Sunday, 11 April 2021

Ghost ship ashore in 1835

Shipwreck on Árainn in January1835.

News of the shipwreck in January 1835.

In Ireland it was often said that a man could 'mind mice at a crossroads'. This wasn't a compliment.

The old saying came to mind recently when reading of the impossible job the local Chief Officer of the Coast Guard, Edward Neville D'Alton (1794-1871) had in 1835 as he tried to protect a huge cargo of timber from being salvaged by islanders and by boats from Connemara.

On January 17th of 1835, islanders noticed a demasted ship drifting towards the island from the south west. It was observed from the cliffs between Cill Muirbhigh and Bungabhla and when word reached Chief Officer D'Alton, he launched his boat from Cill Rónáin and headed out through Sunda Ghrióra.

In a letter to his commanding officer, Captain White, D’Alton gives a great account of the whole incident, ending with a plea for more ammunition as he had used up most of what he had while firing at the raiding Connemara Hookers, which he described always as North shore boats, as they helped themselves to the floating timber.

Shortly after exiting the Gregory Sound, the wind increased and eventually he came across the abandoned ship, west of Dún Aengus, with its stern grinding against the foot of a 300 foot cliff. He observed a number of islanders high on the cliffs as they looked down on what the ocean had delivered.

Cliffs at the west end of Árainn, where the ship first reached land. 

The ship was about 300 tons and most of her sails had been blown away. Her spars were still standing except for the jib-boom and the mizen-top mast. It was waterlogged and some of its cargo of timber was floating nearby. He reported that the ship had eleven painted portholes on each side. He was unable to board as the light was fading and the backwash from the cliffs, made it too dangerous to approach.

There was no sign of life and no sign of small boats on the deck. It appeared to have been abandoned for some time but as the weather was deteriorating, he decided to make for Bungabhla and attempt to make a landing.

Bungabhla shore, where Captain D'Alton most likely landed.
Oileán Dá Bhranóg in the distance, where the ship ended up.

He reported that as he entered Brannock Sound, he spotted Mr O’Flaherty pointing out a safe place to land and with the help of locals, he and his crew managed to get ashore and get their boat secured. The use of the name O’Flaherty rather than Flaherty and the prefix of 'Mr' would suggest that this was the Middleman/Landlord, Patrick O’Flaherty of Kilmurvey House. He was then aged about fifty four.

Patrick was by far the largest landholder on the three islands and the most important tenant of Rev John Digby of Kildare, who owned the three islands. In May 1831, Patrick had been made a Justice of the Peace by the Lord Chancellor and it was in this capacity that he would shortly send five men to prison in Galway for salvaging timber from the wreck.

An old map showing Brannock Island at the western end
and the cliffs south of Creig a’ Chéirín, where the ship first struck 

The story takes a very strange turn at this stage with an unusual account from an islander who had managed to get aboard the wreck before the Coast Guard arrived.

D’Alton discovered that a man from Bungabhla by the name of Daniel Flaherty had boarded the wreck, possibly before it reached the cliffs and managed to take off some rope and other wares. He had some books and letters along with two sea chests. He also had some clothes and a small quantity of rum.

It’s unlikely that Daniel had willingly volunteered all this information and salvage as he would have been well aware that items like this were to be collected by the Coast Guard on behalf of the crown. He may well have been apprehended by the Justice and his men and was co-operating with a view to leniency.

And here is where the story gets a little bizarre. Daniel’s tale of what he found on boarding is so strange that one can’t but be suspicious that he may have been trying to deflect from his alleged crimes by getting the Magistrate and Coast Guard officer distracted.

The ability to come up with a good story has a long history on the islands and the skill still survives today. On his 1912 visit to Aran, the writer James Joyce met an old man named O’Flaherty. A man like James, making notes in a big notebook, should not be disappointed and the old man pointed out a nearby bush to James Joyce.

Without blinking an eye, he proceeded to tell Joyce how Joseph of Arimathia had cut his walking stick from that very bush. His ability to keep a straight face while telling it, even more impressive than the story.

