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Phantoms Of The Sea

The Ardmore Journal

10. Phantoms Of The Sea
Phantom or ghost vessels, be they boats or ships, relate to tragic events at sea. They may appear beforehand as a warning or afterwards as a commemoration of the loss. Stories of phantom vessels abound on both sides of the Atlantic and indeed worldwide. The best known phantom ship is the Flying Dutchman, whose captain was condemned to sail the seas for eternity, and the legend of which was used by Richard Wagner in his famous opera. Of the many ships lost on the Goodwin Sands off the Kent coast, some did not rest and a number of ghost ships have been sighted. "The Phantom Ship" of New Haven, Connecticut is celebrated in verse by H.W. Longfellow. When a ship sailed from the port in 1647 and disappeared without trace, the people prayed to the lord for a sign. In due course a phantom ship sailed up the harbour. As the people watched, the masts and rigging seemed to be blown off and the ship vanished. Thus did the people learn of the tragic end of their ship. Stories of phantom ships on fire are usually American. The Long Island Sound in 1738 the palatine struck Block Island enticed, by wreckers who set fire to the ship after looting it. Every year, according to tradition, the spectacle of a ship on fire is visible to the Island's inhabitants. The story was told by John G. Whittier, the Quaker poet of Massachusetts, in his poem "The Palatine". Phantom boats and ships are also known in Ireland and are mentioned by Seán Ó Suilleabháin in his handbook of Irish Folklore. The chief of the Ó Byrnes occasionally returns to Bray Head in a phantom bark.

It must have been about 1900 or so when my father Jamsie Quain saw the phantom boat. One day he was tending his land in Dysert. At the end of the long field is a well, the overflow from which was used to feed the cattle runs down to the cliff. Dad had a potato garden there at the cliff edge near the stile.

It was winter time and early in the New Year. The previous night had been very stormy, and although the day was dry, at sea, it was dangerously rough. As he was digging he glanced up and saw an object out deep. As it approached he realised it was a ship's lifeboat. There were about a dozen men in it rowing and another steering. He actually saw them change seats a few times.

Presuming there had been a wreck he went over to the station to call the coastguard and they both went back to the cliff. The boat was drawing near and almost below them. But the cliffs were too steep to descend. The crew looked cold, wet and hungry. The two observers called out and Jamsie Quain waved them in with his cap. The sailors took no notice but kept rowing in closer until they came around the headland into the calm water in the bay. Suddenly, to the amazement of the onlookers, they altered course and turned out to sea again. This was unbelievable as the men were overcome with fatigue and yet they were heading out from the sheltered waters and the safety of dry land, back into the danger of the open sea.

Dad and the officer hurried down to the pier, quickly got a crew together including Pat Troy and Maurice Flynn. They got the sail up, set off in pursuit and soon began to catch up on the boat. The wind was from the south and they lost the shelter of the land as they headed towards Mine Head. Dad and the officer persuaded the men to go on a bit further. They got within about 200 yards of the ship's lifeboat.

After that they just could not get any nearer although they tried everything possible. They shouted but the sailors gave no sign of hearing them. The wind was rising and gradually the lifeboat started to pull away from them. Reluctantly, they turned back to Ardmore where they arrived in the late afternoon.

The coastguard officer phoned Mine Head Lighthouse and altered the rescue services along the coast. Enquires up and down the coast, were in vain, the sailors were not picked up anywhere and the boat was never seen again.

At cow-time that evening in Dysert the officer met Jamsie Quain and asked "what did you think of that business today?" Dad said he didn't know. The officer continued "If you were in that boat all night or maybe a few nights and suffering wet, cold and hunger, would you jump ashore and take your chances with the natives if you saw them waving to you as you approached or would you turn out to sea again?" Dad said he'd go ashore. Finally the officer asked "Quain have you ever heard of a Phantom Boat?" Dad hadn't but after further discussion they concluded it must have been a phantom boat. Some days later they heard a large vessel had been lost out at sea about a week previously.

Account By Jimmy Rooney

I heard the story of the phantom boat from Jamsie Quain the Cliff and Maurice Flynn of Chapel Row. The weather was bad with a S.E. wind, when a ship's lifeboat was seen coming in with a crowd of shipwrecked sailors in her. A local crew and a coastguard went out in a whaleboat to give assistance and guide her in. To the amazement of the locals however, the ship's lifeboat turned tail and headed down towards the Miner. No human being would come inside Ardmore head and put out to sea again in the weather that was there. The locals set off in pursuit. They had the lifeboat within hailing distance but couldn't catch up. They lost the shelter of the headland and were about half way down the bay when Maurice Flynn said "Turn back Quain, or we'll all be lost. You're following dead men." Quain reluctantly did so. They were only just in off the corner of the head when a sea broke on top of 'Seán Spán'. A big wave that would drown a liner headed across the bay and if it caught them they were all lost. Seán Spán is a sunken rock off Ardmore Head where a Spanish ship was wrecked one time. We often got nets caught there at low tide. Afterwards the coastguards maintained she was a phantom boat and they had risked their lives following her.

