The Last Voyage of the schooner Saint Austell

The last Friday of each month I try to source a contribution from a guest writer.  This month, David Carroll gives another slice of his early life growing up in Dunmore East concerning the shipwrecked Saint Austell.  It’s a wonderfully researched account of a different age. I always enjoy reading his personal memories of the village and in this piece, a fascinating trip to the Hook via a crumbling New Ross bridge. The account of the Saint Austell, and particularly its skipper itself is quite bizarre. I’m sure you will love it. 
Recently, Michael Farrell, Chairperson of the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society, kindly presented me with a copy of the ‘The Story of the Dunmore East Lifeboats’. He knew it would be of great interest to me, having lived at the harbour in Dunmore from 1947 until leaving for Dublin in 1969. A description of one rescue from 1952 particularly interested me:
“When the schooner “Saint Austell” of Howth, caught fire, 4 miles east of Hook Lighthouse, early on the morning of April 14 1952, her crew of two were forced to jump overboard. The “Annie Blanche Smith” slipped her moorings at 7-45a.m. and a fishing boat, also put to sea from Slade. Her crew rescued the two men, who by that time had been in the water for about an hour and they were both suffering from shock and exposure. The lifeboat-men passed a bottle of rum across for the rescued men and they escorted the fishing boat back to Slade, before returning to her Station at 10-15a.m.”
I was fascinated by this account as I could still recall seeing the shipwreck of a schooner about three miles from Hook Head, when I was about eight years old circa 1955. Was it the same ship? Not too many schooners remained to be shipwrecked, even in the 1950s. I contacted Andrew Doherty from Waterford Harbour Tide ‘n’ Tales, as I knew he would be an excellent source of information and he immediately sent me an extract from John Power’s ‘A Maritime History of County Wexford’ and I was now certain that this was the same vessel and with my appetite whetted for information, further investigation was required.
Incidentally, that road trip to the Hook around 1955 was an eventful one. Living in Dunmore East, we were only about three miles from Hook Head across the entrance to Waterford Harbour but to reach it by land involved a journey of over fifty miles each way. We looked across each day to the Hook to see what fishing boats or yachts were out to sea heading towards Dunmore and ships heading up the harbour to the ports of Waterford or New Ross
At night, we would watch the Hook light flashing away keeping all shipping safe. The tower looked massive compared to our small lighthouse in Dunmore. My father had long promised to visit the Hook by car and eventually the big day arrived. I can remember our car well. It was a black Morris Minor and the registration number was WI 2656. There was no car-ferry at Passage at that time so a car had to travel to New Ross to cross the river Barrow and then drive down the other side of the estuary by Duncannon to reach the Hook. The bridge in those days at New Ross was not for the faint–hearted. Barrels were placed all along the bridge to slow cars down to a snail’s pace as they zigzagged across the very unsafe looking structure. By the time President Kennedy arrived in 1963, a new modern bridge had been erected.
A lady crossing New Ross bridge, note 5mph speed limit
Courtesy of Myles Courtney. New Ross Street Focus 

A guard to ensure the speed limit on New Ross bridge
Courtesy of Myles Courtney. New Ross Street Focus 

My father, from his navy days, knew William Hamilton, one of the keepers at the Hook and he brought us to the top of the tower and were able to look back across at Dunmore, which was a great thrill. On our way home, we stopped a few miles from Slade to look for a wreck of a schooner that my father wanted to see. I now know that this was Sandeel Bay. The wreck was a bit disappointing; it was just a ‘black blob’ on the rocks. I had a much more romantic vision of wrecked sailing ships, probably from reading books where the masts were still standing and the seas crashed in over the bow! I am afraid that what little remained of the poor Saint Austell was anything but romantic. A sad end for a sailing ship that had traded for almost 80 years.

