Water Wags
History of the Water Wags

A member of The Shankill Corinthian Sailing Club while in Scotland saw a boat which employed a boiler plate instead of the stones which had been the norm for ballast in small boats in the mid nineteenth century, and in 1878 he built a boat called ‘Cemiostomia’ using this new technology which was found to sail very efficiently to windward.

In response to this development, Thomas Middleton a member of the Club, decided that it would be a wonderful idea to build a number of punts of the same design and specification as this would test the skill of the yachtsmen and not that of their designers or boatbuilders. In 1886, he inserted a notice in the ‘Irish Times’ inviting interested people to contact him with a view to setting up a new Club in Kingstown ( now Dún Laoghaire ) Harbour dedicated to the idea of ‘One Design Racing’. There being no responses to this notice, he circulated flyers among the yachtsmen in the Royal Yacht Clubs in Kingstown ( Dún Laoghaire ).

The yachtsmen attended a meeting in October 1886 and agreed the specifications for the proposed new boat which was to be based on the Shankill boiler plate design. Thirteen of these new ‘One design’ boats were built in 1887 at a cost of £13.00 each.

The New Club, managed by a King, Queen, King’s Bishop, Queen’s Bishop, Knights and Rooks, was called’The Water Wags.’ Entry fees for races were paid to the Officer of the Day in his launch, and racing was started on the stroke of the Kingstown Town Hall clock. The entry ‘takings’ were then presented to the winner of the race.

All the boats were required to fly distinguishing racing flags as they started between the lamp-post to the right of the large crane on the Victoria Wharf, and the Hauling Buoy off the wharf, and raced around three permanent buoys moored within the harbour, The Melampus Buoy, The Navy Buoy and the Coal Harbour Mark. Within a few years, dozens Water Wags were racing in the Harbour.

In 1900 ‘The Water Wags’ adopted a modified design with a transom stern. However all the boats were to be of the same design and specification in compliance with Middleton’s original ‘One-Design’ idea.

The Water Wags still maintain most of the traditions of their earlier membersand sail these lovely old boats in Dún Laoghaire harbour every Wednesday evening from 6.30pm to 8.00 pm. from May to September.

The oldest boats racing today are about 97 years old and the newest boats were launched this season.

The Water Wags are easily recognised with their distinctive silver spruce planking, straight stem, raked transom.The Water Wag sailsconsist of a low centre of effort gaff rig, with the main boom extending the sail area aft of the hull. Today, the sails carry a number ( between 1 and 40 ) and no other distinguishing symbol.The spinnaker is a colourful flat triangular sail which is only to be flown on its long pole when the wind is astern.

‘By kind permission – Vincent Delaney 2003’

The Gannet


The ship on No 4 berth is the Lightvessel Gannet, which is owned by The Commissioners of Irish Lights.

This is the last of three automated Lightships, (officially referred to as lightfloats since they are automated), which were rotated between two lightfloat stations South Rock and Coningbeg while the third was a spare awaiting or undergoing refit.

The other two vessels were Kittiwake and Skua which have since been retired.

Gannet was last placed on the South Rock station; which is why the name of that station is painted on the vessel’s side. She has now been permanently withdrawn and has been replaced with a Superbuoy.

In the 1960s The Commissioners of Irish Lights had a fleet of 15 lightvessels. Each vessel had to be dry-docked, refitted and overhauled every two years so they were rotated between stations as refitting was due. This means a succession of different lightvessels would have been placed on each station.

You will find more details on the Commissioners of Irish Lights Service on their website.

Published: 25 February 2009

South Rock Lightfloat

The South Rock Lightfloat was permanently withdrawn from station and replaced by a port-hand lateral superbuoy at 1130 today, 25 February 2009. A lightship was first established at the South Rock on the 1st April 1877, replacing the lighthouse which had been established in 1797. The lightship was automated and redesignated as a lightfloat, and the crew was withdrawn on 31 March 1982. The South Rock Lightfloat is the last lightfloat in the Service. You can read about the South Rock Lighthouse at the website.

