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 Mona II, 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’.
Readers, interested in Galway Hookers, should note that there are many fascinating videos available on the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association YouTube Channel