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Voyagers from the Grave: A Claddagh Calamity of 1876

4th March 2021
Sketches of Claddagh fishermen from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology  provided by Dr John Cunningham of NUI Galway
Sketches of Claddagh fishermen from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology provided by Dr John Cunningham of NUI Galway

“Voyagers from the grave” read the headline in a Melbourne newspaper, The Advocate, in 1877, and the report was about three Galway men who had by then become known as “the shaughrauns”.

The previous November of 1876, four men, had set out to fish from the Claddagh in a hooker, named Saint Patrick.

In the words of the skipper, Michael Moran, he and his crewmen Michael Smith, Patrick Moran, and his uncle John Moran, made for Slyne Head, about sixty miles from Galway.

That night a tremendous storm carried the vessel 150 miles out into the Atlantic, where four days later, three survivors were rescued by a passing Swedish vessel and taken to America.

“We had no extra good fortune, and at night foggy weather overtook us. The wind sprung up, blowing a perfect hurricane. My post was at the helm where my hands became frozen. On Tuesday night the boat was half-filled with water,” skipper Moran recalled.

“It is our custom to light turf on setting out and keep the fire going. The water put it out. Although we had potatoes and fresh fish, we had no means to cook them,” he said.

“We were four days and four nights without eating. In order to break the speed with which we were driven, we lowered a basket filled with stones and endeavoured to heave to but the cable broke on Friday morning,” he said.

That same morning, they woke to find no trace of the oldest man on board, his uncle John Moran.

NUI Galway lecturer in history Dr John Cunningham has researched the “Claddagh calamity”, and he gave a recent online talk to the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society about what happened, and how the men were given up for dead and were "waked".

Dr Cunningham is a committee member of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, a member of the editorial board of its journal, and a past editor of Saothar: Journal of Irish Labour History. He is co-editor with Ciaran McDonough of a forthcoming volume commemorating the bicentenary of James Hardiman's history of Galway – Hardiman and Beyond: Arts and Culture in Galway, 1820-2020 which is due for publication in April.

Dr Cunningham spoke to Wavelengths about his findings, and first of all, describes the vessel which the four men set sail in from the Claddagh.

You can hear the Wavelengths interview below

And you can see the full lecture by Dr Cunningham here

Published in Wavelength Podcast
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Afloat's Wavelengths Podcast with Lorna Siggins

Weekly dispatches from the Irish coast with journalist Lorna Siggins, talking to people in the maritime sphere. Topics range from marine science and research to renewable energy, fishing, aquaculture, archaeology, history, music and more...

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