This is an image, that as a young boy, I thought all shipwrecked sailing ships looked like! 
Image courtesy ‘Clive Carter Collection at Cornish Studies Library’  www.cornishmemory.com 
By looking back on copies of the Irish Press, Irish Independent and Evening Herald from April 1952, I was able to piece together the final voyage of the Saint Austell, which is quite an interesting one:
The schooner Saint Austell was launched at Portreath in Cornwall in 1873. She one time carried coal between Wales and Devon but in later years from England to Ireland. In early 1952, the Saint Austell was damaged when she hit the quay wall at Drogheda, where she had arrived with a cargo of coal from Garston. The owners decided to dispose of her. Some members of Drogheda Harbour Commissioners, as reported in the Drogheda Independent of April 12 1952, contradicted this account of events for fear of it having a negative effect on the reputation of the port! 
Saint Austell courtesy ‘Clive Carter Collection at Cornish Studies Library’ cornishmemory.com
The purchaser was Mr. Kevin Lawler, a 29-year old marine engineer, originally from Athy, Co. Kildare but living at Kincora Road in Clontarf, Dublin. Lawler intended to make a single-handed crossing of the Atlantic to America in the schooner. He said that this was to answer a challenge made two years previously that he “had not got the courage to do it”.
After repairs and fitting out at Grand Canal Quay in Dublin and after a few postponements, the vessel finally left Howth on Holy Saturday, April 12 1952. An earlier attempt at a departure was not an auspicious one as the schooner was held in sand and had to wait the rising tide to be re-floated. The Saint Austell was to sail when winds were favourable (foresail, main and mizzen, easily hauled up by one man using a pulley block system) and sparing usage of an auxiliary diesel engine. Speaking to The Irish Press, Lawler said “I will go south about, on the Azores and Bahamas run. The best run at any time, of course, is the Canaries, West Africa and Brazil route, but,” he asked, “what would I be doing in Brazil?”
A number of friends accompanied Lawler as far as the Kish lightship and when other were saying farewell, Thomas McDonagh, described as a 40-year old labourer from Baldoyle, Co. Dublin hid as a stowaway in the hold. At 8p.m., McDonagh came on deck. 
At 1a.m. on Sunday the engine stopped. At 4pm. on Sunday, the Irish Lights vessel at Coningbeg saw the Saint Austell, apparently with broken-down engines, drifting inside the Coningbeg Rock. It remained in this dangerous area until midnight. Earlier in the day the Saint Austell, with the Tricolour fluttering from her masthead, had exchanged signals with a Dutch vessel. 
John Power’s A Maritime History of County Wexford states, “When off the Wexford Coast, she was observed from the lookout at Rosslare Harbour to be going around in circles for some time inside the dangerous Hantoon Bank off Wexford Harbour”.
After the engine had stopped, Lawler worked on it all day and all night but without any success. He again tried on Monday morning but the engine went on fire. The flames spread rapidly.  William Hamilton, principal keeper at Hook lighthouse was on duty and shortly after dawn saw a glare out to sea. He telephoned Dunmore East lifeboat station giving the location of the Saint Austell. Fearing that the lifeboat would not arrive in time, Mr. Hamilton later decided to get help from the nearby fishing village of Slade, where he roused Thomas Williams, Thomas Barry and Martin Fortune. The four men left at once for the blazing ship in Mr. Barry’s motor vessel Sunflower.
When rescued, McDonagh was only semi-conscious. Lawler did not appear to be any worse for his experience. The men had been in the water for over an hour and had clung to a floating ladder. As they were being hauled aboard the Sunflower, the Dunmore East lifeboat drew alongside. There was a loud explosion on the Saint Austell as the boats drew away. There was no lifesaving equipment aboard the stricken vessel apart from a rubber dinghy, which could not be launched, having been burnt out. Some minutes after the rescue craft arrived on the scene, the foremast of the Saint Austell, which was carrying a large amount of diesel oil (1,000 gallons or 1,500 gallons – depending on which newspaper you read), collapsed.
Lawler and McDonagh were brought to the home of Mrs. Richard Barry, Slade, the local representative of the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Association. Here, Dr. O’Dwyer of Duncannon attended them. Later, it was learned that the two men were removed to Wexford Hospital for observation. 
Mr. Arthur Wescott-Pitt, Honorary Secretary of the Dunmore East lifeboat gave an interview to an Evening Herald reporter and said “Lawler told me that it all happened in a flash”. The boat, which was still blazing several hours later was then located just off the coast about three miles east of the Hook Tower where it was driven ashore.
Misfortune at sea seems to have followed Kevin Lawler. The Irish Press reported as a footnote to their account of the Saint Austell rescue that on August 1st of the previous year, Lawler and five companions were sailing towards the Welsh coast in the steam trawler Lady Fry when it sprang a leak off Holyhead and sank. They were rescued by another trawler. 
I endeavoured to research press cuttings in Irish newspapers about this incident but was unable to find any further information.  A headline in the Irish Press on Wednesday April 16 1952, two days after the dramatic rescue said, “Shipwrecked voyager says I’ll try again – I’ll get another boat somehow” says 29-year-old Kevin Lawler, the Athy marine engineer whose attempt to sail the Atlantic in the motor ketch, Saint. Austell, ended when the vessel caught fire off the Wexford coast. The report goes on to say, “The Saint. Austell was not insured and Lawler estimates that his loss is well over £2,000”.
On May 26 1952, in ‘Along the Waterfront’ a marine miscellany in the Irish Press, writer Mac Lir reports that Kevin Lawler had a new steam trawler Mint. He signed Thomas McDonagh on as the cook. Whether Mint ever attempted to sail the Atlantic, I shall leave to others to research!
Thank you David for another slice of a fascinating early life in Dunmore East and the harbour.  You can read David’s earlier account of growing up in the fishing village and the characters he met here.  If you have a piece you would like to submit for consideration to the guest blog, all I ask is that it relates to Waterford harbour or our rivers, increases the knowledge and appreciation of our rich maritime heritage and is approximately 1200 words long. Please contact me via russianside@gmail.com or indeed if you know of someone who is interested in this topic can you let me know and I will happily follow them up.


