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.
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).
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?
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/)