The Bannow Bay Ghost Ship

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.

Bannow Bay, Co Wexford. From reading newspaper accounts it seems to me most likely it struck where the cursor in the photo is pointing or slightly to the east (right) of this

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. 

I’m part of Team Dunmore East working to raise sponsorship for the local Lifeboat. Details of our efforts and how to support are in the link

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.

The view from Baginbun looking east

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. 

A sense of how a barque is rigged, but I think this ship much bigger a vessel, the three masted barque Rona 1900. Accessed from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Three-masted_barque_RONA_under_sail_(8672996385).jpg

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?

A video that gives a great sense of the location

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.

Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent Tuesday 30th January 1832. Page 2. BNA.

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.

The new book cover which includes the blending of two images, the building of Dunmore East pier and the city dredger, Portlairge from an original image by Jonathan Allen.

[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

Rowdyism at the Races -Regattas of 1893

The local regattas of Waterford, New Ross and the harbour have a long tradition, and the season of events in 1893 was as widely attended and as fiercely competed as any other years.  To the victors went the spoils and the bragging rights, to the losers disapointment and a determination to do better at the next event. But tempers sometimes flared, plans went awry and drink added fuel to already tense situations. But it was in the racing competitions that the real drama took place and 1893 would prove to be a lively racing season as any other.

A recent email from Florida of a silver vase/cup which was presented at the Passage East Regatta of 1893 led me on a fascinating trawl for further information.   The mention of regattas evoke a bright and energetic scene in my mind. Reared on stories of the older ones I can picture a flag boat, brightly bedecked from where the races were co-ordinated. The “quality” on their yachts and finer boats, the fishermen in their working craft, looking as clean and well turned out as any other, and their pride in their craft no less than the weathiest owners present. On land a variety of activities well attended by hundreds drawn by boat and foot from many miles. But it was on the water where the drama would be, fiercely contested races, disputes between crews, and bragging rights to the winners which brough huge pride to the boat, the crew and the winning village. As a child these exploits were often relived to me, the boats celebrated and the disputes grew legs in the telling, or so I thought. So although I could very well imagine the story around the photo of the cup I was keen nonetheless to try put weight to my theories.  And so a search of the newspaper archives[i] brought the 1893 season alive to me.  I will start it in chronological order of the events that I managed to discover.

A sense of a regatta scene at Helvic, Co Waterford

At the AGM of the Waterford Boat Club in March some concerns were expressed at the lack of members given that the new club house in Ferrybank – that left the club with a debt of £64.  The membership subscription was considered low, but as it was seen as a recreational pursuit at the time, the chairman was hoping that more numbers would come forward to facilitate a regatta later in the summer[ii]. A follow up meeting saw a committee appointed comprising of organisers, race starters, umpires and judges[iii].  However, in a later report it was “… decided, owing to the non-training of the crews to abandon the annual regatta… This announcement will, we feel sure, be met with regret, as this annual event was one of the most prominent aquatic fixtures in Ireland”[iv]  Possibly an overstatement, but not perhaps, to the readers of the Waterford Chronical.

New Ross had no such issues.  In fact the training was so hot and heavy in the boat club, people were putting their lives in jeopardy.  From one report we learn of three separate incidents in the one week.  Firstly a boat was wrecked when an over enthusiastic oarsman hopped aboard and went through the hull.  The crew were none the worse for the wetting, but the boat necessitated a visit from the builder (Mr Rough) in Oxford, England who made the necessary repairs.  Meanwhile another single rower smacked into a river boat at anchor.  “…The stem of the skiff was considerably damaged, and she filled with water, the trainer having to swim ashore, dragging, as well as he could, the boat after him.”  Finally a very capable oarsman had rowed as far as Annagh Castle but on returing up to Ross his Skiff was upset and sunk.  Swimming to shore he righted and emptied his craft returning to New Ross none the worst for his adventure except for his wet attire.[v]