RMS Leinster
10th October 2005 New plaque at the RMS Leinster Memorial site

Preparations in place for new plaque at the RMS Leinster Memorial site. This plaque is to be unveiled on Sunday 9 October at 12 noon

R.M.S. Leinster

The biggest sea tragedy in Irish history was commemorated in January 1996 when the then Minister of State at the Department of the Marine, Eamon Gilmore TD, unveiled a special memorial in Dún Laoghaire Harbour. The memorial was to the 501 people who lost their lives in 1918, when the RMS Leinster was torpedoed just outside Dún Laoghaire Harbour.

On October 10, 1918 the Mailboat, “The RMS Leinster” sailed out of Dún Laoghaire with 685 people on board. 22 were post office workers sorting the mail, 70 were crew and the vast majority of the passengers were soldiers returning to the battlefields of World War I.

Twelve miles out from Dún Laoghaire Harbour, “The Leinster” was torpedoed and sunk by the German U-boat U-132. 501 people lost their lives and the 184 survivors were rescued by the British destroyer RMS Mallard and RMS Lively and taken ashore in Dún Laoghaire. This was the greatest loss ever of Irish life at sea. More Irish people lost their lives on the “Leinster” than on the Titanic or the Lusitania.

In the years leading up to 1996, local divers, Noel Brien, Brian Whelan, Billy Owens and Fred Hick began exploring the sunken wreck of “The Leinster”. They recovered the anchor of the vessel and Minister Gilmore unveiled it as a memorial to those who lost their lives.

An Article by Jack Higgins

See attachment of a series of pictures of all the postal workers who died and my grandfather. I believe it was made around 1945 when my grandfather retired from the Post Office. I have a photographic copy of the original which was made in February 1956. I believe it is unique as it was the only one made as a parting gift by the Post Office workers.

Also attached, (see below), is a copy of a reprint in the 1955 “Postal Worker” of my grandfather’s original first hand account of the sinking and his rescue. My grand father was named John Joseph Higgins and it was a tradition in our family that a John Joseph had a son John Anthony and that was my father’s name. I of course became a John Joseph but in the typical fashion of the times we were all known as “Jack” to our family and friends.

The description is very matter of fact and belies the obvious drama he endured. He recalls grabbing some cables and using them to haul himself out of the sorting cabin. I recall him telling me that the generators were still running so the wires were live and he was in water with the result that he was severely shocked. This contributed to an early onset of blindness shortly after he retired. I used to read the ‘Evening Herald’ to him each night so he could keep up with the news. I remember him telling me that the military lorry took him to Westland Row Station where his ‘bike was stored and he then cycled home to Glasnevin. My grandmother had heard the news on the radio and in a panic had all the children praying and she thought she saw a ghost when he walked in the door. His first words were “woman will you get off your knees and get me some tea I’m starving and frozen cold”

The related information above was supplied by the grandfather of Jack Higgins, Mr. John Joseph Higgins, the single survivor from the Post Office crew. 

RMS Leinster Log
‘Leinster Log’ Page 1

Remembering those who died on the R.M.S. Leinster, Dún Laoghaire October 2002

Recalling a great Dún Laoghaire tragedy

In the dying days of World War 1, a German submarine torpedoed the Dún Laoghaire (then Kingstown) to Holyhead mail boat R.M.S. Leinster. 501 people died in the greatest ever loss of life in the Irish Sea. The crew were drawn from the towns of Dún Laoghaire and Holyhead. Twenty-two postal sorters from Dublin Post Office worked on an onboard mail sorting room. The majority of passengers on the ship that day were military personnel, many going on or returning from leave. Among them were many Irish men and women. In October 2003 the 85th anniversary of the sinking will be marked by joint memorial services in Dún Laoghaire and Holyhead. The Dún Laoghaire service will be held on Friday 10 Octover 2003, the date of the 85th anniversary. Details are yet to be finalised. The Holyhead service will be held at St. Cybi’s Church at 14.30 hrs on Sunday 12 October 2003.

