The Fleming family of Youghal were general merchants, and Martin J Fleming had several ships involved in the coal trade between Bristol Channel ports and the home port of Youghal. One of these vessels was the three masted schooner, the Nellie Fleming, called after his daughter. A sister ship the Kathleen & May was called after the other two daughters in the family, and this vessel was preserved by the Maritime Trust and is now open to the public in London.
In mid December 1913, the Nellie Fleming was on one of her usual trips carrying a cargo of about 250 tons of coal and bound for Youghal. The night was fine with a light easterly breeze but it was very dark with a thick haze prevailing. The ship and her crew sailed along the south coast in very close to the shore and as a result they missed the Light of Mine Head owing to the intervening cliffs. Thinking they had cleared Ardmore Head and seeing the lights in the village they altered course and steered the ship into the bay.
At about 8.20 pm., sometime before high water the Nellie Fleming went aground on the Black Rock off Curragh in Ardmore Bay on the night of Thursday 18th December in 1913. It was quite close to the spot where the ill-fated Teaser struck the rocks two years earlier In 1911 but further inshore.
Some Curragh fishermen rowed out and on getting alongside, the skipper and crew were taken aback somewhat to discover their location. No signal of distress was given and the crew stayed on board the vessel hoping to get her off later. The fishermen reported to the Ardmore Coastguards. Mr Bates Chief Officer alerted Youghal and Helvick and the life boats from both places put to sea and made for Ardmore to stand by in case of need. The Ardmore rocket crew went to the scene also and at about 10.30 pm a rocket was fired over the vessel. The crew didn't haul the line however, fearing salvage no doubt. Around midnight Captain Donovan of Youghal and the crew found the water gaining on them had reached the cabin floor and so they used their own boat to come safely ashore at the pier. They later went to Youghal aboard the lifeboat. If the weather had been bad it could have been quite a different story with lives lost.
On Friday morning the owner of the vessel Martin J Fleming came over to Ardmore from Youghal with a gang of men, hoping if possible to lighten the vessel and get her off. On boarding her however they found the water right up to the deck due to the badly holed bottom. The wind was rising and the sea getting rough, she was obviously going to be a total wreck. Martin Fleming handed her over to Lloyd's agent Mr Farrell of Youghal.
What happened next was related to me by Johnny Larkin and Jack Crowley.
The Curragh Coal Co-op
A group of locals set up a coal company to buy the cargo of coal in the wreck from the Lloyd's agent and resell it at a profit. A local farmer went to the Bank as guarantor for the money. Johnny's father, William Harris, the Briens and the Donovans were among those involved in it. The cargo was bought for £100 (8/- shillings per ton or £0.40/ton in todays currency). Then began the difficult task of unloading the cargo. Jack in his joking way frequently puzzles people with his question "Where was the first Co-op in County Waterford"? The answer he maintains was the Curragh Coal Co-op!
Jack Crowley remembers while still at school being sent over to Curragh with three others including John Galvin of Chapel Row with his donkey and cart to get 1/4 ton of coal for the school. Jack still remembers the scene when they arrived over in Curragh.
Down below on the beach lay the wreck of the Nellie Fleming. Up in the corner of a field near the boreen the coal was heaped and was being bagged and weighed. The farmers were there from far and near including old Parish and Grange, buying cart loads of the cheap coal. The lads found themselves left last in the queue, but were not in any hurry back to school.
The Nellie Fleming with her load gone was lifted to the top of the beach by the spring tides and 50 years later some of her ribs were still exposed. She now lies buried in the sand, just below the boreen, at the Ardmore end of Curragh Strand.
The Fleming family subsequently had another ship of this name Nellie Fleming (II) and she was lost at sea with all hands during a dreadful storm in 1936.
Author: Siobhán Lincoln