But back to Dan’s story. On climbing aboard the ship, he reported finding a dead pig, with hair on it, lashed to the rigging in a putrid state, a compass placed between its legs, a few bottles of water, some biscuit and a little rum. He also reported that the ship had no rudder.

After a SE storm that night, it appears the wreck shifted and next day was found smashed on Oileán Dá Bhranóg (Brannock Island). In 1835 there was no lighthouse on the tiny island of Eeragh which lies west of Brannock.

Rough seas around Brannock Island where the ship finished up

Word of the wreck having reached Connemara, a vast flotilla of Hookers arrived and the Coast Guard had an impossible job in trying to protect the King’s timber. As soon as he chased off one boat, the others were in like a flash and gathered what they could.

Only for the forty year old D’alton and his Coast Guard crew being well-armed, they would probably have been overwhelmed by the plundering boatmen. When it came to trying to catch a Connemara Hooker, they had little chance as the bádóirí had vastly more sailing experience and also an incentive to avoid jail.

A modern day Bádóir making a crossing from Connemara to Árainn.

In those times it was not unusual for recovered timber and cargo to be sold off at auction. This was done in 1825 when, along with the Coast Guard offering for sale, was some timber salvaged by middleman Patrick O'Flaherty and others.

D'Alton reported that at one stage he had twenty-three plundering Hookers working around Brannock Sound as well as a number of very vulnerable currachs which had to be careful not to hit a floating spar. He also reported that seven currachs from Connemara had been blown away in a snow storm, with only two managing to survive.

One good news story from those times concerns three men from Rosmuc who were swept away in a storm in March 1835. They were attempting to tow a large spar to Connemara which probably came from the Arran shipwreck. After three days and two nights, they finally made land in the Shannon Estuary. According to the reports, they sold their boat and spent a few days recovering. When their money was spent, they headed for home to the great joy of their families who had given them up for dead. Some of their friends hadn't by then, fully recovered from their wake.

A canvas currach, similar to the one the Rosmuc men sold in 1835.

Chief Officer D’Alton also reported that a child’s frock and glove had been recovered. There was speculation that the ship was out of Belfast as a piece of the stern had been found with the letters 'BEL' still visible.

Patrick O’Flaherty JP had his own boat which would be lost in August 1840 with all seven people aboard being drowned. The Red Gauntlet had been on a passage from Casla bay to Cill Rónáin when it overturned in a sudden squall just off Bárr a Phointe. 
A view of Eochaill lighthouse, taken from about where the
Red Gauntlet went down in 1840, with the loss of seven.

Lost that evening were the skipper James Burke, his crewman Peter Mannion, Head Eochaill light keeper Harding and his wife, his deputy Light keeper Cullen, a passenger named Bryan Dirrane and a young boy named Bartley King.

The winter of 1835 appears to have been a hard one around Galway Bay. On January 19th, a boat with a cargo of salt for Galway was wrecked at Ceann Boirne but luckily, the crew were saved by Captain Kemp from the Ballyvaughan Coast Guard station.

In January also, a Claddagh fishing boat belonging to Widow Hernon was wrecked, probably at Carraig an Mhatail (Carrickawathal) rock off Inverin, as it rushed back to Galway with a boatload of fresh herring. After being widowed by fever, the woman had made heroic efforts to get a boat built and it had only been launched a few days previously. On board was her young son Stephen, a man named O'Neill, Pat Moran and John Connolly.

X marks the area where Widow Hernon’s boat was wrecked. 

The cries of the four drowning men could be heard by the men in nearby boats and locals on shore, but they were unable to save them. When the boats eventually reached Claddagh, the widow and her daughter were waiting on the pier. It was reported that the fishermen turned their backs and found any excuse not to have to be the one to break the terrible news.

Claddagh fishing fleet nearly home, circa 1900.

Eventually, the woman and her daughter realised what had happened and the  silence of a fishing village in mourning was disturbed by the anguished lamenting of the widow as she grieved the loss of her son and relatives and the prospect of almost certain destitution.

