Great Western weathers the storm

A few weeks back I published a story of the Great Western and what it meant in the Waterford area.  Each story that I publish generally gets a response, an email or two, comments on the blog, facebook comments and messages.  But the story of the Great Western really hit a nerve and this weeks guest blog is prompted by one email in particular which I will come to momentarily. 

It’s difficult to pick a few remarks out of the many that I received, but if I must then fellow villager, Helen Barry, sent me a lovely photo and clipping of her uncle Michael Heffernan which I think might make another blog.  Michael, of course, went on to be the last captain of the dredger Portlairge.  My cousin, Captain Jim Murphy, from Crooke originally but now living in Liverpool, sent me on a lovely piece about going to sea on the Great Western.  Eiblis Howlett sent on a memory of coming to Ireland on her summer holidays and how her dad on seeing the harbour as she sailed up to the city in the morning time would recite the John Locke poem “The Exiles Return, or Morning on the Irish coast” O, Ireland! isn’t grand you look— Like a bride in her rich adornin ! With all the pent-up love of my heart I bid you the top of the morning !

The Great Western shortly after coming on the Fishguard – Waterford run in 1934
Photo courtesy of Frank Cheevers. Waterford Maritime History group

But of all the replies I got one stood out as it was a childhood memory of an incident of 1954 from Owen Paddy O Grady. Paddy, who lives in Germany, is one of those long term (heading to year five would you believe) blog followers who occasionally sends me an email. (It keeps me encouraged and reminds me that people from all over the world are now part of the tidesandtales community). I suppose what captured my imagination about Paddy’s piece is that I could almost see myself in his shoes as a young lad in the city, knocking around the quays, gazing at the comings and goings of the many dozens of ships that would have then populated the city on a weekly basis. Part of me believes many of those who read the blog will identify with that too, so here’s Paddy’s account of a terrible storm of November 1954.

Your latest Blog on the Great Western reminded me of an episode of the past which, at the time made me shiver. Here´s the story in my best old Waterford english: Waterford was, in my youth, frequently visited in the Autumn, at Christmas-time, and in further Winter times by hard storms. But one that I will always remember was the storm in November 1954 which traversed over the south and south east of Ireland and further eastwards towards Wales and of course, the port of Fishguard.

On the 27.11.1954 we heard, on the radio, of problems of the tanker World Concord in “the channel” which eventually broke in two. What we further heard was (via radio and my fathers “connections”) that the Rosslare lifeboat had been launched. It later transpired that the Rosslare boat had already taken crew members off  another troubled freight ship and then went on to the assistance of the sailors on one of the tanker sections. As the life boat, at this time, was on duty for a very long period (30 hours), it actually ran very low on fuel – or out of fuel –  and had to be refuelled or towed back by a fishing boat

WORLD CONCORD, the Liberian Tanker, which broke in two during heavy gales in the Irish Sea on 27 November 1954. The ship was only ten miles off the Pembrokeshire Coast when she broke in two. In little more than half an hour the two halves drifted a considerable distance apart. Copyright: © IWM (A 33078) . Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163741

The actuall run of things were never reported in Waterford by the papers or our “connections”. The Storm prevailed, if I can recollect correctly, for at least 3 days and 3 nights and word came round that there was no radio contact to OUR Great Western, which was under way to Waterford,  and that she was long overdue.

We were all very worried but she eventually appeared on the Suir several hours behind schedule and docked successfully. My father gave me the good news at dinner time (13.00 hours) and I immediately cycled to the Adelphi quay to satisfy myself that she WAS “in”.

What I saw was a battered Great Western tied up, no crew members; no passengers or any stevedores were to be seen on deck or on the jetty. It was a complete silent situation in and around the ship. But the Western was there and the crew had obviously been left to sleep off their ordeal. I can very well remember the damage I saw:  the gunnel on the starboard side, forward of the bridge, was Flat WITH THE DECK !! What the port side was like I could not see. Also a number, if not all, of the ventilation cowls were missing and there was almost no rigging in place, which was probably the reason for the loss of radio contact.

