On 8 March 1960 the mv Plassy ran aground on Finnis Rock, Inisheer Island, County Galway, Ireland. The crew jumped into the lifeboat but on second thoughts decided to jump back on the ship as it was safer. Four hours later they were rescued by Breeches Buoy. The ship is shown on the opening credits of the well known TV comedy series Father Ted.
The Plassy was owned by the Limerick Steamship Company Limited, which dates back to 1893. In the early 1960s there were five ships in the fleet with Irish place names: Plassy, Galtee, Derrynane, Mulcair and Dromineer. They mainly traded between the European ports of Liverpool, Antwerp and Rotterdam and the west coast ports of Ireland such as Fenit, Galway, Westport, Sligo, Ballina and Limerick. They had a distinctive black and red hull with the red below the water line. The funnel was black with a wide red stripe and a narrow white stripe under it.
The Plassy was 585 tons and registered in London and was the first motor vessel acquired by the company. She was originally an armed Admiralty steamship trawler built by Cook, Welton & Gemmell in Beverley, Yorkshire in 1941 as the Shakespearian class HMS Juliet.
In March 1960 the Plassy replaced the Derrynane, while the latter was in dry dock, on the Liverpool-Fenit-Galway run. She had discharged a cargo of steel in Fenit, County Kerry, for the Liebherr crane factory in Killarney. After Fenit she was going to Galway with general cargo for the towns in the Galway area. The voyage between Fenit and Galway was to take her about 12 to 14 hours.
The weather was atrocious at the time with a vigorous depression off the west coast of Ireland. Valentia Radio Station was broadcasting gale warnings on 2182kHz of strong Gale Force 8 to 9 with occasional Storm Force 10 with a southeasterly wind blowing. It was pitch dark and there were heavy squalls of rain. The ship was pitching and tossing on the waves. They knew that Finnis Rock on Inisheer was dangerous as it was a flat limestone plateau rock barely covered by the sea, stretching out about three quarters of a mile from the shore. It had a blind buoy on it which was only visible during daylight.
At 0510 there was a grinding and tearing of metal as the ship hit Finnis Rock, off Tra Caorach. Eddie Reidy vividly describes the moment of impact: “We were coming along the lee of the land. I was on the 4 to 8 watch and in the galley making tea and toast. Next thing, Wallop, such a thump. We hit it so hard. I was taken off the deck and hit the ceiling. Water started to rush in from underneath. There was shouting and running in all directions.”
In addition to Valentia Radio Station contacting the emergency services, there were two young boys on the shore collecting seaweed at daylight and when they spotted the ship on the rocks they ran for help. The Life Saving Service was contacted and two rockets were fired to muster assistance. The service had fifteen volunteers on the Island.
Word was sent to the ship via Valentia Radio Station that they would attempt to bring the crew ashore using the Breeches Buoy. The volunteers headed by Martin O’Domhnaill ran to the Coast Guard Station or Rocket House. The Rocket House stored a Rocket Life Saving Apparatus or Breeches Buoy. Fortunately, on the Aran Islands two people in every village were trained in the use of this equipment.
It is a pulley and rope-based rescue device used to bring people ashore from wrecked vessels. It is basically a lifebuoy with a large pair of canvas shorts sewn into it. The person being rescued sits into it and is hauled ashore by rope joined to the ship and shore. It had never been used before on the Island.