Newspapers carried a report in April 1835 of a ship, the Sarah Margaret, going aground northwest of Aran and the passengers being landed on one of the islands. The location is almost certainly inaccurate as the boat appears to have been grounded on the Finnis Fock which 125 years later would claim the world famous Father Ted wreck, the 'Plassey'.

 It’s almost certaithat it was at Inis Oirr that the twenty passengers bound for Quebec were landed. Also, much praise was given later to Francis McNamara of Arran View in Clare for his help in protecting the ship. It was later refloated and, with the help of currachs, brought to Balkaghaline Bay near Doolin. Tim Robinson was fairly sure that Francis McNamara was married to Patrick O’Flaherty’s sister, Marcella. 

In May 1835 another abandoned ship was found near Doolin and the Coast Guard managed to salvage her. She was about 600 tons and had a valuable cargo of North American Timber.

The legal position as to shipwreck rights on the Isles of Arran would be fought out at the Four Courts in Dublin in 1862. Then, it was decided that ancient laws conferred the rights to the owners of the Islands, Miss Digby and Mr Barfoot. This had been contested by Fr Peter Daly on behalf of the town commissioners of Galway. 

Edward D’alton was busy again just a week or so after the shipwreck on Brannock, when the brig Woodbine of Scarborough, with a cargo of oats from Galway and bound for London, was driven ashore at Inis Meáin. He was credited with taking the situation in hand and successfully protecting the cargo and crew. The master, Captain Maw, credited D’alton for saving his life, after he was confronted by looters.

We did a piece recently on the sinking of the ferry SS Dún Aengus in 1947 and it got us thinking of the vast number of ships that have been wrecked around the islands and the many ghost ships that have drifted into Galway Bay.

We have been unable to find out what became of the passengers and crew of the Brannock Island wreck but we have come across many instances of crews being rescued in mid-Atlantic by vessels who happened to spot them - the abandoned ships often making landfall in Ireland.

On December 15th, 1834 the British sailing ship 'Fitzroy' of Newcastle, was abandoned off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, her crew having been rescued by a passing ship, the 'Caroline'. The Fitzroy and its timber cargo, eventually washed up in Dunmanus bay in Cork on March 7th, 1835. In view of the child’s frock found at Oileán Dá Bhranóg, we can only hope that this type of rescue was also the case in our story.

A typical example of old Aran cottages that may well have been built 
using timber salvaged from the many wrecks that came ashore long ago

So next time you see an ancient photo of a Connemara or Aran cottage, there is a very good chance that the timbers holding up the roof were rescued from the tide. The rescuing of which caused men and women to risk, and sometimes lose, their lives.

Michael Muldoon. April 2021.

P.S. Some readers may remember Oileán Dá Bhranóg featuring in a previous post about two men being marooned there in 1926 and the death of a World War One veteran who was involved in their rescue.

You can read that story  HERE

Saturday, 27 March 2021

The day the ‘Steamer’ went down in 1947

“Come up, come up... we’re on the rocks!”

The S.S Dún Aengus at Galway Dock. 

At about 12:45 PM on May 24th of 1947, this was the alarming roar down to the saloon of the old Galway Bay Steamboat Company’s ferry, SS Dún Aengus, as she struck the rocks at Inis Meáin. 

One of the passengers that day, Eugene Horan, can still remember the reply from a fellow cattle jobber and butcher, the late Jack Divilly of Prospect Hill in Galway. Showing great calmness under pressure, Jack shouted back up: “Aahhh, sure I’m on the rocks all my life”.

Eugen Horan who was aboard in 1947. Seen here in 2012 with his good friend Pádraig Gillan.

The 35 year old steamer, Dún Aengus, had left Galway that morning at 6:30 AM and at the smallest island, Inis Oirr, fourteen fine cattle had been hoisted aboard for the Spring fair in Galway on the following Tuesday and Wednesday.

SS Dún Aengus Steamer taking cattle at Inis Oirr.

