Irish Ships and Shipping
A Seafaring Tragedy
seafaring history of Ringsend is remembered locally in an estate of houses off
Familiarly known as the 'New Houses' their street names are dedicated to the
names of ships that sailed the seas as part of the Irish Fleet during the Second
World War. All of the ships named were sunk during those troubled times. One
such ship was The 'Cymric' which was built in the
the 'Cymric' spent much of her working life in Arklow ownership. She was
originally an iron barquentine of 228 tons. She was built by William Thomas and
Sons, as was her sister ship, the 'Gaelic', which also spent many years in
Arklow ownership. She was
a draught of only
wooden masts and a round counter stern. Her early days were spent in the South
American trade running from Runcorn to
and on to
She was bought by Captain Richard Hall of Arklow in 1906
and spent most of her days in the hands of the Hall family. She spent the eight
years up to World War I in the Spanish wine trade. Arklow had a long established
maritime tradition and W.S. Mason's survey of Ireland in 1816 stated: "The
Fishermen of Arklow who are a distinct race, and who inhabit a separate part of
the town, are solely given up to their pursuits, nor will they even when reduced
to distress employ themselves in labouring
works". A large fleet of small cargo
vessels was owned in the as well as about 160 fishing vessels. The whole economy
of the town was based on the sea. Later, though the fleet declined, many Arklow
sons followed the sea for a living, mainly with the great steam and sailing ship
companies of Great Britain, and almost every home in Arklow had a ship in a
bottle over the door.
The traditional path for a young boy (as in Ringsend) was
to learn rowing, sculling and splicing while still at school, spending his
play-hours among the schooners lying in the Avoca River. Schooling finished at
twelve years but boys would then do a summer season on a fishing smack and then
at 13 or 14 years of age he would join a schooner with the rank of ordinary
seaman, and so seafaring life would begin.
World War I (1914-1918) the 'Cymric' was taken over by the British Admiralty and
fitted with a
and two 12 pounders to be used as a `Q Ship'. They also installed a twin screw
engine (Schooner engines were colloquially known as the 'iron sail'.). The
Cymric could now act as a decoy ship under a neutral flag attempting to lure
U-Boats into range. A Q Ship was a merchant vessel converted into a gun boat,
but camouflaged so that when a U-Boat surfaced to inspect or attack, the Q
Ship's guns were turned on her. However, the 'Cymric' was unsuccessful in this
venture and was returned to Hall's after the war, in 1919.
next 20 years she spent most of her time carrying malt from ports such as
Ballinacurra, New Ross and Wexford to
when on one of those trips to
an unusual accident when entering the
Ringsend. She collided with a tramcar which was crossing the drawbridge on
. She got too near the bridge and her bowsprit speared the
tramcar, but no one was hurt.
original Ringsend Road Drawbridge, or Brunswick Bascule, later rebuilt as the
since independence known as the
1933, on Christmas Eve she grounded on a bank in Wexford Harbour when 70 fathoms
of rope used the previous day in an attempt to re-float another vessel got
caught in her propeller (A fathom equals about
She spent five days aground and was eventually refloated with the aid of a diver
and the removal of some cargo (malt barrels).
Second World War started, many Irish Ships went in under the British flag and
was neutral, needed every available ship to supply the country's needs. In 1943
the 'Cymric' was chartered by Messrs Betson of
supplies in severe shortage due to the war. She had a major refitting done in
Ringsend Dockyard at this time and on
the command of Captain Michael Cardiff of Wexford, where she loaded a cargo of
coal. Bad weather delayed her leaving the
she had to be taken back to Rosslare when Captain Cardiff became ill. There were
many crew changes at Rosslare and it is said many were inexperienced in handling
a schooner, being more used to cross channel steamers.
resumed her passage on
commanded by Captain Christopher Cassidy, arriving in
Year's Day 1944. She spent a week in port and then left for
weather. She berthed safely in
there were further crew changes so that now six of the crew of eleven were from
loaded a cargo of coal for
the following day for the last time. No wreckage was ever
found and her loss may have been due either to foundering in heavy weather,
hitting a mine, being sunk by a U-Boat or being driven by a gale into the Bay of
Biscay which was a prohibited area of the Western Approaches and so could have
been attacked and sunk by Allied aircraft.
establish a method of safety from attack by their own (Allied) forces merchant
shipping and convoys had to keep out of certain areas and travel on the 12th
Western Parallel to
as the Western Approaches. The
was a 'sink on sight' area to Allied aircraft and
of the crew received the following letter from Messrs Betson's dated
regret that since the vessel left Ardrossan on 23rd February and passed through
following evening bound for
, no news has been received of her arrival at that port.
Every effort has been made, and will continue to be made, to try and obtain some
news of her position. You can rest assured that as soon as any definite word is
received by us it will be immediately passed on to you.
"Owing to the length of time that the vessel is now on
passage, she is regarded in official circles as overdue" (Quoted from Forde:
'The Long Watch').
This was the final call for the 'Cymric' — missing
The Roll of Honour is as follows:
P. Bergin, Wexford; J. Brennan, Wexford; C. Cassidy,
Athboy Co. Meath; J. Crosbie, Wexford; K. Furlong, Wexford; B. Kiernan, Dundalk;
C. McConnell, Dublin; W. O'Rourke, Wexford; M. Ryan, Dungarvan; P. Seaver,
Skerries; M. Tierney, Wexford.
"In the Picture below are at least three Ringsend men. Left to right are
the Bissett brothers, Willie and Johnny and Georgie Gaffney, second from right".
"The man first left looks remarkably like Mike "Cootie"
Williams of Wexford who worked by her in Dublin, a man I knew well. The man at
the back is definitely Michael Tierney who was lost on her and the man in the
cap on the extreme right is Sydney Kerr ,later captain ,of Enniscorthy who, like
Williams worked by her". (Jack 0'Leary)
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