It’s a long story of the sea and ships, a story which began with the World War I sinking of the luxury Transatlantic liner Lusitania by torpedoes from a German submarine off the Old Head of Kinsale in 1915 writes W M Nixon.
Much has happened since, but the saga moved into a new chapter this past weekend, when Paddy Murphy of Renvyle in the furthest point of northwest Connemara re-launched his 45ft former Isle of Man fishing nobby Aigh Vie into the Atlantic right off his house.
The Aigh Vie has spent two decades in an often storm-battered shed beside the house, being painstakingly re-built as Paddy’s personal dreamship. While he describes himself as a blacksmith, he can turn his hand to anything, and his multiple skills have enabled himself and his partner Siobhan to make good their escape from the claustrophobic life of Dublin, and settle in this magnificently remote frontier post of the Atlantic seaboard.
They brought the Aigh Vie with them overland, for she was then at a very early stage of the re-build. But with the heavy part of the restoration work now completed, it was time and more on Saturday to get her launched into the Atlantic while a southeast wind obligingly provided smooth water for the beach launch, and that noted storehouse of maritime lore Cormac Lowth was there to record the scene and put it all in its historical perspective.
With the help of a local fishing boat, Aigh Vie was then moved round to the nearby natural shelter of Ballynakill Harbour and the pier at Derryinver for her first night afloat in many years. But Derryinver pier is a busy place, so Aigh Vie has since been moved up the bay to a fitting-out berth at another quay where there’s less demand on space, and work can proceed uninterrupted on the finishing of many tasks.
So on Saturday night there was a mighty hog roast party to celebrate
No-one has any doubts about the amount of work which still has to be done, and often it will be by Paddy working on his own. But much has been done. The launching has been achieved. So on Saturday night there was a mighty hog roast party to celebrate in the recently-vacated shed, attended both by locals and by people from places more distant whose lives have been intertwined with the story of Aigh Vie.
And it is an extraordinary story. When the Lusitania was torpedoed, the nearest vessel was the fishing ketch Wanderer from Peel in the Isle of Man, skippered by William Ball. The Wanderer and her crew saved many lives, and some time afterwards Skipper Ball – who was an employee of the fishing company that owned the Wanderer – received a lawyer’s letter informing him that a sum of money had been anonymously lodged from America to a bank account in Peel for his benefit. The stipulation on the funding was that it was to be used for the building of his own vessel, the fishing boat of his dreams.
The Aigh Vie (it means “Fair Winds” or “Good Luck” in the Manx Gaelic) was the result, and she was launched in December 1916 and registered as a fishing boat in January 1917. But she was so elegant in her hull lines that she was always described as being more like a yacht than a fishing vessel, and after she finished her working career fishing out of Ardglass in County Down, she ended up being owned for recreational use by Billy Smyth of Whiterock Boatyard on Strangford Lough, who cruised her every summer with his family, usually to the west coast of Scotland and sometimes beyond to the Orkneys.
It is many years since Aigh Vie was bought from Billy Smyth by Paddy Murphy, and he based her for a while in the Dublin area. For now, though, in her re-born state the coast of Connacht provides her home waters. And who knows, but maybe when the fitting-out is finally completed, the far horizons will call. Meanwhile, it’s good to know that the challenge of getting her out of the shed and into the Atlantic has been met.
Yet the mystery still remains as to who it was in America who so appreciated the wonderful rescue work done by the Wanderer in 1915 that they willingly paid for the building of Aigh Vie in 1916. One-hundred-and-two years down the line, it seems their identity remains as elusive as ever