There was a stiff SE breeze when she arrived at Inis Meáin and started to unload cargo. Shortly afterwards, it appears that a rope from a lobster pot fouled the propellor and in a short time the boat was on the rocks.

According to reports, the veteran steward from Derry, Dan Doherty, started to get the passengers ready for the worst. There was a priest aboard, Fr Egan, and we have been unable to confirm if this was a former parish priest of the islands, Patrick Egan, who served from 1927 to 1935

Dan had been steward since day one in 1912

Dan, who had been with the SS Dún Aengus when the Titanic, Leinster and Lusitania went down, suggested to Fr Egan that perhaps he could give general absolution to the passengers. Wisely, Fr Egan replied that this might result in a panic so Dan told him to do the best he could. It’s possible that Dan was indulging in some dark Derry humour but we’ll never know for sure now. 

Conforming to those patriarchal times, Dan would later tell of how he assured the women that there was nothing to worry about. An obvious fib in view of his request for General Absolution. 

Along with twenty-year-old Eugene and Jack Divilly was another cattle jobber, the late Paddy Coyne of Ballybrit. He was travelling with his parents who were on their way to visit their daughter, Bridget Johnston of Kilmurvey House. 

Also aboard was Jack Stewart of Stewart’s builders in Salthill as well as two light keepers, Cahill and Keane and these three men were afterwards praised for their efforts in helping get their fellow passengers evacuated safely. 

Also reported as being on board were three Cill Rónáin residents; Mrs Margaret Concannon Gill, Mrs Mary Delia Hernon Conneely and Miss Mary Elizabeth Powell.

A man who had been involved in examinations at the Technical school in Galway, named as Mr Davis of Dublin, was also listed among the passengers. 

The curate from Inis Oirr, Fr Joseph Scott had travelled as far as Inis Meáin but had gone ashore to say mass before the accident happened. 

Realising that the situation was unretrievable, Sligo native, Captain Michael McLaughlin (1886-1969) ordered his mate Tom Anderson to lower one of the ship's lifeboats.

Newspaper photo of the passengers being rescued. 

This was done but with just two men aboard, the painter line snapped and the boat was washed away, later to come safely ashore further on. 

According to reports, one of the passengers went to the bridge and sounded the SOS which alerted the currachs and, indeed, the whole island to what was happening.

The ships lifeboat being used to bring passengers ashore

Also aboard was a retired Major G B Thunder who had served in the British Indian army in the recent War. He was travelling to Cill Rónáin with his wife Theodosia and his four month old daughter. They were planning to live on the island for a while. The Major would go on to buy a trawler, ‘Iona’, in Westport which Galway fire brigade saved after it unfortunately went on fire just before he left Galway dock for Cill Rónáin. 

Major Thunder later gave an account of how his family were brought safely ashore. With the chaos  after the loss of the lifeboat, a local currach man, Rory O’Flaherty came to their aid. Throwing his valuable cargo overboard, he showed great skill in bringing his currach alongside and safely brought the Thunder family and others ashore. 

By then, the second ships lifeboat had been launched and a gangway lowered. This was used to ferry the remaining passengers from the Dún Aengus to the nearby rock, where islanders were on hand to haul them safely ashore. The twenty or so passengers on board were on dry land within a half hour.

       This photo taken later as the tide went out. 

Realising that the ship was badly holed and that she would flood with the rising tide, the fourteen cattle were then helped to swim ashore. The rest of the cargo, which included a large consignment of flour and twenty three kegs of Guinness, was left to the ocean. 

Not long afterwards the Kilronan lifeboat came on the scene and after a few hours standing by, brought the crew ashore. Later the lifeboat brought the crew and some of the passengers to Cill Rónáin where they remained overnight before being brought by trawler to Galway next day.

The three Cill Rónáin women were forever grateful to the Inish Meáin people for not only rescuing them and taking them up the rock face but for later that evening launching a currach and bringing the three women and a little dog, belonging to Miss Powell, across to Cill Rónáin.