City of Dublin Steam Packet Company

The City of Dublin Steam Packet Company (CDSDCo) was founded in dublin 1822 by Charles Wye Williams. Originally called Charles Wye Williams and Co., the name was later changed to the CDSPCo. From 24 January 1839 the Post Office contracted the CDSPco to run a night mail service. The Admiralty were,

Leinster Log Page 2

contracted to operate a day service. On 1 August 1848 the first train to link with the mail packet ran from Euston, London to Holyhead. The Irish Mail was the world’s first named train. From 1 January 1850 the CDSPCo secured the contract to run both the day and night mail service. In 1859, to update their fleet, the company placed orders for the construction of four paddle steamers. They were named after Ireland’s provinces Connaught, Leinster, Munster and Ulster. They used the prefix R.M.S., which stood for Royal Mail Steamer. They operated from the Carlisle Pier at Dún Laoghaire and the Admiralty pier at Holyhead. The CDSPCo workshops were at Salt Island, Holyhead, where engineers carried out repairs to vessels and fabricated replacement parts. The mail ships carried passengers from the early days. Eventually passenger traffic became the company’s main source of revenue.

In 1895 the CDSPCo placed an order with Laird Brothers of Birkenhead for four identical twin-screw steamers. Like their predecessors, the ships were named after the four provinces of Ireland.

On the outbreak of war the Admiralty were legally allowed to take over any British or Irish merchant ships they required. In 1915 they requistioned the Connaught. On 5 May 1915 she left Holyhead for Southampton. For almost two years dhe was used to trasport troops from Southampton to France. On 3 March 1917 she was torpedoed in the English Channel returning from Le Harve. Three of her crew, a Welshman, an Irishman and a Channel Islander, were lost.

In the meantime the CDSPCo operated the Dún Laoghaire to Holyhead route with the three remaining ships. These had a number of close escapes from U-boats. But it seemed as if their luck would hold. Then on Thursday morning 10 October 1918 disaster struck.

Leinster Torpedoed

Leinster left the Carlisle Pier in Dún Laoghaire just before 9 a.m. On board were 77 crew, including Captain William Birch, a Dubliner who lived in Holyhead, twenty-two postal sorters from Dublin’s Post Office, three members of the Royal Navy, to man a twelve pounder gun that had been installed on the back of the ship, 180 civillian passengers and 489 military passengers. The military passengers came from the army, navy and air force. They came from Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England, Canada, United States, New Zealand and Australia. There were also military and volunteer nurses among the crew.

Shortly before 10 a.m. the German submarine UB-123 fired a torpedo at the Leinster. It missed the ship passing across the bow. A secxond torpedo struck the ship on the port side in the vicinity of the ship’s mail room. Only one of the postal sorters survived the sinking. On orders from Captain Birch the ship turned in an attempt to return to Dún Laoghaire. Shortley afterwards a final torpedo struck the Leinster on the starboard side practically blowing it to pieces.

Leinster Log Page 3

The survivors then faced a terrib;e struggle in the rough sea before rescue ships arrived. It was a struggle that many of them lost. The final toll was 501. It was the greatest loss of life in the Irish Sea. It was also one of the worst tradgedies ever to befall Dún Laoghaire and Holyhead.

Dún Laoghaire casualties from Leinster’s crew:

William Brennan, Seaman. Husband of Anne, 135 Lower Georges St.
Thomas Coady, Fireman. Husband of Mary, 13 Clarinda Park North.
Michael Harvey (24), Fireman. Son of Cornelius and Julia, 30 Tivoli Terrace East.
James Hickey (28), Greaser. Husband of Alice, 29 Tivoli Terrace East. His next door neighbour Michael Harvey was also a casualty.
Arthur Jeffries (27), Wireless Operator. Husband of Margaret and step-father to Charlie, Monastir Lodge, Glenageary.
Frank Kehoe (25), Seaman, Son of John and Catherine, 2 Eden Terrace
Henry Longmore (32), Seaman. Husband of Mary, 50 Convent Road.
John Loughlin (45), Able Seaman, Husband of Mary, 105 Patrick Street.
Bernard Murphy (23), Fireman. Son of Bernard and Margaret, 1 Adelaide Cottages.
Patrick O’Toole (22), Fireman. Son of James and Catherine, 1 Summerhill Avenue.
John William Smith (49) Greaser. Husband of Mary, 17 Desmond Avenue.

May they rest in peace.


First Wren to die on active service.