Ida with a crowd of revellers aboard. With thanks to Andy Kelly

I’ve found a few dates mentioned for the New Ross regatta of that year, and it seems likely the event was rescheduled, but apparently it was run off on Monday June 26th.  Ironically the same date as had earlier been proposed in Waterford.  A report in the Waterford Chronical painted a wonderful picture of a Waterford city crowd arriving by the paddle steamer Vandeluer for a day of revelry and promenading, remarking on the passengers enjoying the views along the “majestic windings of the noble stream” but following arrival at the town of New Ross, the weather takes a turn for the worse, leading the writer to evoke Shakespeare “Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day, And make me travel forth without my cloak, To let base clouds o’ertake me in my way, Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke?[vi]

The races are run however including an open Cot race, Carvel built Yawl race for boats fishing inside the Tower of Hook, and a sculling Punt race. The race of the day was apparently the New Ross Boat Club Challenge Cup which was staged between the locals and Dublin University Boat Club, victory by a long margin to the locals was triumphantly recorded.  Two other races were recorded; large Gig race and a skiff race.  Numbers of competitors in the report were very small however, and I didn’t notice any boats from the lower harbour – perhaps their knowledge of the weather kept them away.[vii]

There was another side to the popular event however and for many weeks after, the courts dealt with several serious cases of public order.  In one, Joseph Halligan of Ringville (situated downriver on the Kilkenny side) was brought before the Petty Sessions after he wielded a bottle at a brawl during the regatta.  Halligan had arrive in Ross with his neighbours and friends to race in the regatta when some prime boys from the town, described as sailors and porters, had taken the oars to their boats and had refused to hand them back.  Tempers flared and on one of his colleagues being knocked senseless to the ground Halligan went on the attack and broke not one but two bottles off his tormentors.  Constable Kepple had made enquires and found that the defendant had been much provoked and on his evidence the bench decided to fine the defendant 1s with costs.  His willingness to cooperate and the evidence of Constable Kepple were cited as the reasons for the leniency shown.[viii]

Another report under the headline of “Drunkenness and Rowdyism” dealt with several cases of assault while another weeks court report was headlined “The Faction Fight Near New Ross”, and detailed a dispute between rival fishing crews of cot men from Kilbrehon and the neighbouring district arising out of the regatta races.[ix]

Tramore regatta with a wide variety of sailing boats and other craft participating.

The next meet of the summer was on Tuesday 12th September at Tramore.  A report of the day described it “so far as the spectators were concerned… a thorough success” However in racing terms it proved a disappointment at least for sailing purposes.  The course for all sailing races was “…from the flag boat at Cove, round  flag boat at Strand, round flag boat under Brownstown Head, round flag boat a mile south of Mettleman, and home”  There were ten races scheduled including for: Second Class Fishing Yawls, Half-decked Pleasure Boats, Lobster pot boats (oars and sail allowed), Passage and Ballyhack Fishing Yawls, Sailing Punts, First Class Yawls, Pair oared Punts, Swimming race, Coastguard Boats, Four Oared Yawls and a Duck Hunt.  The following account was given of the Coastguard race which although understated I could well imagine was a matter of some pride, not to say hostility between these particular crews: “This proved an excellent race, and we should like see another contest between the same crews. The Blue Jackets strained every nerve in their rivalry, and if the Tramore crew was beaten it was little more than short head. Order finish was—Bonmahon 1st, Tramore 2nd,  Ballymacaw 3rd and Dunmore 4th[x]

Cheekpoint was held two days later, on Thursday 14th September.  The scene was described as “an annual fixture, [which]…took place… under very favourable conditions, and was an unqualified success.  A hazy morning was succeeded by a beautiful autumn day, and the lovely expanse of water which forms the confluence of the Suir and Barrow never looked to greater advantage, gaily-decked fleet of pleasure craft and fishing boats giving an unwonted air of animation to the scene” [xi]

Pat Powers steam yacht Jennie, off the Rookery quay, pre 1903 as Barrow Railway bridge commenced late 1902

