SS Connemara

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SS Connemara.jpg
Name1896–1916: SS Connemara
Owner1896–1916: London and North Western Railway
Operator1896–1916: London and North Western Railway
Port of registryUnited Kingdom
Route1895–1902: DroghedaLiverpool
BuilderWilliam Denny and Brothers, Dumbarton
Yard number558
Launched7 November 1896
FateSunk in collision 3 November 1916
General characteristics
Tonnage1,106 gross register tons (GRT)
Length272.5 ft (83.1 m)
Beam35.1 ft (10.7 m)
Draught14.2 ft (4.3 m)

The SS Connemara was a twin screw steamer, 272 feet long, 35 broad and 14 deep with a gross register tonnage of 1106. She sank on the night of 3 November 1916 at the entrance to Carlingford Lough, Louth, Ireland after being hit amidships by the coalship Retriever. 97 people died that night and the only survivor was James Boyle – a fireman on the Retriever and former caretaker of Warrenpoint Town Hall 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.

SS Connemara facts & figures[edit]

  • Ship Type: Twin screw steamer
  • Captain: GH Doeg
  • Second Mate: ?
  • Tonnage: 1106 gross register tons
  • Built By: Denny Brothers of Dunbarton in 1897
  • Owners: London and North-Western Railway Company
  • Length: 272 ft (83 m)
  • Beam: 35 ft (11 m)
  • Draught: 14 ft (4.3 m)
  • Crew: 30 (all from Holyhead in Wales)
  • Cargo: 51 passengers (and livestock)

Retriever facts & figures[edit]

  • Ship Type: Steel screw, three mast steamer
  • Captain: Patrick O'Neill from Kilkeel
  • Second Mate: Joseph O'Neill (Captain's son)
  • Tonnage: 483 gross register tons
  • Built By: Ailsa Shipbuilding Company in 1899
  • Owners: Clanrye Shipping Company
  • Length: 168 ft (51 m)
  • Beam: 25 ft (7.6 m)
  • Draught: 10 ft (3.0 m)
  • Crew: 9 (all from Newry except the sole survivor James Boyle who was from Summerhill in Warrenpoint)
  • Cargo: Coal

Previous accidents[edit]

Both the Connemara and the Retriever had been in separate collisions with other ships before the fatal accident:

  • The Connemara sank the Liverpool vessel Marquis of Bute on 20 March 1910.
  • Similarly the Retriever sank the Spanish ship the Lista at Garston dock on 31 August 1912.

The accident itself[edit]

  • Accident Date & time: 3 November 1916
  • Conditions: Gale force winds from southwest against a strong ebb tide of some 8 knots. Mountainous seas & dark conditions.
  • Retriever Origin: Left Garston at 4 a.m. on Friday
  • Retriever Destination: Newry
  • Connemara Origin: Left Greenore (her berth) at 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.[1] 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 sole survivor: James Boyle[edit]

  • From Summerhill in Warrenpoint
  • He was a fireman and was also the caretaker of Warrenpoint Town Hall
  • Was below deck of the Retriever at the time of the accident
  • A non-swimmer! (sic)
  • He clung precariously to an upturned boat and avoiding being dashed against the rocks
  • Found exhausted by William Hanna (the son of a farmer at Cranfield) and Tom Crutchley
  • 21 at the time of the accident
  • Lived for another 50 years in Warrenpoint
  • Refused to discuss the tragedy until interviewed by television as an elderly man
  • Died: 19 April 1967

The aftermath[edit]

  • 97 fatalities
  • 1 sole survivor
  • Shorelines littered with corpses, dead animals and flotsam and jetsam
  • 58 bodies found the next morning
  • The other bodies washed up over the following weeks from Cranfield to Kilkeel
  • Many corpses were badly mutilated & burned (due to the boilers exploding)
  • Unidentified were buried in a mass grave in Kilkeel
  • The inquest was held on 6 November in Kilkeel
  • Coroner and members of the Jury journeyed to the scene of the tragedy to view the wreckage and the bodies that had been collected
  • James Boyle gave his evidence breaking down several times
  • The verdict was death by drowning caused by the collision of the ships

Passengers' stories[edit]

There are 97 stories from that night. A very small selection are here:

  • Patrick Conlon, a Dundalk railwayman, was travelling to Wigan with two female cousins – Mrs Lilly Fillingham (plus her 2 children Robert and Jane) and Miss Maggie Glassbrook. His body was initially misidentified as he was wearing the jacket of his brother Tommy.
  • There were many young female victims. They were more than likely travelling over to England to work in the munitions factories during World War I.
  • Mr Patrick J. Kearney, and his sister, Miss Catherine Kearney, children of the Principal of Drumilly National School, Whitecross were waiting at the Edward St Station in Newry. Mr Kearney had recently completed his training in Waterford for national school teaching, Miss Kearney assisted her father in the school. They were going to meet a married sister who was coming from America. While waiting for the train to Greenore they were told by Sergeant Fitzpatrick, who was always on duty at the station, that the Greenore boat on which they meant to embark might not sail as the night was so rough. After some hesitation Mr Kearney tossed a penny on the Waiting Room table and on the strength of the result decided to make the journey.
  • Rose Anne Maguire aged 25 yrs and her sister Margaret Alice (Maggie) Maguire[2] age 19 years were born on a mountain farm located in Aughoo, Co Fermanagh. Their parents were Philip and Mary Maguire and they had had 10 children by 1911. The older girl had been working in America but came home to collect her younger sister to take her to America. Unfortunately their names were never officially recorded. They were travelling to connect with a New York bound ship in Liverpool. Rose was already living in the states and had come to bring Margaret Alice over. Rose was due to be married and was meeting her fiance in Liverpool. He travelled on to the States but returned to visit Fermanagh in the 1970s and contacted Roses brother Patrick Joseph Maguire. In all the years he still remembered the girl he had loved 60 years before.[3]

Memorial & poetry[edit]

  • In Dublin, the tragedy inspired a 16-year-old schoolboy, C.A. McWilliam, to write a poem – The Collision of the Connemara and Retriever
  • On 3 November 1981 the pupils of Kilkeel High School erected a stone memorial in Kilkeel Graveyard in memory of the victims of the tragedy.
  • Listen to the Song 'Lovely Alice' The Connemara and the Retriever song 'written by Pauline McQuaid Shields, the great granddaughter of James and Alice Curran on Youtube. James Curran was a passenger on the Connemara and died in the disaster on 3 November 1916.


  1. ^ Ferguson, Patrick (2008). Troubled Waters. p. 50. ISBN 978-1-84588-912-8.
  2. ^ 1911 census
  3. ^ Memoir of family member

External links[edit]