The Women’s Royal Naval Service, known as the Wrens, was first established in 1917. Nineteen year old Josephine Carr was one of the three Wrens from Cork who wre travelling together on the R.M.S. Leinster. On 10 October 1918 Josephine became the first Wren to die on active service when she was lost on the Leinster. Her body was never recovered.

Leinster Log Page 4

Photo shows Leinster’s Assistant Purser Bill Sweeney (tall man on the left) with, it is believed, Leinster’s Purser Hugh Rowlands. Dubliner Sweeney survived the sinking and lived until 1979. Holyhead resident Hugh Rowlands was a teacher at Park School Holyhead, before leaving to follow the call of the sea. He was lost on the Leinster.

Anchor recovered.

One of the leinster’s anchors was recovered from the sea in the early 1990’s. In January 1995 it was placed on the seafront in Dún Laoghaire. It is located in front of the Carlisle Pier, from where Leinster set out on her final voyage.

The Leinster commemorations are being arranged by a small group of voluteers from Dún Laoghaire and Holyhead, working as part of the Holyhead-Dún Laoghaire Link. Information on the commemoratotion may ne obtained from:

William Byrne
56 Willow Vale,
Co. Dublin.

Phillip Lecane,
77 Windsor Drive,
Co. Dublin.

RMS Leinster Leaflet

The Fate of the Mailboat RMS Leinster 10 October 1918

The Mailboat Service During World War 1

The Mailboat Service during World War One continued to sail across the U-boat infested Irish Sea. Post Office officials worked the journey sorting the mail, ready for delivery upon arrival in Holyhead. Throughout the war the City of Dublin Steampacket Company had pleaded with the Admiralty, the Board of Trade and the Post Office to provide protection. Their petitions were ignored and the Company was forced either to continue or have its contract annulled. Due to the great speed of the mailboat vessels, they managed to avoid the U-boats almost up to the end of the war.

On 10 October 1918, just a month before the close of World War 1, the full horror of the conflict was brought home to the people of Kingstown. The mailboat R.M.S. Leinster with seven hundred passangers on board as well as seventy crew members and twenty-two post office officials was torpedoed by German U-boat 132. She was just twelve miles outside Kingstown when the first torpedo struct, hitting the post office room at the front of the ship. Several minutes later a second torpedo struck the engine room.

Within fifteen minutes she sank taking the lives of five hundred including the Captain. Captain Birch, whose excellent seamanship had successfully steered the Leinster to safety on three previous occasions.

Mail Sorting Room Struck by Torpedo

Mr JJ Higgins was the only one of twenty-two Post Office staff to survive. Later in an article Mr Higgins recounted his experience:

“In the Post Office on the vessel work was going on as usual. As it was the fourth year of alarms the staff had become somehow hardened to the danger of submarines especially in the rough sea….

….The torpedo exploded in the middle of the Post Office, destroying the floor and the stairs (the only means of escape), which fell down into the storerrom underneath and all the men working in the fore-part of the office were either killed instantly by the explosion or were engulfed by the falling structure and drowned by tons of water pouring in through the hole in the side of the ship……

…..When I pulled myself together I found that I was alone in the dark and judging by the noise of rushing water I thought that the ship was going straight to the bottom and that it was up to me to get out of the office before she went too far down”

Mr Higgins was later shocked to realise that he was the only one of the Post Office Staff to make it to safety. Apart from two, the rest were all married men and all were resident in Dublin. Three men had been assigned to replace three others at the last moment, due to illness.

Eyewitness Accounts

For those passengers who were lucky enough to make their own way to a lifboat, survival was not certain. There was tremendous difficulty in the lifeboats getting away safly. The first lifeboat to be lowered was blown up with its passengers as the second torpedo hit the Leinster. Other lifboats were smashed against the ship, or capsized due to overcrowding. Although there seems to have been sufficient lifebelts for passengers, these were only put on when the explosion occured. Moreover as they were often put on incorrectly they fell off if the passengers fell into the sea.