Community Notice. I’m happy to promote any event that is heritage focused, subject to space, that fits with the page mission to promote the maritime heritage of the three sister rivers and the harbour area.

We later heard that the captain had decided to ride out the storm as opposed to taking the risk of navigating safely into the harbour mouth with heavy southerly seas up his stern. That`s just one of my Great Western recollections which may be of some interest to you.

My Grandparents and parents had a hairdressers shop at 133 the quay which was beside Reginald’s Tower where the Viking remade boat stands. Our father was very friendly with the crews and captains of Western and the Clyde boats and was consequently  “well informed” Our family had past connections with Waterford shipping in that our grandparents sailed their “freighters of the time” to and from various English ports and the south coast harbours of Ireland.

To give a sense of the storm the Great Western had just endured a report from the Liverpool Echo on the 27th reported on the ferocity of the Irish Sea that night of the 26th and into the 27th.  The World Concord is reported as having broke apart and her crew in great peril.  (It would later emerge that her two sections had remained afloat and had drifted apart, the 35 crew on the aft section were rescued by the St Davids lifeboat and later that day the crew of the Rosslare lifeboat found the bow section.  She stood by the hull and the seven men aboard all through the night affecting a rescue the following morning and after a hair raising transfer from the jacobs ladder to the deck of the heaving lifeboat, they dropped the survivors to Holyhead It would be Wednesday of the following week before the Douglas Hyde returned, where a brass band played the “Boys of Wexford” on the quayside in salute to their heroics.[1]).  An unidentified ship was reported as lost off the Lizard and although crew members were spotted in the water and in a lifeboat, none were believed to have survived in the report.  A Dutch tug Humber and the Newhaven lifeboat was standing by an auxiliary sailing ship the Vega which had jettisoned her cargo in an effort to stay afloat.  Meanwhile the crew of the South Goodwin lightship was missing, the lightship had broke her anchors and drifted ashore.[2]   

The  crew of Rosslare Harbour lifeboat Douglas Hyde.
Back row left to right – Dick Duggan, Jim Walsh, Jack Duggan and Paddy Owens.
Front row left to right – Richard Duggan, Coxswain Dick Walsh, Dick Hickey and Jack Wickham.
This photo appears in the Nicholas Leach book, The Lifeboats of Rosslare Harbour and Wexford courtesy of Rosslare Harbour RNLI and via Brian Boyce Rosslare Maritime Heritage Centre.

Although I have tried unsuccessfully to find an account of the journey of the Great Western from the local papers (and thanks to Maurice Power for his assistance too) the only mention I have is that she was overdue by several hours but unharmed by the trip[3].  I hope to source further information soon.  I’d like to thank Barry at Holyhead Maritime Museum and Brian Boyce at Rosslare Maritime Heritage Museum for helping me with sourcing photos. In our guest blog feature next month we travel up the Barrow river in the company of Brian Forristal and meet his forbearers on the banks of the mighty river. Next week I go in search of the Great Lewis.


[1] For a stirring account of the Douglas Hyde rescue see John Power’s book A Maritime History of County Wexford Vo II pp 458-462.  Copies still available from the Rosslare Maritime Heritage Centre

[2] Liverpool Echo – Saturday 27 November 1954; page 8

[3] Waterford News & Star – Friday 3rd December 1954; page 6




[1] Liverpool Echo – Saturday 27 November 1954 page 8

5 Replies to “Great Western weathers the storm”

  1. Wonderful story ,I was a young boy in 1954 and travelled on the great Weston with my family every year from 1948 , We had some terrible crossings between Rosslaire & Waterford but still here to tell the story to my grandchildren , I still travel across every year now to see the old country & relatives ,but these day it’s Pembroke to Rosslaire not so far on the sea .

    1. Thanks Noel, I think the local lads that sailed her called her a hoor in heavy weather as she was inclined to roll a lot… Not a pleasant experience for anyone. Thanks for taking the time to comment

  2. My father worked on the great western l have a calender of it when it took on passengers and when it was a cattle boat

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