Remembering the Schooner Lapwing

On the 9th November* 1917 a small schooner
slipped her moorings at Waterford Quays and sailed out the harbour and towards
the Irish Sea.  Her destination was
Cardiff in Wales. But she never
arrived.  At the centenary of the end of the First World War, I thought it fitting to remember a small
incident in the context of the war, but no less significant for the families’
left behind. What was the fate of the Schooner Lapwing?
The schooner SV
Lapwing
was registered in the port of Arbroath, where she had been built.
She was of 110 gross tons and 95 net and measured 84.0’ length x 21.4’  beam x 10.5’ depth. She was owned at the time
by a number of interests from Arklow in Co Wicklow, but largely by members of
the Kearon family.
SV Lapwing. Photo credit Arklow Maritime Museum

Schooners had originated in America but had quickly spread
to Europe as their size and sailing capacity made them a favourite for the
shorter coastal trade and the difficulties associated with navigating smaller
harbours and estuaries.  I could only
find a few mentions of her coming into local ports, two in particular are worth
recalling.  In 1909 a young sailor boy
named Patrick Hogan was recorded as having taken his own life while in port at
New Ross.[i]  Another account from 1912 describes a
collision between her and the Dublin steam pilot boat as she entered port,
resulting in severe damage to the schooner.[ii]

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On that fateful day in 1917, she departed the city with a
cargo of pit props.  My understanding of
this trade is that it was normally associated with freshly cut timber from
local estates which was drawn to the port and exported. The Lapwing most probably had arrived
previously with a load of coal.

The Lapwing that day was sailing into treacherous
waters.  We’ve previously examined the
ferocious naval campaigns being waged off the Irish coast, sometimes referred
to as the “killing lanes” where U Boats and mines were a constant threat.  From February 1917 the German Navy had
initiated their unrestricted U Boat Campaign, meaning that ships would be sunk
on sight with no warnings.  It was a
response to the desperation they felt at home, and the near starvation of her
citizens.
Families of course could not be sure of when they might hear
from loved ones, so it was probably a matter of weeks before they would even
begin to have concerns.  And even then
how could they know for sure.  Were they
weather bound? Had they struck a mine? Had they succumbed to U Boat attack?
Of the five man crew three were of the one family. Four were from Arklow including the skipper and part owner Joseph Kearon(65), his sons
Edward(19 and George(17), George Tyrrell(18). The fifth crewman was
from New Ross, Patrick Merrigan, Age 23 from Old Post Office Lane, New Ross,
Co. Wexford**
The only other reference I can find to the boat or her crew
dates from a court action in Arklow in 1918.[iii]  Mary Tyrell (sister of George) has taken an action
on behalf of her mother against the owners of the Lapwing.  We are told only that since she left
Waterford “…no tale or tidings have been heard since.” George Tyrell had only
been aboard for two weeks and was employed as a cook.  Although there was some dispute legally about
whether she was lost or not, this appears to have been accepted on the basis
that the owners had received a settlement under the war risks. The court found
in his mothers favour. 
I’m sure it was probably many years after the war before the families would
know their loved ones fate for certain.  As it happens one
account is that she struck a mine, and it has often been repeated. (A steamer SS Lapwing was struck by a mine a day later, and if you look at the link you may spot an error confirming that confusion still may exist as Kearon is listed as her master too!) However the true facts are that the ship was
sunk by shellfire as she sailed towards Wales after being spotted by U-95.  Her last resting place here.
Perhaps for me one of the most frustrating things about the loss of the schooner was her obvious vulnerability.  In the following weeks the Coningbeg and Formby would be blasted from the Irish Sea too, but in their cases the U Boat had reason to be cautious.  They were steam driven and could have outrun the U boat, they could also have rammed her or they could also have fired on her, being armed and with naval gunners aboard.  But the Lapwing had nothing.  Five men on a timber ship at the mercy of the wind and tide.  A hard target to justify, except perhaps, she was unarguably an aid to the allied war effort. That perhaps and the fear that if they gave a warning to abandon the craft, she may have turned out a Q ship.

Tower Hill Memorial, London via www.cwgc.org

I’d imagine that as the media acknowledge the end of the First World
War this weekend, most of the commentary will be about the guns falling silent and the troops leaving the trenches.  But for thousands of men, and many women, it was just a different day as they struggled against the elements to keep lines of trade open.  Gone was the menace of U Boats, but mines would persist for many more years to come.  The majority of those that died at sea had no grave of course, but their names are recorded on the memorial to the merchant marine at London’s Tower Hill memorial


* From her position when sunk on the 10th  I’m assuming she left Waterford on this date

**Patrick Merrigan of the Lapwing was a son of Patrick Merrigan River Pilot in New Ross.One of 9 children. He was 15 years and 3 months and described as a Labourer in the 1911 Census. Via Mark Minihan

I’d like to acknowledge the help of Arklow Maritime Museum and Brian Cleare in help with this piece.

[i]
Irish Times. September 25th 1909. P14
[ii]
Irish Times. February 16th 1912.
[iii]
Wicklow Newsletter and County Advertiser. October 26th 1918. P2.
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