Account By Jimmy Rooney

It was a Sunday night in the month of February, 1936. I remember we had our good clothes on. We rowed out to the Head to moor the nets and leave them out for the night. We dropped the anchor and paid off the nets going N.N.E. towards the 'Miner'. We had about half the nets out when we saw this vessel, bearing down on us from the S.E. We thought it was the bailiff's launch coming out of Youghal. We began pulling in the nets as fast as we could and soon lost the vessel behind the Head. We waited inside at the little sea inlet of Gaibhlín na Rinne but there was no sign of the vessel coming around Ardmore Head. Jim Drohan known as Bob said it must have been a herring drifter. In those days a lot of English and Scottish herring drifters came to Ardmore and stayed on for days or even weeks. Occasionally they'd give a few bags of coal to the fishermen. This was the nearest point to the fishing grounds. During the months of February to May in the 1930's I often saw half a dozen of them in here. They'd do the herring fishing at night. By the time the war came they were gone completely and we only saw Dutch trawlers after that. Anyway, after waiting a while we decided to pay out the nets again. This time we saw the hull of a big ship and she seemed to be in close, near Faill na Sleannaire. We thought we'd be run down by this big ship. We pulled in the nets again and then we put Paddy Flynn ashore. Paddy walked up along the cliff and we rowed around the Head. None of us saw anything, there was no ship there. Within a week the big storm came and Fleming's boat went down. That was the time the Ballycotton lifeboat rescued the men from the Daunt Rock Lightship.

We were discussing it later and came to the conclusion it must have been a phantom ship. I had heard about a previous phantom boat from Jamsie Quain and Maurice Flynn. Then in the meantime the Nellie Fleming was lost, so everything coincided.

Account By Paddy Downey

There were two Curragh men in the boat with me - Tom Harty and Johnny Brien. We were out at Faill na Daraí just beyond the hotel. We had the nets fully out when we saw a small light off the point of the Head. I can only describe it as very weak - like a candle in a lantern. We thought 'twas the Muirchiú, so we left the nets out there and came ashore. Within a week the Nellie Fleming under relief Captain Mike Duggan was lost, with all hands. She was a three masted schooner-one of the last trading out of Youghal under sail. She left Lydney, Gloucestershire in the Bristol Channel on Saturday 8th February 1936 with a cargo of coal expected in Youghal on or about the 12th February. A fierce southerly gale blew up and she was never seen again. Some years previously Tom Harty was out trawling one night. He saw a phantom boat coming down on top of them and then disappearing.

Account By Mikie Lynch

We went out about eight o'clock on a Sunday evening. It was a bright moonlit night and there wasn't a puff of wind. There were just two of us, Jack and myself on the oars. We stayed in close to the rocks to avoid being spotted from the Garda Barracks above. Our berth was at the Clais under the well. We had the nets almost out when I looked up and saw a big boat coming down from the Head, making for us. There was a light on her and she was so big it was easy to see her outline. Thinking it was the Muirchiú fisheries patrol boat we threw out all the nets and made for the pier. I remember Paddy Flynn coming in soaked to the skin with his new blue suit destroyed by the salt water. That night Rooney said " 'twas a ghost boat and ye'll hear of something yet." Some days later a fierce storm blew in from the east and lasted four or five days. The nets were blown up on the strand in bundles and Martin Hurley's lobster box landed over in Power's bog. There wasn't a pole left on the pier, some of them ended in Chapel Row near the school. When Fleming's boat went down we decided it must have been a phantom boat and she appeared just before the Nellie Fleming was lost.

Account By Jack Farrissey

The boat we saw was supposed to be the ghost of the Nellie Fleming. 'Twas a lonesome sort of boat with a dim light and very high over the water. We paid out the night nets and left them there. My aunt over in Monatray one time saw a sailing boat going up the harbour for Youghal. She turned her head for a minute and on looking again it had disappeared - in broad daylight. Jamsie Quain and Maurice Flynn saw a phantom boat one time with eight men pulling and one fellow steering.

Account By William Roache

I heard about a phantom ship of the Nellie Fleming, but 'twas in the nighttime she was seen. I often heard the old people talking about the phantom ship that came in here during the Great War. She came into Caliso Bay near the old Moylan family home. The ruins of the thatched cottage are still there down near the beach. She was a big ship and came in so close that those watching on shore thought she'd go aground. 'Twas in the day time and they could see naval men in uniform going about the deck. The ship came along by Cabin Point and at Carthy's Cove disappeared off out. A few days later the news came that Mike Moylan on HMS Centurian was dead. He is buried in Ardmore graveyard just outside the cathedral at the S.E. corner. The headstone inscription reads.


Nobody sees those things now anymore.

Text by: James T. Quain

Scanned by: Ursula Ansell

Author: Siobhán Lincoln

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