Tuesday 17 March 2020

Nobody left behind, neither man nor dog.

The Mutton Island rescue of January 1962.
Boxer dog just  like ‘Dutch’ , who was rescued in 1962.

In the days when accurate forecasting was difficult, many seafarers were caught out by sudden changes in the weather.

Such was the case during storms that struck Ireland and the U.K. during mid January, 1962.

Photo from a film by Pádraig A Ó Síocháin (1905–1995) 

Many lifeboats around the coast, were called to assist boats in trouble and among those who ventured out, was the Cill Rónáin based Galway Bay Lifeboat, under the command of Coxswain Colm Ó hIarnáin. (Coley Hernon)

The 400 ton Dutch coaster MV June, under the command of Captain Dantuna, had been battling the South West Gales on Monday the 15th, when she got into difficulties near the tiny Mutton Island, which lies at the entrance to Galway port.

Second mechanic Bartley Maoláin on the radio and Coxswain Coley Hernon standing on the right. 

This was on the Monday afternoon of the 15th and it was hoped that the situation could be retrieved when the storm abated. 

She had been making a passage from Sligo, in order to pick up a cargo of pyrite cinders for Glasgow. This was part of the long gone Tynagh mines operation.

Radio contact with the June had been made with another Dutch coaster, the MV Patricia, which was safely tied up in Galway Dock.
The June captain had declined to leave his boat until after he had assessed the situation at low tide on Tuesday evening. The lull in the storm during Tuesday morning was the cause of this misjudged optimism.

However, the harbourmaster at Galway, Lt Commander James Whyte, formerly of the Irish Navy, had alerted the lifeboat in Cill Rónáin, in the correct belief that they might well be needed. The June had lowered her lifeboats in order to be ready to leave at short notice but their situation became critical when these boats were washed away as the storm increased in strength.

Captain Whyte had also requested the lifeboat to be prepared to have to use their “breeches buoy” in the course of the rescue.

Sure enough, as the storm increased, it was realised that the June was being driven further on to the rocks and it became obvious that a rescue would definitely need to be undertaken, in order to save the men aboard and, as it turned out, the ships dog “Dutch”

On arrival in Galway , Coley Hernon and his seven companions, realised that the exposed position the June had settled on, would make a rescue extremely difficult. It was obvious too that the lifeboat would not be able to go alongside and that a small boat and volunteers to row it, would be needed.

Continuing into Galway Dock, the lifeboat returned to the scene, towing a small rowing boat from the Patricia. Also aboard the lifeboat was the Captain of the Patricia and the Dutch owner of the June, Mr J Klugist from Dalkey.

It was dark as the lifeboat arrived back and as the June had lost all power, it was only with the lifeboat searchlight and intermittent flashes from the nearby lighthouse, that Coley and his crew could assess the situation

Sheltering on the leeward side of Mutton Island, the small boat was landed on the pitch black shore and then manually hauled across the island to the exposed spot where the stricken June was being battered. Coley had the benefit of local knowledge from Harbour staff member, Claddaghman Michael Carrick, who was also aboard the lifeboat and had volunteered his assistance.

Leaving their companions, who had helped drag the small boat across Mutton Island, the 12 ft boat was then manned by lifeboatmen, the late Thomás Joyce and the late Bartley Maoláin, who battled really atrocious conditions as they managed to get the six members of the Dutch/Spanish crew, safely aboard the lifeboat.The Captain and engineer of the June had stayed aboard their stricken ship.
Coxswain Coley Hernon on the left with regular lifeboat crewman, Brian Fitzpatrick. (Taken in 1966)

Crewman Thomás Joyce, who made two trips in the small boat.

Crewman Bartley Maoláin , taken a few years ago at the launching of a new lifeboat.

Crewman Paddy Quinn, fishing for sceanna mara (razor fish), a few years ago.

It was only after the intervention of the ships owner that Captain Dantuna agreed to leave his ship. After their great feat of seamanship and with only the light of the lifeboat searchlight, Thomás and Bartley were prepared to return again. At this stage it was decided that crewman Paddy Quinn would replace his neighbour, Bartley and he and Thomás set off for the second rescue. 

At this stage a problem arose with regard to the ship’s dog, a boxer named ”Dutch”, as a Department of Agriculture official was of the opinion that under rabies protection protocols, poor “Dutch” would have to remain on board and be rescued later.

Ships dog “Dutch” after being rescued.
“Leave no man behind, nor dog either.”

The crew of the June naturally objected to this and when the Lifeboat men said they weren’t leaving without the dog, a compromise was agreed. This involved “Dutch” being taken aboard the lifeboat, but on reaching the dock, transferring immediately to the other Dutch boat, the Patricia. Thus “Dutch” would not be setting foot (or paw) on rabies free Ireland.