One survivor told of nine persons clinging on the one plank. Two men were complaining of cramp and both became too weak to hold on, until eventually they disappeared under the water. Others began to disappear one by one, so that in the end only two were left. Survivors of the disaster were brought to Kingstwon. There were only two vacant beds in St. Michael’s hospital as 1918 saw the outbreak of a massive influenza epidemic. However space was quickly found and survivors were also brought to hospitals in Dublin. part of the railway station was converted into a morgue for the bodies. In the following days relatives of the victims poured into Kingstown to identify the bodies or search for news of loved ones. Throughout October newspapers were filled harrowing stories of survivors, of their own fortunate escape and how they watched their fellow travellers meet their death. Lists of the dead, missing and survivors were published daily.

Relief Fund

In the aftermath of the disaster the Lord Mayor of Dublin established a relief fund for the relatives of the victims. By 26 October, just sixteen days after the disaster, the Mansion House Relief Fund had raised IR118,675. 4s. 11d. Donations had been made by individuals and companies such as Guiness, Bewleys and the City of Dublin Steampacket Company itself.


An inquiry into the disaster was called for, however it was refused by the authorities. Only two inquests into victims’ deaths were held. Following legal representation an inquest was held in Kingstown on the death of Ms Georgina O’Brien of London. Speaking at the inquest Mr E Watson, Managing Director od the City of Dublin Steampacket Company, said the Post Office had changed the time of the sailings from night to day. He said that no lives would have been saved only for the change of schedule as the risk of travelling at night was ninety percent more dangerous than travelling during the day. He slao stated that he had been requesting protection from 15 January 1915 without success. The jury returned a verdict of death by drowning, but stated that the Admiralty should bear some of the blame as they had been negligent in not providing an escort.

The Fate of U-Boat 132

It emerged after the War that U-boat 132 never did return home, but was lost by striking a mine in the North Sea on the way back.

This leaflet is dedicated to the memory of the Post Office Workers who died on the R/M.S. Leinster on 10 October 1918:

Richard Patterson, Superintendent in charge, PP Murphy, J Attwooll, J Blake, JA Warbrook, JH Bradley, J Dolan, P Forbes, PP Daly, M Brophy, M Hogan, T Bolster, W Maxwell, AT Mac Donnell, J Dewar, CJ Archer, J Robinson, WH Wakefield, WJ Parker, A Smith, J Ledwidge.

Published by Dún Laoghaire harbour, Rathdown Heritage Society, a FAS Community Response Training Programme, sponsored by Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.

Bay Shipwrecks
Bay Shipwrecks remembered


Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council organised a commemoration ceremony at the Martello Tower in Seapoint on November 19 last to mark the 200th anniversary of the loss of 400 lives when the Prince of Wales and Rochdale ran aground in severe weather at Seapoint and Blackrock respectively.

The wreckage was strewn along the shore from Ringsend to Dalkey and many of those who died were buried in the graveyards at Carrickbrennan in Monkstown and at Merrion.

The tragedy led to a petition in 1808 calling for an asylum harbour in Dublin Bay which ultimately led to the construction of Dun Laoghaire Harbour a few years later.

Above: A contemporary drawing by Brocas showing the wreck of the Rochdale under Seapoint’s Martello tower. Even given some artistic license, the location is probably quite accurate, as this is where an unpowered vessel would have been thrown up during an easterly gale. The shoreline has been very much altered here but the rocks were located on the level platform where the current lifeguard hut/toilets/ changing area is now.

The ‘Prince of Wales’ struck the granite outcrop to the west of Seapoint Station, most likely on the east/north-eastern face (given the easterly storm) either below or to the east of the little brick tea house seen from the DART. This stretch of rocky coastline is one of the few in the county that has not been quarried, and the jagged granite foreshore seen today is probably that which tore the bottom out of the ‘Prince of Wales’.

As the ceremony concluded, a rainbow appeared, as if to mark the spot of the tragedy.