First Holy Communion was on next day in Cill Rónáin and Margaret’s son Micheál was worried about his mother when he heard of the sinking. He was worried also that she had his new clothes for the big day with her. Both arrived home safely.

The Gill family of Cill Rónáin. Only Micheál left now. 

The pathway of life would be short for Mary Delia who died young and long for Margaret, who lived to be over one hundred years. 

The late Bridget Johnston Hernon of Kilmurvey House got frightening news of the sinking but was hugely relieved later to get a telegram from her parents in Inish Meáin which read:

Safe and well in Inis Meáin. Love Mammy and Daddy.

The late Bridget Johnson Hernon. (Photo from the Richie-Pickow collection at N.U.I.G.)

Because of its long history, the sinking of the Dún Aengus made international headlines. The editor of the Irish Press, William Sweetman, hired a plane which flew a reporter and photographer from Weston Airfield in Leixlip and brought back dramatic photos of the stricken vessel. The round trip was done in about two hours and the photos were back in Dublin for the morning paper.

Dramatic aerial shot by the Irish Press, with islanders waving to the visitors

Many newspaper reports of the incident declared that the Dún Aengus was a total wreck and would have to be broken up where she lay. 

This proved to be untrue but it does partly explain the stripping of the boat of many items that would eventually have to be replaced at a cost of £2,000.

Historically, islanders had always offered assistance to seafarers in need but once this was done, wrecks and wrack were regarded by some as fair game. 

The 19th century had seen many battles between the coastguard and Islanders who were often joined by boats from Connemara when a wreck drifted into Galway Bay.

The rising tide filling the stricken Dún Aengus. 

The sea had taken many men from the islands in the 19th century and when on occasion it brought something ashore, it was felt that this was providence and to hell with Revenue Officers and the Receiver of Wrecks in London. 

In the chaos that followed the grounding, some Guinness kegs were rescued by islanders and it appears that for some reason, the Dún Aengus log book went missing. 

The boat is of great historical interest and perhaps some day, this logbook may resurface somewhere. 

The Dún Aengus had been used in 1922 during the savage Irish Civil War, to bring government troops and supplies to Clarecastle and Limerick. It was later used to supply Clifden when road and rail connections were interrupted by anti-treaty forces.

Just eleven years earlier, in December 1936 and with a passenger capacity of 192, she had carried about 500 volunteers from Galway dock to the mouth of the bay as they awaited the arrival of a German freighter the SS Urundi. We did a piece on that episode some years agoHere

The S.S. Urundi, which met with the Dún Aengus at Ceann Boirne in 1936.

The men were part of  General O’Duffy’s volunteer force who were going to Spain to fight for Franco and for God in the Spanish Civil War. A bizarre night in Galway as the Dún Aengus sailed out of the dock with 500 men singing 'Faith of our Fathers'.

The loss of the Dún Aengus left the islands in a bad way as there were a lot of cattle that needed to be sent to market. As in days gone by, the Connemara turf boats (along with a couple of local boats) later managed to transport most of the three islands cattle to Carraroe and on then by lorry to Galway.

Cill Éinne man Pat Gill’s nobby  St Enda, which carried the post for a few weeks. 

The post office hired Pat Gill of Cill Éinne to provide a postal connection to the islands from Connemara until the return of the Dún Aengus. Pat Powell of Abbeygate Street made arrangements for provisions to be sent in by trawler to his sister Mary Powell from Inis Oirr, who had established a shop, M.E. Powell in Cill Rónáin, in 1917.

Mary’s setting up shop would result in a number of Inis Oirr girls, including her nieces, coming to work for her. This would result in quite a number of local men finding fine wives and today there are a vast number of descendants from those times, both on the island and scattered around the world.

The Liverpool based RANGER which salvaged the Dún Aengus.

In an incredible feat of recovery, the salvage boat 'Ranger' from Liverpool under Captain Barr managed to pump the stranded Dún Aengus out and tow her to Cill Rónáin on June the 3rd. After further repairs, which involved using concrete to plug seven small holes and the use of a diver, she was taken to Galway and finally to the Rushbrook shipyard in Cork. 