Giving a sense of the popularity, the river had many boats on show, where the wealthier or more privileged spectators took advantage of some of the best viewing opportunities, whilst being royally entertained. As befitted the local landlord, Pat Power of Faithlegg House, took centre stage with his steam yacht Jennie[xii] – crewed by local men including members of the Heffernan and Barry families.  The Jennie was “dressed with bunting from deck to trucks, and numerous and fashionable party were entertained on board by her popular owner.”  Amongst other yachts present as spectators on the day were Mr J N White’s Neerid,  Mr Murphy’s Pixie,  Mr Gallwey’s Thyra, Mr J R Colfer’s Dunmore, Messrs Graves and McConkeys  Irex, and many others that were unidentified.[xiii]

But it wasn’t just an event for the well to do.  The article mentions that  “The country folk [of which I would surely be included had I been there] assembled in great numbers along Cheekpoint Strand to watch the various contests, and we are glad to be able record that, although many of the rowing events elicited great enthusiasm and excitement, the day passed off without the least rowdyism or unpleasantness”[xiv]  Perhaps proving the point, I found no mention of the event in court reports afterwards.  Honest, I did look! That said, it was often while fishing or while visiting another village thereafter that sport could kick off. My father often recalled punch ups between competing crews due to a regatta race, where infringements, real or imagined, resurfaced and regularly led to trouble.

“There were numerous other events, including sailing and rowing races for fishing yawls, ships’ gig race, pair-oared and sculling punts, farmers’ race, pram [Prong] race, duck hunt, etc., all of which were well contested.”  But according to the report the principal event of the day was the race for pleasure boats, which resolved itself into duel between Mr R Kelly’s Oceola and Mr J Barry ‘s Ballinagoul, and Mr Allinghams Otis.  A vivid description of this 12 mile race that involved sailing below Duncannon and finishing with two laps around Cheekpoint to finish.  It turned into a two horse race after the Otis lost her topsail, after trading places on several occasions a thrilling finish saw the Oceola beat Ballinagoul into second place by six feet.[xv]

A colourised image of Dunmore East. Following interaction with Eoin Robson who facilitated further assistance with Alison Cable, Boat Register editor of the Old Gaffers Association we speculated on the possibility of the three boats shown as having participated in the Cheekpoint regatta described above. However, this was prior to the other information I have on Passage East. I share it in case it might prompt a memory or extra information (and it may also be spot on). None of the 3 [boats mentioned in the Cheekpoint regatta above] are in the 1895/6 [Lloyds yacht] register, but Oceola, belonging to Mr R A Kelly appears in 1897-90. She drops of the register in 1901. She is listed as a cutter, with sails by Grant. Displacement 5 tons Thames measure. 25′ on the waterline. Designed by E.Murphy and built by E Power in Waterford in 1892. Her home port is listed as Waterford, which certainly goes with racing at Dunmore East.

“Otis, owned by J Allingham also appear in the 1897 register, but her details are very scanty, merely listing her as a cutter of 5 tons Thames measure. Her home port is London. It is possible that the two cutters in this photo are Oceola and Otis, with the yawl being Ballinagoul. I have found no boat of this name in the register, although a J.Barry is listed as a yacht builder in Cork active in 1876 when he built Mystery”

More on Otis. “Her entry was very odd, since her details are so scanty and she also had no obvious connection with the Waterford Harbour area. However I found a boat listed in the 1903, 1910, 1915 registers called Kate, ex Otis. She is a cutter, with sails by Grant, 6 tons TM, 25′ on the waterline, and built by Hicks of Waterford in 1888. Her owner is listed as Patrick Bolger of New Ross. Patrick Bolger owned another very similar yacht called Kate in 1897, this one built by Fitzpatrick of Waterford. It is likely that Patrick Bolger bought Otis from Mr Allingham, and renamed her. There seems to have been a flourishing yacht building culture is Waterford! ” With thanks to Eoin and Alison for their thoughts and expertise.
On a related note – David Carroll has pointed out that the colour image used actually dates to 1925 or after. This still does not take from Alisons information however, these boats were built to last.

