brian Ellis and Padraic Ó Brolchain of the Irish National Maritime Museum, Cormac Lowth, Dennis Aylmer, Dr Mick Brogan of Kinvara, Roland Bradley of Laois Cricket Club, Brian Kenrick, Tom Cosby, Ivan Cosby, Nicholas Leach (‘ Lifeboats Past and Present’), Michael Kennedy (Dunmore East shipwright).
As always I am most grateful to Andrew Doherty for inviting me to share my stories on ‘Waterford Harbour Tides and Tales’.
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.
On a blustery Thursday afternoon, January 28th 1869, five Coastguard men said goodbye to their wives and children before leaving their homes in Dunmore East and traveling to Waterford city. The purpose of the journey was to collect a new lifeboat to be used on their station on the dangerous approach to the ports of Waterford and New Ross. Two days later, on Saturday 29th those same families rushed down to the quay at Dunmore on the arrival of the pilot boat in a vain hope of news of the coastguard men. A local paper described the scene as a heart-rending finale to a terrible tragedy[i]. For rather than providing a new element of rescue for stricken sailors, the five men had become part of the statistics themselves in a harbour area rightly described as a graveyard of a thousand ships.
The Coastguard presence in Ireland dated from 1822 with the amalgamation of several services into a single body under the control of the Board of Customs. Their role was principally to combat smuggling, but it also provided a life-saving element to seafarers from shipwrecks and attempted to protect the ships and the cargo too. For some interesting accounts of such rescues see David Carroll’s new book on the Dunmore East RNLI; Dauntless Courage[ii].
I’m afraid I have no background information on the origins of the new lifeboat to be used, but I am sure it was as a consequence of the many rescues performed on the station since the foundation of the service in the village. The new boat arrived in Waterford aboard the London steamer Vesta on the Saturday previous.[iii] (Elsewhere, Coastguards worked alongside rescue services such as the RNLI which was founded in 1824. Ironically enough a lifeboat station was founded later in 1869 at Duncannon, Co Wexford, very close to where the accident occured. The RNLI would eventually come to be based at Dunmore in 1884)
A description of the lifeboat was garnered from a number of newspaper accounts. A sharp fore and aft craft, 25-28 feet long, very beamy, painted white, four oared and elsewhere mention of a tiller for steering. The boat was built at Cowes, Isle of Wight.
Need an image of a similar craft if anyone could assist?
The five crewmen who departed Dunmore East that day in 1869 were John Scott, Chief Boatman. William Rogers, Carpenter. John Baldwin, Commissioned boatman. Edward Nash and Henry Stewart, Boatmen
They left Waterford Quay later that afternoon with their lifeboat in tow aboard the Duncannon paddle steamer Tintern but at Arthurstown, Co Wexford the men decided to stay the night due to the weather. The wind was then blowing from the SE and darkness was setting in. Because of a combination of heavy rain, wind and spring tides, flooding occurred throughout the harbour that night, and in Waterford city, it was said to be the worst seen in 30 years. The lifeboat was hauled out and no doubt the crew got a warm welcome from their colleagues on the local station.
On Friday morning, 29th January the weather was described as very unsettled with the wind WSW. At 10am the five men set off aboard the open lifeboat for Dunmore. The tides must have been bulling, it was half ebb, the tides were spring, and the rivers were swollen with fresh. The officer in charge at Arthurstown, Matthew Shea later gave evidence that he had tried to stop the men leaving but was overruled by John Scott.
The next time the men were seen, it was when they were mistaken by the pilot launch Seagull as shipwrecked sailors. The lifeboat was about a half-mile off Templetown on the Wexford shore, in a very dangerous spot. (Another account states that they were closer to Creaden Head, but although that course would make sense, it is hard to tally with some accounts of the pilots of the attempted rescue). The Seagull set a course for the vessel, while the crew of pilots readied a tow rope.
As the waters were shallow, and the pilot cutter had only sails for propulsion extreme caution was required in getting alongside. The Seagull drew ten feet of water, and any misjudgment could cause her to strike the bottom. Getting as close as they dared, they hailed the coastguard men, well known to them as they were all based in Dunmore. The coastguard men, however, refused their offer of assistance and waved them away. Evidence was later given that they banged the side of their boat in a show of confidence in the lifeboat’s ability.
Given the weather and the shallow draft, the Seagull had to move off. However having only traveled a short distance, a wave struck the lifeboat and two of the crew were propelled into the sea. The Seagull came around in a vain effort to reach the scene. As she approached she was struck by several seas and half-filled. At around the same time, the lifeboat overturned and the three others aboard were lost to the sea. It was as much as the Seagull and her crew could do to get themselves back out of danger. Arriving at Passage East later, the Pilot Station communicated the news by telegraph. On Saturday 30th John Scott’s body was found washed up on Duncannon strand by a young man named Furlong and was later interred at Killea, Dunmore East.
