Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 9 March 2017
The Wheels of 1917: The Eye of the Lifeboat
On Saturday evening, 10 March 1917 in the Lifeboat House, Baltimore, silver medals were awarded by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) to Con Cadogan, Michael Cadogan, Tim Cadogan, John Daly, and Michael Daly all from Cape Clear for their rescue of crew from the sunken ship, the SS Nestorian.
Both the Southern Star and the Cork Examiner describes that the Bishop of Ross, Dr Kelly addressed the large crowd present and related the brave exploits of the medal receivers. On 2 January 1917, in the pitch darkness the Royal Mail Steamship Nestorian entered a thick fog went on the rocks near Cape Clear. Con Cadogan, described by the Bishop as a “patriarch of the Island, with the trained ear of the old Sea dog”, recognised the gun’s fire in distress. He awoke his boys and awoke their neighbours, the Dalys. All went out on Con Cadogan’s fishing boat, and in tow they had a small punt. As they got to the scene of the wreck, the Nestorian was already breaking up, and the sea was strewn with spars and wreckage of all kinds. The fishing boat could not approach the wreck, and the two Cadogans and the two Dalys got into the little punt, and rowed into the high waves to rescue ten of the crew. In time a naval boat arrived to rescue others.
The SS Nestorian was built in 1911 by Leslie Hawthord & Co Ltd of Newcastle upon Tyne and was owned F Leyland. She was powered by a four cylinder quadruple expansion steam engine which generated 510 hp. She was en route from Galveston, USA for Liverpool with a cargo of cotton & steel ingots and empty shell heads when she hit rocks off Cape Clear. Fifty-two of her crew were rescued and one died when he fell from the rigging.
Reference at the medal ceremony of the Cadogans and Dalys was also made of their pursuits in helping the crew off the passenger and cargo ship Alondra. It ran aground on 29 December 1916 on Kedge Rock, an island off Baltimore with sheer rock cliffs. Sixteen of her crew were able to get aboard one of the ship′s lifeboats, but they drowned before they could reach safety. Another man died on board. Meanwhile, Archdeacon John Richard Hedges Becher, who was serving as the honorary secretary of the Baltimore Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), set out with a rescue lifeboat. He failed to reach Alondra on the first try and again on the second. When the sun rose, he and his lifeboat crew set out a third time using a rocket apparatus and managed to reach the vessel. While the lifeboat worked from one position, the crews of Royal Navy trawlers worked from the tops of the cliffs to lift other surviving crew members out of Alondra. In total, 23 men were rescued from the ship. The RNLI awarded silver medals for gallantry to Archdeacon Becher and to Lieutenant Sanderson for assisting with the rescue. In 1913, the RNLI had established a lifeboat base in Baltimore, which could have been of assistance in rescuing the crew of the Alondra. Unfortunately, World War I delayed the official opening of the base until 1919. In 2013, a professional film crew sponsored by the Arts Council England created a film based on the events surrounding the Alondra shipwreck of 1916. The film was made in collaboration with the RNLI and the Baltimore Drama Group. Wreck diving is popular in Baltimore at sites such as the Alondra wreck.
The RNLI was established in 1824 and its local lifeboat centres have a great history of recording their stories and their importance through books and websites. Two of the first lifeboat stations in Cork were established in Courtmacsherry and Kinsale respectively in 1825. Both were also one of the first in Ireland. The first record of a lifeboat in Cork Harbour also dates back as far back as 1825. A boat was built in Passage West and sailed to Liverpool in an unsuccessful attempt to get the Institution to adopt the design. The Ballycotton Station was established by the Institution in 1858 to afford protection to the shipping frequenting the port of Cork and, together with the new stations at Youghal and Ardmore (closed 1895) and others, created to guard the English and Irish channels. The Queenstown Lifeboat Station was established by the Institution in 1866 following several wrecks with loss of life off Cork Harbour.
During World War I, RNLI lifeboat crews launched 1,808 times, rescuing 5,332 people. With many younger men on active service, the average age of a lifeboatman was over 50. Many launches were to ships that had been torpedoed or struck mines, including naval or merchant vessels on war duty and many were in non-motor propelled boats. The Lusitania on route to New York on 7 May 1915 was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat south of Courtmacsherry Bay, with the loss of 1201 lives. The Courtmacsherry Lifeboat crew was alerted to the tragedy and, because of very fine weather that day the sails were of no use so they rowed the Kezia Gwilt lifeboat 15 miles to the scene of the sinking. Today there are 45 Lifeboat stations in Ireland and 237 in total run by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
Check out the small museum on island and coastal community life in the old national school on Cape Clear island plus the ferry times are on www.calinoir.com
Cork 1916, A Year Examined (2016) by Kieran McCarthy & Suzanne Kirwan is now available in Cork bookshops.
Cork City History Tour (2016) by Kieran McCarthy is also available in Cork bookshops.
885a. Approaching Cape Clear, present day, on a sunny summer’s day (picture: Kieran McCarthy)
885b. Cape Clear, present day (picture: Kieran McCarthy)