Since then Frank Norris posted the following text and photo to the Waterford Maritime History Facebook page today 20th Feb 2018 and with his permission it is gratefully reposted

Schooner “St. Austell” dep. Dublin area April 1952 skipper  Kevin Lawler for single-handed voyage to America.  According to a press clipping I had,  when he attempted to start the engine off Hook Head a starter cartridge blew out of the engine and set a barrel of oil afire.  A stowaway then emerged from below decks.  Both men abandoned and were picked up by the Dunmore East lifeboat.   The wreck drifted onto rocks in Slade area and Bobby Shortall, a projectionist at the Coliseum in the days of Miss.Kerr, and possibly Tony O’Grady who later became a Chief Officer with Irish Shipping and Brian O’Connor   and I decided to go and see it.  We cycled to Passage East and crossed over on Patsy Barrons ferry, a half-deck fishing boat, to Ballyhack.   I think it costed 4pence and if the ferry was on the other side of the river you hoisted a flag to call it. Then onto Slade area and after trudging across some fields we found the wreck.   Burnt-out almost down to the waterline with the engine visible.   I wonder if the engine is still there? 





Harbour Sentinel – Hook Lighthouse

This weekend we commemorate the loss of the ships SS Formby and SS Coningbeg in December 1917.  It’s a topic I covered last week with a view to promoting the commemoration this weekend.  In thinking about the sailors who perished this week I came to realise that the last sight of the harbour the crew would have ever seen was the lighthouse at the end of the eastern tip of their home harbour. So today rather than the event itself, I thought I might blog about the sentinel that lights the harbour.

The Hook, as I guess most locals call it, was often the last sight of home for my mother also, as she sailed away to work in England on the SS Great Western. Many, she told me, would delay at the ships rails, watching the light slip away, their last tangible link with home until they, if fortunate, would be back again at Christmas or for a short summer break.

A Clyde shipping promotional poster of a ship rounding the Hook. 
Unfortunately its an artists impression of the Hook!
Photo courtesy of Paul O’Farrell

One of my earliest childhood memories was listening to the long moaning sound of the fog horn that reverberated around the harbour and was clear to be heard on our perch on the hillside of Coolbunnia. As older children we were often out walking the roads at night and the light was a familiar feature sweeping the skyline, and in particular when it reflected off low lying cloud. As we did not have a car at home a visit down to the the Hook was out of the question, and I suppose my first proper sight of it, must have come when I first went drifting for herring in the winter of 1983. Is there any better way to see a lighthouse?  David Carroll in a previous guest blog gave a lovely description of a 1960’s drive with his dad to the Hook from Dunmore.

The Hook, has been a beacon for sailors and fishermen since the 5th C AD. St Dubhan, on founding a monastery at Churchtown saw a need for a warning light and a fire was lit on the tip of the headland. Some say that’s where the name Hook derives from; Dubhan being Irish for a fish hook.
Following the Norman Invasion William Marshall saw the need to protect shipping heading into his port of New Ross and the Hook tower was constructed between 1210-30. Apparently the goodly monks again took on the light-keepers duties and so it remained until the dissolution and routing of the holy orders circa 1540.
In the 1670’s the light was reinstated, using coal, but also with a protective screen from the elements. 1791 saw a whale oil fueled lamp instated following repeated complaints from mariners.  1871 saw the introduction of Paraffin but it would be 1972 before electricity finally reached the outcrop.
via: http://www.irishlights.ie/tourism/our-lighthouses/hook-head.aspx
I’m old enough to remember the hue and cry nationally about the automation of the lights and the removal of men from the lighthouses, which finally happened at the Hook in 1996. Isn’t it incredible to think that for 1500 years the Hook was manned only for the tradition to stop due to an accountants abacus. In 2011, the fog horn was decommissioned, technology it was decided, can replace the human ear. In the last two years I noticed the latest change to this wonderful public institution. Someone, somewhere has decided that the strength of light from the hook is no longer required, and now when you walk the harbour the light is only visible from close by. No longer does it sweep the sky at Cheekpoint, and even from the Minaun its a stretch to witness it. If you don’t believe me travel to Dunmore East at dark, and look across the harbour.

Despite, or perhaps in spite, of the changes the Hook still endures as a powerful symbol. It has been a silent witness to thousands of ships and sailors down the millennia, a final farewell to home, a reassuring signal of safety.  How often those men of the Formby and Coningbeg must have stood at the rails giving thanks at rounding the Hook on a return trip during those bitter war years, when every journey was potentially their last.  How sad to think that 100 years ago this weekend they went to the bottom so far from home.