The inquest into the discovery of Scott’s body was held in Duncannon on Monday 1st February. The hearing was led by coroner Mr RB Ryan and a jury of which Captain Samuel D Bartlett was foreman. (Bartlett was captain of the PS Tintern, and owned a local hotel) Scott’s body was identified by Matthew Shea, the acting Chief Officer at Arthurstown. He described the morning of departure and how he had tried to prevent the crew from setting out but was overruled by Scott who pointed out that he was Chief boatman in charge with 18 years experience and “knew his business”. Shea also clarified that the men “…appeared to him to be perfectly sober and steady at the time” Patrick Rogers of the Seagull gave evidence of the pilot’s interaction which although more cautious in its description, is close to much of the reportage of the newspapers of the event. The jury found that Scott had used bad judgment in proceeding that morning to Dunmore East, and also for refusing the help of the pilots. They also found that the men should have been provided with cork life vests before boarding the vessel.[iv]
It would be March before two other crew were washed ashore. John Baldwin’s body would be found at Bunmahon, while the body of Henry Stewart was washed up at Ardmore. From what I could glean from the account it suggests that Baldwin was brought back to Dunmore for burial while Stewart was interred at Ardmore.[v]
Meanwhile the public were asked to make subscriptions to help the bereaved families and most of the leading business and civic leaders of the city and county lent their names to the campaign. All had left behind families. John Scott left a widow and daughter, William Rogers left a widow and three children, Edward Nash left a widow and two children, Henry Stewart left a widow and one child. John Baldwin had left a widow and eight children. His unnamed wife was said to be pregnant and soon expecting a ninth child.[vi]
The men of the coastguard service were very often veterans of Royal Navy service. At this stage, the Coastguards (Which had come under the command of the Admiralty from 1856) were also acting as a naval reserve that sought to attract local fishermen and seafarers. This might account for some very familiar surnames amongst the dead. These men were surely used to the sea, to boats, and to dealing with weather extremes. But the sea can never be taken for granted. We can never know what was in their minds in choosing to set out that morning, but it was foolhardy indeed to reject the help of the pilot men of Seagull. Whatever their motives, they lived only a short while to regret them, another five victims to the graveyard of a thousand ships and of countless innocent souls.
I want to thank David Carroll, Brendan Dunne, Michael Kennedy, Walter Foley, and Liam Ryan for some observations and assistance with this story. All errors and omissions are my own.
I had to blend a number of accounts into one paragraph to try to make the story coherent and as such, I struggled to reference all the various details. The story comes from the references identified and also. Wexford Constitution – Saturday 06 February 1869; page 2&3. Waterford Mail – Friday 29 January 1869; page 2 & Waterford News – Friday 29 January 1869; page 2
[i] Waterford Mail – Monday 01 February 1869; page 2
[ii] Carroll D. Dauntless Courage: Celebrating the history of the RNLI lifeboats, their crews and the maritime heritage of the Dunmore East Community. 2020. DVF Print & Graphics. Waterford. Pp21-24
[iii] Waterford Standard. Saturday 30 January 1869; page 2. I searched numerous newspapers for this detail, and most mention the London Steamer whilst others mention that she arrived earlier that week, or many that she arrived on Thursday 28th. It’s just an interesting snippet that I was keen to capture, but offer with caution.
[iv] Wexford Independent – Saturday 06 February 1869; page 2
[v] The Standard and Waterford Conservative Gazette – Saturday Morning, 20 March 1869
[vi] Waterford News – Friday 19 February 1869; page 6
In 2024, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution will be celebrating two hundred years of saving lives of sea. TheRoyal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck was founded in London on March 4th, 1824 by Sir William Hillary. On October 5th, 1854, the name was changed to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution – the RNLI – as it is still known today and still adhering rigidly to the same noble principles since 1824.
In 1924, there were eight men alive who had received Gold Medals in the first century of the Institution for gallantry and conspicuous service in saving life from shipwreck. Of the eight, five of them were English, two Irish and one Welsh. The eight were invited to attend the Centenary Dinner and other celebrations in London, as the guests of the Institution. Seven of the eight were able to attend. The one person unable to attend, due to ill health, was Reverend Father John O’Shea, who was at time was a curate serving in the parish of Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary. Father O’Shea was from Lismore, County Waterford. He was educated at Mount Melleray Abbey, on the slopes of the Knockmealdown Mountains, near Cappoquin. His census returns in 1911 showed that he had been born in Australia.