The email query that started this quest for details of the Passage regatta was the last to be run of the 1893 season.  Passage East was blighted by glorious sunshine and still breezes, which favoured those viewing and some of the rowing races but made a misery of the sailing.  For the purposes of trying to identify the cup I thought it best to concentrate on the sailing races, of which there were four but only two given any great detail.  “There were numerous entries for all the sailing races, of which two were for pleasure boats and two for yawls ; but these events were greatly marred by the want of wind. The chief race, for first class pleasure boats, brought the following to starting line —Mr Colfer’s Dunmore Allingham’s Otis,  Mr Kelly’s Oceola,  Mr O’Neill’s Naiad, Mr Barry’s Ballinagoul,” and Mr Power’s Mary Joseph.  The course was from Passage Pier. A good start was made at 12.15, and with a light W.N.W. breeze, the run was quickly made; here the wind veered W.S.W., and Mary Joseph and Ballinagoul, in this order drew away from the others; however, the breeze soon got back about W, which just enabled boats lay their course on the return journey to Passage. The second round was very tedious, and running for Dunmore the boats were at times barely aide to stem the strong flood tide. Mary Joseph caught a puff off Glenwater, which enabled her to creep ahead of Oceola, and managed to increase her lead on the reach home. The finish was Mary Joseph first by about three minutes, Ocoola second, the rest a long way behind. In second pleasure boat race Mr H W Goffs Waterway won easily from Mr Paul’s Alarm and Mr Meade’s Seabird.  The rowing were all well contested and in the afternoon donkey races, Greasy Pole and other sports, gave unbounded amusements to the large crowd on shore.”[xvi]

Passage East Regatta cup image courtesy of Paul Fitzgerald. The cup/ vase reads: PASSAGE EAST REGATTA, September 20th 1893, Won by (at this stage there is a distict gap with some soldering marks suggesting a badge or plaque had been in place -my theory s that it was for the winning craft and/or crew)
MIST (an abbreviation for Mr?), H.W.D. Goff

Unfortunately I could find no extra detail of the Passage events. I thought that through them I might get a better insight into the details on the cup and a lead on who may have won it, or the connection of Hubert Goff to the event.  Goff was the son of Sir William Davis Goff the business man and keen sportsman who had a passion for sailing. However Hubert was only a young man at the time, so would he have had the cash or the interest in providing a prize for a sailing meet? My theory is that he did. We do know from the report that his craft the Waterway won the second pleasure boat race. But is this the cup he won. Personally I don’t think so. I’m basing this on a theory that the hallmarked cup/vase which stands 4.5 inches high was engraved before the event and that a later plaque was added with the winning boat and crew.   It’s the only theory that I can imagine that fits with the writing that is there.  Afterall, why would the cup maker go to the bother and expense of adding another piece to the cup if it was all engraved after the event with the winner?  I’m open to correction or any other theories. Following through on this theory it is possible that the winner of this cup was the Mary Joseph, owned by Mr Power. Mere speculation here, as I have no further evidence, but Pat Power of Faithlegg had on son named Hubert who had also a passion for sailing and owned a number of sailing vessels. The only yacht I have a name for however is Star of the Sea, which was a boat he had built himself, apparently in the Rookery, Cheekpoint, which he sailed up until ill health prevented him.