The Hook is now a major visitor attraction and Mark Power of Waterford Epic Locations has shot some wonderful footage of the Tower in all its glory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lowH1T_5wJc

The details on the Hook light history was accessed from Hook heritage and specifically from the Hook timeline

For a more detailed reading on the history, you could read nothing better than Billy Colfer’s The Hook Peninsula pp 84-91.  You can buy it here from Kennys for €43.61.  Certainly make someones Christmas! And speaking of books for Christmas…
My book on growing up in a fishing village is now published.     
Book can be bought directly or from local stockists in Dublin, Wicklow, Wexford, Cork and Waterford. Get further details on the book, reviews, local stockists etc here

         

Ask a question to russianside@gmail.com

Or buy directly below: €18.50 Incl P&P to anywhere in the world

 

The light that sweeps the harbour

One of my earliest childhood memories was playing with my siblings in the old house on the hill in Coolbunnia one chilly summer morning.  The scene was unsettling to us I remember, because our usual/familiar view of the harbour, the three rivers flowing our towards Dunmore and the Hook, was obliterated by an early morning fog.  The fog clung in a beady dampness to the sides of the harbour of which we were a part, only Buttermilk at Wexford and the Hurthill on the Waterford shore stood out, But the other feature that I recall was a moaning sound from down the harbour at Hook, A fog horn bleating out a warning to fishermen and sailors,  We mimicked it, and our voices echoed back, and soon we were unsure if it was us, or the Lighthouse at Hook making the warning sounds.
via: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hook_Head
Hook played another part in my childhood, as the beam, swept across the sky at night and I particularly remember being disappointed that it passed so quickly, much preferring in my mind a slow sweep like some searchlight in a prison camp in movies such as the Great Escape.   
The Hook, has been a beacon for sailors and fishermen since the 5th C AD.  St Dubhan, on founding a monastery at Churchtown saw a need for a warning light and a fire was lit on the tip of the headland. Some say that’s where the name hook, derives from; Dubhan being Irish for a fish hook.
Following the Norman Invasion, and the settling of the country by foreigners, William Marshall saw the need to protect shipping interests and the Hook tower was constructed between 1210-30. Apparently the goodly monks again took on the light-keepers duties.  So it remained until the dissolution and routing of the holy orders circa 1540.
In the 1670’s the light was reinstated, using coal, but also with a protective screen from the elements. 1791 saw a whale oil fueled lamp instated following repeated complaints from mariners.  1871 saw the introduction of Paraffin but it would be 1972 before electricity finally reached the outcrop.
via: http://www.irishlights.ie/tourism/our-lighthouses/hook-head.aspx
I’m old enough to remember the hue and cry nationally about the automation of the lights and the removal of men from the lighthouses, which finally happened at the Hook in 1996.  My father thought it a backward step and fumed about what he saw as accountants making decisions that affect sailors lives. I recall his anger and misery after a family drowning tragedy off Fethard. He was of the opinion that had the Light Keepers been at the Hook that day some lives may have been saved.  He was out that day in the same area fishing lobsters. I knew his pain was heightened in that he was reliving his own pain at loosing a son to the water.
In 2011, the fog horn was decommissioned, apparently technology can now replace the human ear.  At Christmas I noticed the latest change to this wonderful public institution. Someone, somewhere has decided that the strength of light from the hook is no longer required, and now when you walk the harbour the light is only visible from close by.  No longer does it sweep the sky at Cheekpoint, and even from the Minaun its a stretch to witness it.  If you don’t believe me travel to Dunmore East at dark, and look across the harbour.  A weak, meak light is what will greet you. Personally I think its an insult to the history and heritage to the light.  I don’t know why it’s happened, but I fear, like my father many years back, that an accountant may be involved.
Its still the most magical spot in the South East to my mind.  I’ve done the Lightouse tour every year, and we recommend it to anyone who asks where to go for a day trip.  The location, the onrushing Atlantic, the sweep of the horizon, the passing fishing boats and ships, the walk to Slade or the loop from Loftus Hall.  All combine to make the Hook one of the most wonderful locations in the South East, if not the country. 
Memories are made from interactions. The more dramatic, the more lasting. Such considerations are not part of the modern day decision making process however (although maybe they never were).  I just wish those who have control of the light would have a bit more respect for its history, its purpose and its future. Memories are what draws me back to the Hook, we need to ensure this generation can have those opportunities too.

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

The details on the Hook light history was accessed from Hook heritage and specifically from the Hook timeline locataed at: http://hookheritage.ie/index.php/the-lighthouse/timeline/

For a more detailed reading on the history, you could read nothing better than Billy Colfers The Hook Peninsula pp 84-91