A Double Distaster

Weston St. John Joyce, writing in 1920, recounted the double disaster:

“On the 18th November, two transport vessels, The Prince of Wales and The Rochdale, sailed in the company of some others from the Pigeonhouse harbour with volunteers for foreign service drawn from Irish militia regiments. A snowstorm set in soon after their departure, accompanied by a violent easterly gale, and on the following morning they were observed labouring in the heavy sea outside the Bay to the southward, endeavouring, as it was believed, to return to the harbour. As the day advanced the snow fell so thickly that it was impossible for them to see their way, while the sea was so violent that they could not come to anchor. After a long and futile struggle, The Prince of Wales was driven onto the rocks behind Sir John Lees’ residence, Blackrock House. The long boat was launched, and Captain Jones, the crew, two soldiers and the steward’s wife and child jumped into it and rowed off as speedily as possible. In the darkness of the night they seem to have rowed for some distance along the shore, of the proximity of which they were ignorant, until one of the sailors, falling overboard, found that he was in shallow water. Upon this the whole party walked ashore and made their way to Blackrock, where they found shelter. Extraordinary to relate they made no effort whatsoever to rescue the passengers on board (about 120 in number), who were left to their fate and perished without exception.

The fate of The Rochdale was even worse. On the day after her departure she was observed from Blackrock, labouring heavily in the offing, burning blue lights and firing guns as signals of distress, but the weather was such that no succour could be afforded. She threw out several anchors, but they dragged and snapped their cables, and she then drove with bare poles before the storm. Driven gradually towards the shore in the direction of Sandy cove, she swept in the darkness past the old pier at Dunleary, and struck on the rocks under the Martello Tower at Seapoint, half a mile from where The Prince of Wales struck. Of the troops on board, their families, and the ship’s officers and crew (some 265 in all), not one escaped, and their mutilated bodies were found in great numbers next morning strewn along the shore”.

SHIPWRECKS of Dún Laoghaire Harbour and Dublin Bay

A Short History compiled by Marc Zimmermann

Remembering lives lost through the centuries

Key Dates

  • 1760: first (single) Dún Laoghaire pier built which unfortunately silted up quickly
  • 1780: American pirate The Black Prince captures two mail ships and holds them for ransom
  • 1797-1800: 58 vessels were recorded as wrecked, stranded or damaged in Dublin Bay entry into the Liffey became increasingly difficult ships had to wait days before they could berth amount of shipwrecks became unacceptable: up to 100 boats and ships per year wrecked off the coast of Blackrock and Monkstown with thousands of lives lost
  • 1817-1831: building of Dún Laoghaire’s current piers
  • Earl of Whitworth insists that entrance to the harbour be widened to accommodate the Admiral’s fleet widening allowed more silt to be washed in and made it impossible for larger ships to enter safely as planned
  • 1960s: upgrade of lighthouses and lightships

Safety at Sea

  • ships’ crews of the old days were usually unable to swim
  • lifesaving equipment was rare and rudimentary at best (e.g. canvas vests filled with cork blocks)
  • cold water of the Irish Sea soon leads to hypothermia
  • lifeboat systems were introduced rather late around the world
  • 1803: Dún Laoghaire operates first lifeboat system in Europe


RMS Leinster [ 1918 ]

  • served as Kingstown – Holyhead mail boat during WWI
  • carrying passengers and mail between Ireland and Wales
  • Irish Sea saw much enemy U-boat activity in 1918
  • RMS Leinster was attacked by German submarine UB 123 on 10 Oct. 1918 off the Kish Bank
  • carrying over 700 passengers (ca. 300 of which soldiers)
  • was torpedoed twice, just three minutes apart
  • only 256 passengers rescued, while almost 500 drowned
  • one of Dún Laoghaire’s and Ireland’s greatest tragedies
  • model, documents and artefacts are on display in
  • Dún Laoghaire’s Maritime Museum (to be reopened) wreck lies at 25-33 m depth, has badly deteriorated
  • was bought for £100 by a diver

UB 124 [ 1918 ]

  • UBIII type submarine (U-boat)
  • classified as coastal torpedo attack boat
  • 55 m long, max. dive depth 75 m
  • went on one patrol only: 1-20 July 1918
  • 19 July: UB 124 torpedoes and sinks British troop ship Justicia en route from Belfast to New York
  • 20 July: UB 124 hit in retaliation by depth charges from three destroyers
  • sub was forced to resurface, then abandoned by its crew and scuttled (sunk) off Dublin
  • 2 crew dead, 32 crew taken prisoners of war

RNLI Lifeboat [ 1895 ]

  • a ship was wrecked in Dublin Bay during heavy storm
  • RNLI lifeboat with 15 crew rowed out to the rescue from east pier station house boat overturned and all 15 men perished
  • today granite plaque memorial near station house