The manager of the Railway Hotel offered food and accommodation to both the rescued and the rescuers and one of the R.N.L.I patrons, Michael Morris (Lord Kilannin) of An Spidéal, arrived to offer his congratulations. 

The Great Southern Hotel in Galway which provided food and accommodation for all involved in the Mutton Island rescue.

All this was done in the dark and while a fierce gale raged and conditions were so rough that the lifeboat rode out the storm in the shelter of Galway Dock and didn’t return to base until later on Wednesday afternoon.

For their efforts, all eight members of the Aran Lifeboat received Bravery Certificates, with four of them, Coxswain Coley Hernon, assistant mechanic Bartley Maoláin, and crewmen Thomás Joyce and Paddy Quinn receiving the institute’s bronze medal for bravery.
All dead now with Bartley being the last to go. May they rest easy.

As a small boy, I can remember seeing the June as it lay on the rocks at Mutton Island. Can also remember seeing it slowly disappear as it was broken up for scrap. Today, there is a causeway to the island to facilitate a water treatment plant. A causeway that would have saved a lot of bother if it were there in 1962.
The MV June as some of us remember her in 1962. As can be guessed from this photo,
her back was broken and she was scrapped where she lay.

The lifeboat institute also sent letters of thanks to Michael Carrick for his help that stormy night and to Commander Whyte for coordinating the onshore rescue efforts and for a brave but unsuccessful attempt to rescue the crew, using the harbour launch, before the arrival of the Cill Rónáin lifeboat.

Michael Morris, Lord Killanin (1914-1999) who presented the bravery certificates to eight crew members.

In July 1962, the entire crew were presented with bravery awards by Lord Killanin at Galway and later in April 1963, four crew members, Coxswain Coley Hernon, Bartley Maoláin, Thomás Joyce and Paddy Quinn, travelled to London where they were presented with bronze medals by the very popular Princess Marina. 
The Greek /Danish, Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent

Coley had brought a model of an Aran currach with him to London and spent some time explaining to the Princess, how it was constructed and how well adapted this type of boat was, to West coast conditions.

This was not the first time that Aran lifeboat men had gone to London to be presented with awards for bravery. 

Steam Trawler Nogi in 1938 ( Fr Browne)

Coxswain in 1938, John Gill and Fr Keane. (Photo Fr. Browne)
1939 award ceremony in London.

In 1939, Coxswain John Gill and his crew had been similarly honoured for a rescue not unlike the 1962 effort. In 1938 they had succeeded in rescuing the crew of  the Welsh Steam Trawler Nogi, after it was driven ashore on Oileán na Tuí (Straw Island) in Cill Éinne bay. We did a F.B. post on this a few years ago, in August 2016 Here

 By a strange twist of fate, the man who presented the medals in 1939, was the husband of the woman who presented the medals in 1963.

Prince George, Duke of Kent was an uncle to the present Queen Elizabeth. He was an extremely colourful and sometimes scandalous member of the Royal family and it was a great public occasion when he married the beautiful Greek/Danish Princess Marina in 1934. They were deemed the golden couple by an admiring British public.
Prince George (1902-1942) & Princess Marina (1906-1968)
Both presented bravery medals to Aran crews in 1939 and 1963

George was to die in a flying boat crash, just three years later in 1942, at the age of 39, while flying from Scotland to Iceland. His wife Marina would continue to be a supporter of the R..N.L.I and this is how she came to present the medals in 1963.

In another coincidence, 1963 and 1939 were years in which the lifeboat family suffered huge losses. Two lifeboat crews were lost in 1939, at Cullercoats station near Tyneside Castle and another at St Ives in Cornwall. 

In November 1963, the Seaham station in Durham lost all  five crew members when their boat, George Elmo, was overturned just 30 yards from shore as they approached the mouth of the harbour. They had rescued four men and a nine year old boy from the sinking fishing boat MFV Economy. Nine were lost that day, with only the 32 year old father of the boy, surviving.

Above.....A lifeboat crew from the early 50s

A lifeboat crew from 1967. A different rescue. All gone now.

The rescue of the boxer dog “Dutch” in 1962, brings to mind another rescue in 2014. This involved two horses which had been stranded on a small island on the Carra lake near Cill Rónáin, after the winter storms caused a massive inundation  of the sea.
Two marooned horses after the January  2014 storms.

 Lifeboat crew, helping with the horse rescue of January 2014

Safe at last with the marooned island in the background

It’s no harm to remember that helping others, with no expectation of reward, has brought great benefit to humanity and those who went before us, would expect this generation to do now, as they so selflessly did, in the past.

Ml. Muldoon March 2020

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