Finally, the Passage regatta also led to court.  In this case two young lads named Connolly and O’Gorman appeared in court at the Callaghane Petty Sessions on charges of having robbed a boat while attending the Passage East Regatta and used it to head back upriver to Waterford.  However while enroute, they were rundown by the New Ross Steamer (The Ida at this time) and narrowly avoided drowning.  Their solicitor could do little but appeal to the mercy of the court.  Judgement was withheld but with a caution that compensation be made to the boat owner, Mr Arthur O’Neill of Glenbower.[xvii]

Despite hours of searching I found no mention of a regatta that year at Dunmore, Ballyhack or Duncannon.  The season was brought to a conclusion with Passage East, and no doubt the long winter would bring retelling of the events, replays of the winning strategies and planning for revenge for those who narrowly lost out.  It would all be replayed in 1894 and the competitions would be as fierce as ever.   But that of course is a whole different story.

If you have any other information, images or memorabilia on the events of 1893 or any regattas in the area I would love to hear them in the comments or to tidesntales@gmail.com  

If you would like a sense of the rowing races I previously wrote a story on the Cheekpoint regatta of 1909.

I have many people to thank for assistance with this piece. Paul Fitzgeral who prompted the search, John Diamond and Myles Courtney from New Ross, Joe Falvey from Waterford, Paul O’Farrell and Eoin Robson and Alison Cable. Each in their own way gave extra insight or their valuable time to help with details. I think the photos help to bring the story alive and I am indebted to Waterford County Museum and thier online catalouge of photograph used throughout the story. The responsibility for what is contained is my own.

My new book is scheduled to be published in September 2020.
Its available for pre-order at https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/publication/waterford-harbour/9780750993685/

Hell Hole Horror – wreck of the SS Kinsale

On Saturday evening, 23rd November 1872 the SS Kinsale grounded on the Wexford side of Waterford harbour at a spot known locally as the Hell Hole. It was an appropriate name for the events that were to follow and it resulted in one of the largest losses of life in the harbour. But it made headlines for an altogether different reason, a very untruthful one.

On Friday 22nd November 1872 the steamer SS Kinsale slipped her moorings in Cork and sailed out the River Lee on her return trip to her home port of Glasgow.  Already the weather was turning contrary and her regular 20 man crew realised it was going to be a rough passage early on, at least until the rounded the Tuskar, and more than one of them felt sorry for their 8 passengers, particularly the only lady, now huddled in a corner of the saloon.

SS Kinsale. Used with kind permission of Brian Cleare

The Kinsale was a ship of 383 tons, over 197 ft long and had been launched in 1865 in the Glasgow shipyard of Henderson, Coulborn & Co, Renfrew. She was registered in that city to the Glasgow, Cork & Waterford Steam Navigation Co. Her crew were regulars mostly from her home port and they knew the journey very well.  Although rigged with sails, she rarely used them, preferring instead her reliable and powerful engine lovingly maintained by her chief engineer, Edward Cooke.  Aboard she carried a general cargo including agricultural products such as butter, bacon, sacks of flour and casks of beer.

Once they rounded Roches Point at the eastern tip of Cork harbour the seas broke across her decks and struggled to clear the scuppers before the next wave crashed aboard.  As she continued along the southern Irish coast during that night the weather deteriorated further.  When off the Wexford coast the chief engineer came on deck and advised Captain Stephen Anderson that they needed to find shelter as his engines could not take much more punishment.[ 

Seaman Angus Nicholson reported on deck for his watch at about 3pm on Saturday 23rd and took the helm.  The Kinsale was handling badly and over the howling gale he struggled to hear the orders of Captain Anderson, who directed him to make for Waterford harbour to seek shelter. The navigation was well known to them as Waterford was on their regular three way route and the crew had only left Waterford on the 20th for Cork. Together on the open bridge they struggled to keep the salt spray from their eyes and to pick out the light of the Hook Lighthouse.  They were joined momentarily by the Chief Engineer who communicated hurriedly with the Captain, parts of which were clear to the seaman and did little to provide reassurance.  The engineer had a worried look on his face and although he had tried to nurse the engine as long as possible, it now needed urgent repairs.

