Harbour secrets: Wrecks still hidden beneath the waves

Harbour secrets: Wrecks still hidden beneath the waves

Attending the unveiling of the anchor of the Swedish ship The Saga at Ballybrannigan beach in East Cork were from left, Patricia O'Connell, who recovered the anchor, Cllr Michael Hegarty, chairman of the East Cork Municipal District, Cllr Mary Linehan-Foley, former Mayor of the County of Cork, Sean O'Callaghan, Cork County Council senior executive officer and Barry Hickey, salvage crew member. Picture: David Keane. 

THE unveiling of the 126-year-old anchor from the Swedish ship Saga at Ballybrannigan Beach by the County Council could, if developed, provide a ‘chain of maritime memories’ around the Cork coastline which would be a unique and unusual attraction.

I highlighted the story of the Saga earlier this year when comparing it to the Alta which grounded – and still remains – near Ballycotton.

Both had some mystery attached to them as to where they came from and how, without anyone aboard, they both wound up as shipwrecks along the same shoreline.

Shipwrecks are always a source of interest, even when their stories can be of disaster and tragedy.

There are about a hundred shipwrecks listed around the Ballycotton area, while the ‘wrecks list’ for Cork Harbour and along the West Cork coastline runs into the hundreds.

The reasons for these losses are many and varied, as are the vessels themselves and include loss of life and wartime casualties.

There were even wrecks close to Cork city centre.

The Inisfail didn’t have a particularly good time in voyaging to Cork.

Described in reports from the time, as a 202-ton paddle steamer built in 1826, which also had two masts, she was square-rigged with sail to add to engine power, was 129 feet long, had a beam of 25 feet and a draught of 15, the depth of water she needed.

She was docked at Penrose Quay on September 21, 1834, when, according to reports, “her cargo of silk goods went on fire, causing £5,000 worth of damage.” She was repaired and came back again, heading for the city quays in 1835 “coming up the Lee from Dublin when she struck an anchor and sank “diagonally across the channel. “ Her cargo was discharged but she remain submerged for months before being refloated and repaired.

There are no further reports of her having difficulties when in Cork and there were no further reports ever heard about the 293-ton barque Jessie after it left Cork in April of 1854 bound for North America. It was never heard of again. In those days being out of sight of land was out of mind and out of contact.

There have been disasters in Cork Harbour, one of which was the Christmas time loss of a vessel which the British Royal Navy had acquired after it was captured at Texel in the Netherlands in 1795.

In severe weather HMS La Suffisante dragged her anchors in the harbour and was blown ashore onto Spike Island, then capsized onto her beam ends. Seven of the crew were drowned and another three killed by a falling mast. The vessel went to pieces in what was described as a ‘near hurricane’ between the Spit Light and Spike.

During dredging in 1980 naval debris was found around the Curlane Bank and attributed to the ship’s loss. Some of it was lodged in Cobh Museum.

There was a rather smelly problem for a while at Rams Head on the harbour’s western bank in March of 1884 when the then 15-year-old Belfast brig Septimus, 150 tons, with six crew aboard was setting sail from Cork Harbour bound for Swansea. Unable to cope with a South/Westerly Force 6, she stranded on the shoreline and was totally wrecked. She was carrying a cargo of manure!

Perhaps the most fortunate sailor of those who had difficulties when entering Cork Harbour was the Lieutenant in command of the 275-ton British destroyer, Lynx, on June 9, 1906, at a time when Ireland was ruled by the UK. To his chagrin and, doubtless that of officers and crew aboard, the ship went aground. A Naval Court of Inquiry decided that he had “practised careless navigation” but the ship didn’t become a wreck and so he was, according to reports from the time, “told to be more careful in future!”

The Saga, the focus of the memorial, drifted ashore and was wrecked at Ballyshane near Ballybrannigan Beach in 1895. With nobody on board, nor any statement ever issued, the fate of the ship and her crew was an unresolved mystery until Patricia O’Connell, who led the recovery of the anchor, undertook research and, with the support of local historians, as well as records obtained in Stockholm and the Oskarshamn Maritime Museum in Sweden, the 124-year-old story was revealed.

Over a two-week period while travelling from Sweden to South America, the Saga was hit by a series of storms that led to the loss of its rudder and the crew abandoning ship and being rescued without loss of life. The anchor was donated to the County Council, who have installed it with an information board detailing the story.

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