In early August the Dún Aengus sailed into Galway Bay and a few days later, on August the 8th of 1947, was welcomed back to the Aran Islands. The repairs had cost about £10,000.

SS Dún Aengus.

Several court cases resulted from the grounding of the Dún Aengus. In May 1948, the Thunders sued successfully for £380 when Judge Wyse Power ruled in favour of their claim that they were unaware of the conditions of carriage. 

This exact same claim was rejected a year later in 1949 by Judge Connolly, when Mary E Powell failed in her claim for almost £180 against the Galway Bay Steamboat Company. 

Mary, like Major Thunder, had pleaded ignorance but was deemed to have been aware of the conditions of carriage. It’s worth noting that when the Major’s boat 'Iona' went on fire in September 1947, it was reported that fishermen at Galway dock observed a man jumping overboard, with his pants on fire. 

Newspaper report from September 1947

A claim for £2,000 by the company against Galway County Council for wilful damage because of the stripping of the wreck was eventually withdrawn. The island ratepayers would have been liable if this had succeeded and had engaged legal council. 

1947 was an exciting year for the SS Dún Aengus and after her repairs, huge crowds travelled out on the recently returned ferry. Among these was a group from the 11th Cyclist regiment of the FCA. These Soldiers were from Dublin and an Irish speaking unit made up from cycling clubs and An Óige.

Troops of F.C.A on their way to Árainn in August 1947

Before we leave the story of the grounding of the Dún Aengus, there is a small footnote that can be added. Some time after the incident, a couple of jobbers were out looking at cattle near the back of the middle island. They noticed a few islanders in a cregg in the distance, calling them over. 

When they arrived they were offered two mugs of porter from a keg that had been tapped and mounted on a cradle of stones. “As nice a drop of porter as I’ve ever tasted”, was the verdict of a jobber with great expertise in the matter.


Cattle jobber enjoying an open air drink at Inis Meáin in 1971. 
  Photo: National Geographic

We can recall photographing a fine model of the SS Dún Aengus at the maritime museum in Dún Laoghaire a few years ago. A museum well worth another visit when things settle down.

The Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire has a scale model of the SS Dun Aengus

This was not the first sinking for the Captain of the Dún Aengus Michael McLaughlin (Newspapers incorrectly called him Charles).

Michael McLaughlin in 1921. Master of SS Dún Aengus

In 1916 Michael was Mate on the SS Liverpool when she struck a mine near the Isle of Man and went down with the loss of three lives. His grandson Eugene McLaughlin has written a fine account of that incident which can be read HERE

We are grateful to Eugene for supplying much information on his late grandfather. 

We are also very grateful to the many people who shared memories and information about the incident down through the years. Hopefully, more information will come to hand and we welcome any corrections etc. as the years are drifting by and there must be a mountain of stories about the sinking, yet to be recorded. 

S.S. Dún Aengus back safely in Galway Dock. 

The crew on board the Dún Aengus that day was:

Captain........    Michael McLaughlin

First mate....    Tom Anderson

Engineer......    Frank Winder

Greaser........    Robert Goulding

Fireman.......    Michael Geary

Steward.......    Dan Doherty

Seaman........    Murty Folan

Seaman........    Martin Finnerty

Seaman........    Michael Anderson

Michael Muldoon, March 2021.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Springtime on the Aran Islands in 1979

 Mary Gillham and her Aran Islands visit of 1979

Scientist and adventurer, © Mary Gillham

Dr Mary Gillham (1921-2013) was a pioneering naturalist and prolific wildlife author who took an active interest in the environment for over 80 years.

In 1959, Mary was a member of the first Antarctic expedition to include women scientists and after a period in New Zealand and multiple African countries, she spent almost thirty years lecturing at Cardiff University, on the natural heritage of South Wales. A tireless campaigner to protect species and habitat, Mary was awarded an MBE in 2008.

Towards the end of her life it became apparent that Mary had accumulated a vast archive of maps, illustrations, travel notes and manuscripts. Also over 30,000 slides and with the help of her family, colleagues and the South East Wales Records Centre,  a successful application was made to the Heritage Lottery fund and the Mary Gillham Archive Project  was born.