On St. Patrick’s Day, Friday, March 17th, 1911, the wind freshened from the South East and soon it was blowing a full gale. Teaser, a schooner, registered in Montrose, Scotland of 79 tons register, owned by a Mr. John Hewitt of Connah’s Quay, Flintshire, North Wales, left Swansea on Tuesday, March 14th, 1911. She was bound for Killorglin in Dingle Bay with a cargo of coal and called in at Milford Haven which she left on Thursday, 16th, March. The Teaserhad been built at Perth in Scotland in 1864. She carried a crew of three: Master Thomas Hughes, from Connah’s Quay, a mate called Fox and an ordinary seaman Walsh.
On Saturday morning, March 18th, Teasergot into difficulties and was unable to shorten sail and was soon driven ashore on the Black Rocks at Curragh (to the east of the village of Ardmore, Co Waterford).
The Gold Medal of the RNLI, which is a much-coveted distinction, only bestowed for deeds of exceptional valour, was awarded to the Reverend Father John M O’Shea, curate at Ardmore, who, with others, made a noble attempt to save the crew of the ill-fated Teaser. Attempts were promptly made to summon the nearest lifeboat, stationed at Helvick but owing to the storm the telephonic communication failed, and by the time the boat reached the scene all that was possible had been done by a gallant band of men at Ardmore.
As soon as the local Coastguard observed the vessel, the rocket apparatus was dispatched to the nearest spot. The coastguards, with skill, succeeded in throwing rocket lines over the wrecked vessel. The crew were, however, so exhausted by exposure and so numbed with cold that they could not make use of the lines.
Seeing that the unfortunate men were unable to help themselves, Petty Officer Richard Barry, and Alexander Neal, of the Coastguard, regardless of the danger which they ran, plunged into the icy sea, and attempted to swim to the vessel, but the heavy seas were too much for them, and they were beaten back to the shore.
It was then that Father O’Shea, seeing that their efforts were unavailing, remembered that there was a fisherman’s open boat nearly a mile away. He gathered a willing band of volunteers, who with him went for the boat, and by dint of great exertions, they got it to the scene of the wreck.
Father O’Shea put on a lifebelt and called to the crowd for a crew. The men of Ardmore answered the call without hesitation, knowing that to get into an open boat in such appalling weather would have daunted the bravest man. But these gallant men had answered many a call and this was to be no exception. Coastguards Barry and Neal, Constable Daniel Lawton of the Royal Irish Constabulary, William Harris, keeper of the Ardmore Hotel, Patrick Power, a farmer, John O’Brien, a boatman and Cornelius O’Brien, another local farmer, formed a crew.
With the crew of seven men and Father O’Shea in command, the little boat put to sea. These brave men were at very great risk – the risk on one hand of the heavy sea running and the rocks, and on the other of being dashed against the ship – but they succeeded in boarding the Teaser. Two of the crew were, however, beyond all aid, and the other man succumbed soon afterwards despite everything possible being done for him, both on board the wreck and later ashore. Father O’Shea administered the last rites to them. Whilst the men were on board the vessel, Coastguard Neal collapsed from exhaustion, and artificial respiration had to be used to restore him.
Unfortunately, the gallant and heroic efforts of the men of Ardmore failed as the crew of the Teaser died before they could get them ashore. Doctor Foley and many willing hands onshore did all that was humanly possible for the crew but without avail.
The Lifeboat, journal of the RNLI, Volume XX1, No. 241, August 1st, 1911 reported as follows:
“The efforts made on this occasion were characterised by exceptional courage, and the Committee of the Institution were satisfied that the gallant and continued attempts at rescue were due to the noble example and initiative displayed by Father O’Shea. They therefore decided to award him the Gold Medal of the Institution and a copy of the Vote of Thanks on vellum. They also granted the following awards— To Richard Barry, Petty Officer Coastguard, and to Alexander Neal, Leading Boatman Coastguard, who attempted to swim off to the vessel, and afterwards boarded her at great risk, the Silver Medal and £5 each and a copy of the Vote of Thanks on vellum. To Mr. William Harris, who boarded the vessel at great risk, a binocular glass, and a copy of the Vote of Thanks on vellum. To Constable Law, R.I.C. who also boarded the wreck at great risk, £5 and a copy of the Vote of Thanks on vellum. To Pat Power, Con O’Brien, and John O’Brien, who went out in the boat but did not board the wreck, £7- 10s. each.
When the decision of the Committee of Management was made known, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Aberdeen, very kindly consented to present the various rewards.
