Bantry drowning tragedy is remembered

October 1st, 2018 10:10 PM

By Jackie Keogh

Vera O'Neill and Denis Griffin, descendants of victims of the drowning tragedy in Bantry Bay 100 years ago, unveiling a commemorative plaque on Gearhies Pier. (Photo: Tony McElhinney)

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A LARGE crowd braved a cold, easterly wind blowing in off Bantry Bay last Saturday evening to remember a terrible tragedy that occurred 100 years ago. 

Eight local fishermen – Ned Griffin, Denis Cremin, Jeremiah Cremin, William O’Donovan, Henry O’Driscoll, Johnny O’Leary, Christy O’Neill and Jeremiah O’Neill – were lost from the small coastal community around the Gearhies and Gortalassa.

The ceremony on Gearhies Pier began with uillinn piper, Terry Tuite, playing the haunting melody Bantry Bay while two local people – Denis Griffin and Vera O’Neill, who are both relatives of the victims – performed the unveiling of the memorial plaque, erected on the pier wall which bears an image of the kind of seine boat the fishermen were using on the ill-fated date – September 25th, 1918 – as well as their names. Michael Kingston, who is a native of Goleen, gave an emotional address and spoke of his close ties to fishing and to the people of the Sheep’s Head Peninsula. 

He recalled how, as a young boy, he lost his own father in another tragedy in Bantry Bay – the Whiddy disaster of January 8th, 1979. Saturday evening mass then was offered by Fr Alan O’Leary for the eight victims. 

Seine fishing involved two boats – a seine boat and a follower. The method involved the use of a fishing net attached between the two boats to encircle the shoal of fish and the catch was then loaded onto the follower boat.

On the night of the tragedy a seine boat and follower had set out from a place known as Trahchael in Gearhies in search of herring. Other boats from Bantry and Whiddy Island also went out but they had secured their catch and had returned safely home. 

The Gearhies crew had just re-shot their net when a violent storm arose, causing huge waves. With the pressure of the net, the seine boat was swamped. 

The five-man crew of the follower boat set about dumping their load to come to the rescue of their comrades, but they were swept in an easterly direction towards Whiddy Island Point. 

It was in the small hours of the morning that they reached Bantry in a distraught and bedraggled state to make their sad report.

Patrols went to the scene immediately and, later that day, the body of one of the victims, Jeremiah O’Neill, was picked up by a US patrol boat. The bodies of the other seven victims were never recovered. 

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