Remembering the Schooner Lapwing

On the 9th of November* 1917 a small schooner slipped her moorings at Waterford Quays and sailed out of the harbour and towards the Irish Sea.  Her destination was Cardiff 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 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 several people 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]

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 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 mother’s 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

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 who 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.

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