Shipwreck on Árainn in January1835.
|News of the shipwreck in January 1835.|
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.|
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.
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
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.
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.|
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.|
|A view of Eochaill lighthouse, taken from about where the|
Red Gauntlet went down in 1840, with the loss of seven.
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.|
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 certain that 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.
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