Above is the introduction to the Mary Gillham archive from which the manager of the South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre, Adam Rowe, has kindly allowed us to bring you a selection of the photos Mary brought home after a trip to Árainn and Inis Oirr in 1979.

It’s obvious from looking at the archive that Mary was an outstanding teacher, scientist and adventurer but more than anything else, her photos indicate that she had a really great sense of fun.

Kicking football on the West Wales island of Skomer. © Mary Gillham 1921-2013

She seems to have been drawn to horses and asses and both her African and Aran photos feature quite a number of these beasts of burden.

By 1979, the Age of the Ass was coming to an end on the Aran Islands as these wonderful animals were being replaced by tractors, dumpers and car trailers. As a result, many animals had taken to the roads and a large herd had become quite a nuisance.

They kept to the rocks by day but at night would move into the villages and sometimes make their way into vegetable gardens, with dire consequences. 

The morning sight of a garden that had been visited by perhaps twenty asses during the night was a source of furious outrage or sympathetic amusement, depending on whether the garden was your own or your neighbours.

The islands were changing rapidly in 1979 and the introduction of electricity at Christmas 1975 would see many old ways disappear.

Mary Gillham was accompanied by a group of fellow enthusiasts and it seems that Inishbofin at the western end of Co. Galway was also visited.

The group stayed in Árainn with one of Ireland’s most famous Guest House keepers, Stephen Dirrane of Gilbert Cottage. It’s closed now for years but Stephen and his friendly dogs are still going strong.

Not far from Gilbert Cottage is a seal colony and wildlife haven at Port Chorrúch. The area is overlooked by the ruin of a 19th century seaweed factory and the wildlife spotters were spotted by a curious ass, who had a bird’s eye view of the birdwatchers.


Here is a photo of Mary near Gilbert Cottage and outside the home of writer and folklorist Bríd Gillan Dirrane, who lived to the great age of 107. Bríd is famous for publishing her best selling life story 'A Woman of Aran' when over 100 years of age.

Mary took a lot of photos of the plant life and it can be accessed in the archive. 

A keen eye for a humorous shot, here is a great photo of an Aran pony welcoming the group to the islands while a fine bullock looks less impressed.

Along the way, Mary captured a magnificent photo of the late Seosamh Ó Fatharta (Joe Faherty) as he worked on some basket weaving. Joe could turn his hand to almost anything and he and his descendants are responsible for a lot of buildings on the island. 

The tradition of basket weaving continues on the island and many of our readers will have met Vincent McCarron, who has shown both locals and visitors the art of basket weaving. 

Vincent a few years ago.

At Bungabhla, near the western tip of the Island, Mary got a really great photo of the late Máirtín Sheáinín Ó Flaitharta as he got ready for a day's work. Judging by the shadows, it was near midday and perhaps the tide was then suitable for shore work.
 The ass was waiting patiently for its photo to be taken. A task it was well familiar with from years of meeting tourists.

The shore near the pier in Cill Rónáin was a popular spot for the wandering asses to take refuge when a boatload of tourists arrived. Here are some photos showing the village as it looked in 1979.

A fine day at Céibh Chill Rónáin in May 1979.

Some photos of farm life in 1979 and there was great growth that year as the island looks very green.

An industry that no longer exists was the harvesting of sea rods which, after drying, were exported from Cill Rónáin pier every year. This backbreaking work helped supplement incomes but it finished not long after these photos were taken. These are possibly among the last ever taken.


Moving on to Inis Oirr, Mary Gillham once again was attracted to the island asses and her photographs of the island bring back memories of times past. 

Great credit is due to those who have saved Mary Gillham’s work for future generations.

We are grateful to Adam Rowe for allowing us to bring these great photos to you and we would encourage readers to have a look at the vast archive of material that has already been archived. You can view the archive at this link: Mary Gillham Archive
Michael Muldoon Feb 2021