Connemara - On 3 November 1916 the ferry Connemara sank at the entrance to Carlingford Lough, Louth, Ireland after being hit amidships by the coal ship Retriever which also sank. All 82 on board the Connemara were killed, and only one crew member of the Retriever's crew of nine were rescued.
The SS Connemara was a twin screw steamer, 272 feet long, 35 broad and 14 deep with a gross tonnage of 1106. She was sunk on the night of 3 November 1916 at the entrance to Carlingford Lough, Louth, Ireland after being hit amidships by the coalship Retriever.
97 lives were lost that night and the only survivor was James Boyle – a fireman on the Retriever and a non-swimmer.
The captain on the Connemara was Captain G. H. Doeg. The captain on the Retriever was Patrick O'Neill. Both men were experienced seamen and the accident was attributed to the atrocious weather conditions on the night.
Accident Date & time: 3 November 1916
Conditions: Gale force winds from SWS against a strong ebb tide of some 8 knots. Mountainous seas & dark conditions.
Retriever Origin: Left Garston @ 4 a.m. on Friday
Retriever Destination: Newry
Connemara Origin: Left Greenore (her berth) @ 8 p.m.
Connemara Destination: Holyhead
The outbound Connemara met the inbound Retriever approximately a half-mile beyond the Carlingford bar. The bar in Carlingford is marked by Haulbowline lighthouse. Beyond the bar is the "cut" or channel, which in Carlingford's case is very narrow, being only about 300 yards wide. This lack of space allows for very little manoeuvrability for passing vessels. Both vessels were showing dimmed lights, for fear of U-boats. Their masters were on their respective bridges, and there was no evidence to indicate they were not alert.
The watch at the Haulbowline lighthouse, seeing the ships too close for comfort, fired off rockets in warning.
However, the atrocious conditions had caused the Retriever's cargo to list. She was fighting both wind, tide and cargo inertia. She hit the Connemara on the port side, penetrating her hull to the funnel. Immediately Master O' Neill reversed engines and the Retriever swung wide. The Connemara however was terribly ripped below the waterline on the port side, from bow to amidships. She sank within minutes, her boilers exploding on contact with the cold water.
The Retriever, with her bow stove in, took about 20 minutes to sink about 200 yards from the Connemara. Her boilers also exploded on contact with the water.
The single survivor's story
James Boyle Sole Survivor
Twenty one year old James Boyle, who was the only non-swimmer among the crew of the Retriever, and who had been below deck when the collision happened, was lucky to survive, clinging precariously to an upturned boat and avoiding being dashed against the rocks. William Hanna, the son of a farmer at Cranfield, finally pulled him ashore after about half an hour in the raging seas.
Boyle was taken to Hanna's house and cared for until his family arrived from Warrenpoint to take him home. His story, which he refused to discuss all his life until interviewed as an elderly man for television, was harrowing in the extreme. As he recalled it, the Retriever was steaming towards the leading lights that mark the entrance to the channel. Half a mile away, between the lighthouse and Greenore, the Connemara could be seen ploughing steadily along. Both ships showed lights and were on the proper course.
"Just as I thought the two ships were about to pass, I went down into the cabin to attend to the fire. The Retriever's whistle sounded three times and, suspecting that something out of the ordinary had happened, I rushed up the stairway. Before I reached the deck there was a collision, and our ship shivered from stem to stern.
Contrary to what one might suspect, there was no panic or confusion on the Retriever. Captain O'Neill, who had been on the bridge all afternoon, gave the order, in a clear firm voice, for the crew to take to the boats. Boyle, William Clugson, and Joe Donnan immediately went to get one of the two available boats ready for launching. They were joined by Joe O'Neill. Joe Donnan went below for lifebelts and advised them to remove their seaboots.
Boyle continued, "That was the last I saw of him, although I heard his voice a few minutes later crying 'Cut her away, cut her away.' The Retriever took a heavy lift to starboard, swinging the boat well out from the side. I was holding on to a rope ready to jump into her. It was then that I heard Donnan shout, and I cut her away, springing in at the same time. I don't know what became of the others. I drifted away clear of the steamer, which had parted from the Connemara after the collision. The mail boat sank in about seven or eight minutes. I heard no shouts from her, and cannot tell you what happened aboard her, but just before she went under she was very low in the water, and she seemed to be on fire."
The Retriever listed more and more and eventually went to the bottom but young Boyle's troubles had only begun. His boat, tossed about for half an hour or so, was capsized by a mountainous wave. Boyle clung to the keel and drifted towards the shore. Another huge wave swept him and the boat out to sea again but righted the boat at the same time and he was able to climb aboard once more. This happened a second time. Eventually, on reaching the surf the boat capsised for the third time and exhaused to the point of helplessness, Boyle thought that his end had come. However, when he felt the sand under his feet he started to crawl through the surf where William Hanna, with Tom Crutchley, found him and carried him to Hanna's house, half a mile from the shore, where he was cared for until his family arrived to take him home to Warrenpoint.
James Boyle lived on in Warrenpoint for another 50 years - he died on 19 April 1967.