By 4pm they had entered the harbour but the sailors could take little solace in his.  Known as the graveyard of a thousand ships, every man aboard knew there was still a way to go, and plenty of danger still.  Almost within line of Creaden Head, where the sight of Duncannon gave a hint of the welcoming safety of the upper reaches there was a sickening crash from below, as her propeller shaft finally succumbed to the tons of pressure forced on it by the sea.  The ship slowly dropped her forward momentum and wallowed in the heaving seas.  By then they were out of sight of Dunmore East and Duncannon was still a distance.

Captain Anderson must have been cursing his luck. He was not due to be aboard at all, his regular ship was in dry dock and he agreed to take command of the steamer on a temporary basis. Now he ordered his men to set the sails, and realising the dangers they rushed to their stations, but each time they tried to fix the canvas in place the sails were ripped away by the unrelenting gale.  It was blowing from the SSW and added to their troubles darkness was coming on.  Each sailor was soaked to the skin, freezing cold and acutely aware of their predicament as the seas and wind carried them relentlessly towards the Wexford shore.

A map of the lower harbour area

In desperation Captain Anderson ordered that the anchor be dropped and simultaneously he ordered the main mast to be cut away, in the hopes of easing the pressure on the anchor chain.  Alas they were still chopping when the chain parted, necessitating the second anchor to be readied.  At this point they were nearly upon the shore.  With the second anchor away and the mast about to drop the men had a moment of hope that there battle with the elements might have ended with victory.  Whether the anchor dragged or the chain parted will never be known, but the short respite was quickly ended as the stern of the Kinsale struck the rocks and the wind and waves quickly hastened her broadside and ashore.  Captain Anderson was seen clutching the rail surveying his doomed ship, resigned to his fate.

Although it was now each man and woman for himself, they were in a practically hopeless situation.  They were aground under a steep cliff on the Wexford shoreline known locally as the “Hell Hole” at Broom Hill.  Each surging sea shook the ship to her core and washed a mountainous sea over them and the cliff face.  To stay aboard wasn’t an option, but the shore held no cover.  In desperation many jumped more in helplessness than in hope, which others tried to negotiate ropes and fallen stays in the hope of reaching the rocks and a sheltered crevice.  Many were washed away in those early minutes.  Depending on where others made it ashore they faced a sheer cliff of rock or a wet and slippery vertical grassy climb, neither option was favourable, but it was better than the sea.  Perhaps they could hope that help was on its way.

Just a sample of the weekends fun in Wexford

Although the ship had been sighted earlier, her fate was not clear to many.  A duty coastguard stationed at the lookout at Dunmore East named Daniel Sullivan had spotted the ship earlier but as the ship was then making her way upriver he didn’t notice anything amiss.  As the Kinsale went further up she was lost in the storm and the gathering gloom.  Soldiers on duty at Duncannon Fort also spotted the ship but reported no concerns for the ship below them in the harbour.  But two local men at Harrylock on the Hook realised the danger the ship was in and one, John Ronan, left on horseback to alert the Coastguard at Fethard.

Other locals also ran to the scene in an attempt to give what assistance they could, but without the necessary equipment they could do little more that act as witnesses to the unfolding tragedy below them on the rocks.  In the dark and fearsome gale, getting soaked by waves and sea spray they reached out with their bare hands and offered what rope they could find in an attempt to assist the people below. 

SS Kinsale aground in the Hell Hole. Used with kind permission of Brian Cleare

The local parish priest described it as follows: “…the poor people of the locality; men, women, and children—risked their lives to save the ill-fated crew and passengers. The men were trying to fish them with whatever bits of rope they could find in the hurry of the moment, but they were found to be useless—too short and too rotten. Men and women leaned over the awful precipice, white with the foam, and drenched with the spray of the angry waves in hope of being able to save some of the sufferers at the manifest and imminent peril of their own lives….”

Realising that their fate was in their own hands, many of the shipwrecked men started to climb the cliff face, reaching out and finding in their desperation some foot hold or crevice in the rock to cling too. Ironically, for perhaps the first time that long day, the gale now played a positive role.  For the force of it, pressed their wearied bodies to the cliff.  In the dark it was impossible to know where each man was or at what point men lost their grip, their foothold or just the energy to keep going.