Gainsboro [ 1838 ]

  • the brig ran aground and broke up cargo was washed ashore and had to be protected by the police from looters
  • (not an uncommon occurrence)

Unknown Vessel [ 1800s ]

  • mystery wreckage found off Muglins Island, Dalkey but no records of any losses in this location exist

Aid [ 1803 ]

  • sailing vessel, sunk south of Dalkey Island
  • cargo of marble statues lost


  • sight of bodies washed ashore was not uncommon


  • was regularly washed ashore and often had to be protected from plundering by: Police Constables, Custom & Excise Officers, Coastguards


Lost Cargo

  • included perishables such as:
  • potatoes, vegetables, fruit, malt
  • fish, salt, furniture but also valuables worth salvaging:
  • casks of wine, brandy and gin
  • coal, iron ingots, limestone
  • marble statues, guns, cannons

Diving Bells

  • ancient diving device (possibly used BC)
  • pressurised underwater work environment
  • work radius fairly restricted
  • surface dependent
  • sometimes underwater base for divers
  • surviving example at Rogerson’s Quay
  • used for harbour works

Hard-Hat Suits

  • most popular: Mark V helmet
  • surface air-supply from boat or shore through
  • bellows (later steam pumps) and hoses
  • slow and strenuous work but
  • more flexible than diving bells
  • successfully used all over the world until today


SCUBA = self contained underwater breathing apparatus

  • discover wrecks through recreational diving
  • a wealth of wrecks and artefacts to be investigated
  • unique opportunity to explore maritime history first hand
  • visibility can be rather poor
  • water temperatures fairly low (dry-suit recommended)

Dive responsibly!

Basic rules of Wreck Diving

  • A torch is essential (preferably 2nd for back-up)
  • Avoid swim-throughs if unknown/restricted/silted up
  • Beware of currents and tides
  • Dive around low water slack (min. depth and currents)
  • Don’t dive unknown wrecks
  • Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but bubbles


Recommended Reading
Edward J. Bourke: Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast
Richard & Bridget Larn: Shipwreck Index of Ireland


Queries & Comments

For comments or queries regarding the above you can contact the author at:

Although hobbling is described in the Oxford Dictionary as “unlicensed pilotage” the hobblers of the East Coast were only involved in tying up the ships at their moorings in Dublin and other Ports. However, on occasions they did pilot some ships into harbour. Many of the hobblers got the approximate time of arrival of the ships from Lloyds Gazette, while others went out in the bay in the hope of sighting a ship.

On the morning of the 6th December 1934 the people of Dún Laoghaire and Ringsend were shocked to learn of the drowning of three young Dún Laoghaire hobblers in Dublin Bay on the previous evening. The three young men were the brothers Richard (18) and Henry (20 Shortall and their companion John Hughes. A fourth member of the crew owes his life to the fact that he remained behind in Dublin Port to collect money owed to them for piloting and mooring a ship at the North Wall. He was Gareth Hughes, a brother of John.

The Shortall brothers came from a family of twelve and resided in Clarence Street. They were on their way home when their skiff ran into an East/South-East wind. It was a situation they had encountered on many previous occasions and they were strong, able and experienced boatmen. Their boat, ‘The Jealous of Me’, was last seen by the lighthouse men as it sailed past the Poolbeg at dusk. What went wrong on that fateful night will never be known. On the morning of the 6th of December it was found washed ashore at the Irishtown Gate at Ringsend Park. The local people realised that a terrible disaster had occurred. A few days later the bodies of the Shortall brothers were recovered from the sea and later laid to rest in Dean’s Grange Cemetery. Unfortunately, the body of John Hughes was never found.