Arrangements were made for the men to travel to Dublin, and at Ballsbridge, where an exhibition was in progress, his Excellency, accompanied by Lady Aberdeen, made the presentation in the presence of many hundreds of people. His Excellency, who was cordially received, said they had met there that day to render honour where honour was most assuredly due. To celebrate a deed of valour and heroism was something worthy, and beneficial not only to those to whom homage was offered, but also to those who took part in such proceedings. The story of the event which had brought them there had already been narrated, but they could not too often be reminded of the splendid achievement and the noble efforts which they were there to commemorate and to acclaim. That deed furnished a noble example. But they must remember that such deeds meant more than courage and determination now. They meant that there was the quality and the attitude of the brain, and the good principles of life which were tested in time of emergency. These men were not found wanting but covered themselves with glory and distinction. Those brave rescuers had already been honoured by the King, but they who were assembled there that day were behind none in the heartiness with which they saluted them and asked them to accept the tokens offered by the RNLI as a lasting memento of the feelings of appreciation and grateful thanks for the example and the encouragement given to all those present, who would be stimulated by the admirable conduct of these men. (Applause.)
His Excellency then presented the awards, and her Excellency pinned the medals on the breasts of the recipients. The Rev. Father O’Shea, having expressed deep gratitude on behalf of himself and his companions, paid a high tribute to the men who had assisted him. Lieutenant W. G. Rigg, R.N., as representative of the Institution, cordially thanked Lord and Lady Aberdeen for their kindness, and the ceremony terminated.”
The medal presentation ceremony took place on Monday, May 29th, 1911 at the ‘Uí Breasail’ Exhibition, which was held in Ballsbridge, Dublin from May 24th to June 7th. It was attended during that time by 170,000 people. The Exhibition, with a sub-title of “The Great Health, Industrial and Agricultural Show’ was strongly supported by Lady Aberdeen. The title ‘Uí Breasail’ was taken from a poem by Gerald Griffin of the same name, meaning the ‘Isle of the Blest’. The poem speaks of a wonderful mythical island seen by St Brendan on one of his voyages.
Earlier on May 2nd, 1911, Father O’Shea and the party of Ardmore men were decorated by King George V at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace when he presented them with the Silver Medal for gallantry awarded by the Board of Trade.
The Carnegie Hero Fund Trust awarded its highest award – a Gold Watch to Father O’Shea.
On December 12th,1912, less than two years later, the steel barque Maréchal de Noailles of Nantes in France, departed from Glasgow for New Caledonia, a French Penal Island in the South Pacific, with a cargo of coal, coke, limestone, and railway materials. It was an eventful start to the voyage, with delays and bad weather, and on January 15th, 1913, the vessel was close to Ballycotton, Co Cork, when the wind strengthened. The Master, Captain Huet, fired distress signals; eventually the ship was blown ashore three hundred yards west of Mine Head in County Waterford, not far from Ardmore. Father O’Shea was very much to the fore in the safe rescue of the entire crew by means of Breeches Buoy from the shore. The following month, a letter of appreciation, written by Captain Huet from Morlaix in France was received in Ardmore by Father O’Shea.
At the ceremony held at Buckingham Palace on June 30th, 1924, King George V awarded the honour of the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) on each of the seven men present and the absent Father O’Shea.
The King expressed his great regret that Father O’Shea was prevented by illness from being present and handed his medal to Sir Godfrey Baring, a member of the management committee of the RNLI for thirty-three years.
The citation said:
” For his example and initiative in leading very gallant attempts, by means of a small boat, to save the lives of the crew of the schoonerTeaser, which was lost, with her crew of three in Ardmore Bay on the 18th, March 1911, during a whole S.E. gale with a very heavy sea.”
From Carrick-on-Suir, Father O’Shea was appointed Parish Priest of Ballyporeen, County Tipperary. The George Cross was instituted by King George VI on September 24th, 1940 and on October 31st, 1941, Father O’Shea was requested to surrender his Empire Gallantry Medal and attend a function at Buckingham Palace on November 25th, 1941 to receive the George Cross in its place. Due to failing health, Father O’Shea could not attend.
Father O’Shea passed away on September 11th, 1942 in Clogheen, Co Tipperary, aged seventy-one. In accordance with his will, he was laid to rest at the back of the Cross of Calvary in Ballyporeen Churchyard. His George Cross, RNLI Gold Medal and Board of Trade Medals were left to the Cistercian Monks at Mount Melleray Abbey in County Waterford.
Wilson, John THE WRECK OF THE TEASER– A GOLD MEDAL RESCUE. The Life Saving Awards Research Society, Journal No. 30, June 1997.
Walsh, Donal AN ACCOUNT OF THE LOSS OF THE ‘TEASER’ IN 1911 and THE ‘MARÉCHAL DE NOAILLES’ IN 1912 OFF THE WATERFORD COAST. Decies XX1, Old Waterford Society, September 1982.
Details of the Teasermay be found in this archive. The owner is listed as John Hewitt and not Ferguson as recorded in other accounts of the shipwreck.
My thanks to David for this fascinating account of Fr O’Shea and indeed the people of Ardmore in the efforts to assist on both occasions. For a fantastic photo collection of the event take a look at the Ardmore Grange post:
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