Before leaving Galway Bay, I am compelled to mention the Plassy, certainly one of the best known wrecks in the world, thanks to the oft repeated ‘Father Ted’ TV comedy series where in the opening titles she is seen broken backed stranded on what in reality is the Island of Inisheer, the smallest of the Arans.
When wrecked she already had an intriguing history. She was built in ’41 as an RN steam trawler-escort by Cook, Welton & Gemmell in Beverley, Yorkshire, HMS Juliet. In ‘47, she was radically converted to a motor cargo vessel named Peterjon, which says something about the shortage of coastal-short sea tonnage at the time, though converting big trawler hulls was not common.
In ‘51, she was bought by Limerick SS Co, and named Plassy, the company’s first motor ship and said to have traded far and wide including deep sea. She had been insulated and often lifted fruit and fish cargos. She had a crew of 11. I have seen 30,000 ton vessels with smaller crews, how times have changed in 50 or so years.
It was March 1960 when Plassy, then on the Limerick Co’s Liverpool-W Ireland run after delivering steel to Fenit Co Kerry, headed for Galway, 12 hours or so away with general cargo. But the weather turned atrocious with Force 10 forecast. She intended to pass between the Clare coast and Inisheer then gain some shelter, but there were limestone rock shoals near her course, which were poorly marked then, if at all. It was dark, visibility negligible, and the ship was low in the water with a low profile after her conversion, and I have no record she was fitted with radar, which would have been primitive enough at the time, if it was working. At 5am, she had the bottom ripped out of her on Finnis Rock, Inisheer. Within minutes the crew had taken to the lifeboat, but in the swell and breaking seas with the ship grinding, but still visible, the skipper decided it was safer on the wreck – this most probably saved their lives.
The happy ending was that the Inisheer islanders, alerted by Valentia radio, spotted the wreck and valiantly, those trained in using their rescue apparatus (with upto 60 others helping) for its and their first time in serious use, undertook a textbook breeches buoy rescue and saved every man.
The even happier ending is that the day before, in Fenit, the crew had been paid two weeks wages and stormbound on inisheer for two more days, the crew and islanders made merry in the island pubs until Naomh Eanna could get through to take them to Galway and the rest of their lives.
Whether Limerick SS Co was unlucky or accident prone I cannot say, but one of the crew saved from Plassy within three years died of injuries received when two of the Limerick Co’s ships collided at sea, Mulcair colliding with Oranmore off Cape Clear.
Within two weeks Plassy’s cargo was being salvaged at low tide from the shore and the variety of freight she carried shows again how the world has changed in a relatively short time, the tally then consisting: cotton bales, copper tubing, bathroom fi ttings, children’s toys, lawn mowers, whisky and cartridges for humane-killer pistols for Galway slaughterhouse. That cargo, then aboard a small freighter from Liverpool, herself a converted naval trawler, now would arrive in Galway from an Irish east coast port in an articulated truck, from a ro-ro or container vessel, as likely from Europe rather than the Mersey.
The Finnis rock today, is much better marked while Plassy, now a tourist attraction, has been moved ever higher on shore by subsequent storms on this dramatic coast.