Three sailors managed to reach below the top of the cliff and found help in the hands of a local woman, Mary Lannon.  She managed to get two over the edge, before being joined by a married couple; Margaret and John O’Shea.  Margaret helped to get the third man over, while John ran for rope which he tried to throw over the cliff.  This was in vain, the force of wind drove it back, and so he unhitched a gate and tied it as a weight.  The rope however, was too short to reach the bottom.  The three sailors were brought to Byrnes farmhouse nearby and several errands were run to the local shop and neighbours houses to try make the men warm and comfortable with clothing and food.

Meanwhile the coastguard arrived on the scene, they had been slowed by a lack of a suitable carriage (it had been damaged previously, reported, but no repairs were forthcoming).  Their equipment was unloaded and efforts were made, but despite this only one other man made it to safety, Angus Nicholson, the man that had come on duty just as the ship turned to Waterford harbour in the hope of safety. He had a broken arm, and had managed to find shelter in a crevice. He reached the clifftop having been hauled up while he held on to a rope ladder.

The Hell Hole in more calm conditions. Photo courtesy of Paddy O’Shea

The four men were reunited in Byrnes home where they were provided with every comfort. It was not until an officer of the Arthurstown Coastguard arrived to interview them that they learned that they were the sole survivors and that it was highly unlikely that any others had made it ashore – at least alive.

In subsequent days the loss of the SS Kinsale became an international sensation.  Despite the efforts of the ordinary people on the Hook that evening, the Freemans’ Journal although acknowledging a lone female, rounded on all the others in an accusation of being wreckers – that they did little to help, being too busy plundering the ship and that for days after were drunk on the spoils of beer casks that washed in on the tide. 

FEARFUL WRECK ON THE IRISH COAST. GREAT LOSS OF LIFE. DISGRACEFUL SCENES OF PILLAGE AND INTOXICATION. GALLANT CONDUCT OF A GIRL.[

Headline from the Freeman’s Journal

A local curate Rev Doyle PP of Ramsgrange took up the pen in response and countered the claims.  But anyone thinking he was just rushing to the defence of his parishioners would have been silenced by the subsequent inquiry held under the commissioners of the Board of Trade.  Witness after witness deposed as to the exemplary conduct of the local population, and their self-sacrifice on the night of the tragedy.

Then as now however, the media had a powerful role to play.  And that initial headline in the Freeman’s Journal created a seed.  Slanderous and damning, it fostered an image of the wreckers, a damnable label oft used by the powerful to pigeonhole the coastal dwellers who looked to the sea for their bounty and thought in natural to collect what washed in, as a gift of fate.  The wreckers of the coast was used to describe many the coastal community in 19th Century Ireland including on the Wexford and Waterford coast.  But that, as they say, is another story.

Several people have suggested over a long period of time that some of my blog readers would like to support my research costs. I don’t know that it’s feasible but I put together a short survey, totally anonymous, which I’d love you to consider completing.  The system I’m researching is an online platform called Patreon, which allows patrons to make a monthly donation to an artist, writer, etc that they enjoy. A patrons donation can be discontinued at any point, the amount reduced or increased. The survey is to help me decide if its worth researching the option and can be accessed via the link below

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TKG9H79h

This piece this morning is based on contemporary new articles, online searches and written material including: Waterford Chronicle Wed 18th Dec 1872 pp 2-3
Power. John. A Maritime History of County Wexford. Vol 1 1859-1910. P 148-152 Cork Constitution – Wednesday 04 December 1872; page 3 Freeman’s Journal – Monday 25 November 1872; page 3 Wexford People – Saturday 07 December 1872; page 6 Dublin Weekly Nation – Saturday 28 December 1872; page 5 Cork Examiner – Wednesday November 27th 1872; page 3 Freemans Journal – Saturday December 16th 1872; page 3