Just three days before Christmas 1968 a terrible tragedy happened in Kenmare bay, writes Patrick Sullivan
I WAS born on Bere Island, in July 1952. In the late 1960s I was a crewmember of the Irish Lights tender Atlanta. My family had a long association with Irish Lights as my grandfather, my father Patsy, and my brother John all worked on the tenders.
I joined the Atlanta in Feburary 1968. She was based in Dun Laoghaire and serviced the lighthouses, the lightships, and navigation bouys on the east and southeast coasts.
On Wednesday night, November 27th 1968, we arrived in Castletownbere to relieve the Ierne which was due to leave Castletown the next morning for a three-week visit to the Liffey dockyard in Dublin.
In mid-December two temporary deckhands joined the ship, Timmy Hanley, from Bere Island, and Timmy Lynch from Derrymihan.
On Saturday morning, December 21st, we left Castletown to proceed to the Fastnet lighthouse, to carry out the relief.
On our arrival at the lighthouse, the weather conditions had deteriorated. We lay off the lighthouse until 12.30pm but by then the weather conditions had deteriorated further and so there was no likelihood of carrying out the relief and we returned to Castletown.
That Saturday evening, a severe weather warning was issued for the south, and southwest coasts, with winds of over 80mph and heavy seas.
Life on board the ship went on as normal that night, and by midnight, most of crew (except those on watch) had retired to bed – oblivious to the terrible tragedy that had taken place near Ardgroom.
The Castletownbere fishing vessel, the Seaflower, had been wrecked in a storm at Carrigavaunaheen, near Ardgroom in Kenmare Bay.
The owner and skipper, Michael Crowley from Bere Island, and four of the vessel’s crew were drowned.
The other four were: Bernie Lynch from Derrymihan, Castletownbere; John Michael Sheehan from Dursey Sound and his cousin Noel Sheehan from Dursey Island, and Niall Crilly, from Cork city. On Sunday morning, December 22nd, I was called at 8am by the quartermaster to begin my watch.
His first words to me were: ‘I have awful news. The Seaflower is missing.’ I immediately went to the radio room to hear the reports coming over the air. The majority of the crew had gathered there in a very sombre mood.
Our crew member Timmy (Lynch) was the father of one of the Seaflower’s crew and all our concern was for him at this time.
Over the next few hours we waited anxiously for news of the trawler, hoping that ‘no news is good news’.
Timmy remained calm, and very optimistic that the trawler would return safe to Castletown.
At, approximately 11.30 am came the dreadful news, and confirmation, that the Seaflower, and her crew, were lost. We were all devastated for our temporary shipmate and the horrendous loss he had suffered.
Bernie Lynch’s father was immediately taken up to the bridge where he was comforted by the captain, and officers of the ship. At 2pm he was taken ashore on the ship’s launch.
At 6pm that evening, we left Castletown to return to Dun Laoghaire, as the Ierne was now returning to Castletown. When we were going out the harbour’s mouth, I was up on deck talking to Timmy Hanley about the awful loss of the trawler and her crew.
The chief officer came over to us and said ‘It’s a very sad Castletownbere tonight. God help, and comfort, the poor families.’