art, Gaeltacht

How should we remember those heroic deeds?

photo by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of rust on the Plassy wreck
An Plassey, no.1

Well, if you’ve been to visit Inis Oírr, the smallest of the Aran Islands, you will surely have heard of the wreck of the Plassey. This rusting hulk, a cargo ship of the Limerick Steamship Company, can still be seen sitting there on the rocks, slowly disintegrating with each passing year.

It happened in March 1960, she was travelling up from Fenit Harbour in Co.Kerry when she was driven off-course in a terrible storm and she struck the rocks to the east of Inis Oírr island. But this is a good news story – a story of courage and determination – because not one sailor perished on that fateful night.

The ship struck the rocks around 5am in the morning but the islanders heard their SOS and they rushed to the scene. Remember, those days there was no cars, no electricity (and no Facebook) on the island but… they had a rocket (!) which was specifically for this sort of situation.  They shot out the rocket towards the ship, with a rope tied on behind. Twice the rocket was blown astray in the howling winds but fortunately, the third rocket reached its goal and a stronger rope, with a harness called a ‘Breeches bouy’ attached, was pulled out to the ship. One by one, each member of the crew was hauled ashore. Every last one of them was saved. And then, sometime afterwards, on another stormy night, the Plassey was lifted bodily from the rocks where she lay, and thrown up onto the shore and – that’s where she rests until this day.

watercolour scetch by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of the Plassey shipwreck on Inisheer
An Plassey, no.2

Now I’ve stood where they stood to shoot out the rockets and let me tell you that that rock – Carraig na Finise  – is a long way out from the shore. How they managed to reach the ship with a rocket, as the storm was raging all around them is just dochreidte – ie: amazing, unbelievable… But, as you can imagine, there’s an awful lot of stories about that night and especially, stories relating to what happened the salvaged cargo… There was timber doors, yarns and bottles of Black&White scotch on board. Refrigeration pipes from the ship’s hold were cut into sections to make gates all over the island. Nobody seems to remember what happened the whiskey but there was an awful lot of woollen jumpers knitted that year in ‘Plassey blue’.

But I think about that story every time I visit Inis Oírr and I often wonder – what would be a good way to pay tribute to the men who saved the day? A watercolour sketch like no.2 above, just doesn’t tell the story adequately. I also wondered about doing a series of oil paintings, inspired by the rusting metal… (photo no.1 above)  But that wouldn’t do justice to the deed either, I’m afraid… I even thought of salvaging bits of the ship meself, and creating pieces of ‘found art’… (like no.3 below).

found art, from the Plassey shipwreck on Inisheer by Eoin Mac Lochlainn
An Plassey, no.3

The good thing, by the way, is that the whole episode was captured on camera. You can see photographs of the dramatic rescue in the island’s three pubs, in Áras Éanna and even in the National Maritime Museum in Dún Laoghaire. Yes, they tell the story but do they inspire? Do they lift the spirit?  I was thinking that it should be a visual celebration! Any ideas, yourself?  What would you suggest as a fitting tribute?

http://www.mariner.ie/

http://www.araseanna.ie/en

See more of my artworks at:  www.eoinmaclochlainn.com

PS – and finally, here’s a photo of one of the survivors of the Plassey shipwreck, Mike Tobin, as he demonstrates the Breeches Buoy at a special celebration in Áras Éanna, 50 years later. (from  www.seabreezes.co.im/)

One of the survivors demonstrates the Breeches Bouy at a special celebration in Inis Oírr, 50 years later

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7 thoughts on “How should we remember those heroic deeds?

  1. I think a combination of all of the above including text would be a great tribute. The watercolour, photo and found object assemblage all tell the story in a different way. (You wouldn’t have to actually raid the wreckage, 🙂 you could find similar material elsewhere and just suggest that is was from a ship.) Cheers, Sarah

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    1. Ah but wait Sarah, that found piece actually was from the Plassey wreck! The whole area is strewn with old rusty bits and pieces from the wreck. I found that piece and thought that it looked interesting. Then I spent a long time afterwards looking for other bits that might also work as little sculptures but… no, nothing else worked as well. I thought that it would’ve been cool to have a whole exhibition of bits from the Plassey – can you imagine the reaction of the islanders to this “art” 🙂 But anyway, it would’ve been some job carting all the bits from the wreck site to the arts centre (and I probably would’ve been the laughing stock of the island too). Thanks for the comment, eoin

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  2. I was only reading about the use of the breeches buoy from a book on the theory and practice of seamanship the other day! It really was some feat on that stormy night and what an inspiring theme for an exhibition!
    We still have a rocket in Dingle, kept in the Rocket House on the shore near where the Skellig Hotel is. They’ve since built on other buildings to house the Coast & Cliff Rescue. I must dig up some information about the last time that rocket was in use…

    Slán go fóil, Deirdre

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    1. Hi Deirdre, I think I read somewhere that when the rocket was used that time in Inis Oírr, in 1960, it was the first time that it had been used in Ireland. I suppose it has be a particular set of circumstances ie – a wreck that is near enough to be reached from the shore… there you go, an rud is annamh is iontach 🙂 Ó, agus go raibh míle maith agat don reblog, eoin

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  3. Art, poetry, music… The Great Lakes have had their share of shipwrecks, none better known than the wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald which was immortalized by Gordon Lightfoot. Unfortunately, the outcome was not as with the Plassey. There are a few videos on Youtube about this, but this is a wonderful tribute to the men who lost their lives in the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgI8bta-7aw

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