Only six years previous to this accident another triple drowning took place on the 22nd February 1928 near the Baily Lighthouse. Three hobblers from Monkstown and Dún Laoghaire lost their lives when their boat was cut in two by the Dutch Steamer “Hesbaye”. They were Thomas Miller (60) and Richard Brennan (19) of Barrett Street and James Pluck of Lower George’s Street. The accident occurred between 4.30am and 5am. It was a very dark night and the hobblers had no light on their skiff. Captain Celis of the “Hesbaye”, a mariner of 42 years experience, said that he had heard cries of men at the side of his ship and had immediately launched the longboat, meanwhile, more Dún Laoghaire hobblers arrived on the scene in a boat owned by Patrick Shortall and joined in the search but all in vain. When the search proved fruitless Shortall and his crew sailed to another steamer at anchor off Dún Laoghaire and its crew informed him that they had sighted wreckage inside the Burford Bank. He made a search of the area and found an oar and a seat, which he recognized as belonging to Thomas Miller’s boat. Two other local men were lost at sea while hobbling; their names were Harry Shortall and “Rover” Ward, and they were drowned on 23rd January 1916; the third member of the crew; Richard Shortall, was saved. Harry Shortall was an uncle of the two young boys drowned in 1934; his body was never recovered.

One wonders why these brave men ventured out to sea in their open skiffs, often in adverse weather conditions and at great risk to their lives. But as Mrs. Kavanagh (a sister of the Shortall brothers) put it “sure it was the only living they had”. There was also a certain amount of rivalry among the hobblers and it was often a question of who got there first. Consequently, some of them would spend a day and a night at sea in the hope of locating a ship. It was not unknown for them to sail out as far as Bray. Depending on the size of the ship the hobblers were paid anything from £1.50 up to £5.00. When a ship was located a hook was cast over its side from a standing position. This was hazardous and any mistake could mean loss of life. Moreover most of the hobblers were non-swimmers and seldom carried life-saving equipment.

The boats carried four oars and a lugsail and was known as a two-ended open hobbling skiff. The modern racing skiff we see in Dún Laoghaire and Bullock Harbours today are a development of the latter.

Hobbling is an old occupation and in all probability goes back to the early decades of the 19th Century when Hutchinson was made Harbour Master of the New Royal Harbour of Kingstown. By the 1940’s it had died out as an occupation. This short article was written to the memory of those brave hobblers who lost their lives at sea. May they rest in peace.

V. Quilter C.C.

Beyond the Seas 1791-1853

Convict Ships

Following the American War of Independence, a new destination was sought for the transportation of convicts from Britain and Ireland ‘beyond the seas’. On 13 May 1787, the first fleet bound for Sydney Cove with a complement of convicts, sailed from Portsmouth in England. Its arrival on 26 January 1788 marks the foundation of the colony of New South Wales. The first ship to sail directly from Ireland carrying convicts under sentence of transportation was the Queen, which arrived in Port Jackson on 26 September 1791.

Transportation from Ireland to Australia effectively came to an end in 1853. The last ship to carry convicts directly from Ireland to Australia was the Phoebe Dunbar, which sailed from Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) near Dublin and arrived in Western Australia on 30 August 1853. During the 62 years of transportation from Ireland to Australia, some 30,000 men and 9,000 women were sent as convicts to Australia for a minimum period of seven years – many more followed their loved ones as free settlers to a new life in the colony.

Additional on-line resources:

The Essex 1824-1837

The Essex Hulk

The Essex in Ireland 1824 – 1837

The Essex had been a distinguished American 32 gun frigate built in Salem, Massachusetts in 1799 for the then young American navy. After fighting against the British in the Pacific, and also against British whalers there, it was captured in 1814 off Valparaiso in Chile and towed to Plymouth in England where it lay until being moved to Dún Laoghaire in 1824 as a convict hulk where she remained until 1837. Almost 300 prisoners were held on the Essex while awaiting transportation to Australia.

During the resurfacing work on the East Pier an anchor was uncovered under the old Pier surface, close to the place where the prison hulk Essex was moored in the Harbour from 1824 to 1837. The Essex lay about 50 yards off the East Pier and 100 yards from the shore opposite what is now the National Yacht Club. The anchor that was found had been adapted in a way that would suggest it was used for a permanent mooring.

Donal O’Sullivan, Hon. Secretary of Dublin Bay Sailing Club has kindly provided Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company with two lectures about the USS Essex in Ireland.

The Convict Hulk Essex

The USS Essex in Ireland: A Dún Laoghaire Connection with a Forgotten War


Slideshow for the USS Essex in Ireland: A Dún Laoghaire Connection with a Forgotten War