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Kate Tyrrell: The First Irish Woman to Be a Ship’s Captain

3rd November 2021
Kate Tyrrell (1862 – 1921) from Arklow, Co. Wicklow was the first Irish woman to be a ship’s sea captain which took place in 1886, even though the law of the day did not recognize female ship owners. The east coast port AFLOAT adds remains the stronghold of the Irish merchant shipping scene as Arklow Shipping Ltd run by the Tyrrell family dominates the Irish flagged fleet with ASL accounting for just shy of 60 ships, comprising mostly of short-sea traders and several ocean-going bulkers. Kate Tyrrell (1862 – 1921) from Arklow, Co. Wicklow was the first Irish woman to be a ship’s sea captain which took place in 1886, even though the law of the day did not recognize female ship owners. The east coast port AFLOAT adds remains the stronghold of the Irish merchant shipping scene as Arklow Shipping Ltd run by the Tyrrell family dominates the Irish flagged fleet with ASL accounting for just shy of 60 ships, comprising mostly of short-sea traders and several ocean-going bulkers. Credit: Irish Central-facebook

Ireland's first woman to be a ship’s sea captain, Kate Tyrrell of Co. Wicklow became a captain in 1886, despite the law of the day did not recognize female shipowners.

As The Irish Central records, she was born in Arklow during 1863 into a seafaring family. Edward Tyrrell and his wife Elizabeth had four daughters, of whom Kate was second eldest.

As a child, she accompanied her father on voyages back and forth across the Irish Sea in the family schooner [a type of sailing vessel], developing a love of the sea that never left her.

By the time she was twelve, Kate was filling out shipping journals and managing the bookkeeping for her father's business.

In 1885, Edward bought the Denbighshire Lass, a 62-ton schooner which Kate, acting as captain brought to Arklow from Wales. She was 22-years-old. When Edward sadly died the following year, Kate became sole owner of the Denbighshire Lass. 

She took over control of the business and was an excellent captain, maintaining a highly disciplined ship that also became the first ship to fly the new Irish tricolor flag at a foreign port.  

Despite her ownership, the law of the day did not recognize female ship owners or sea captains and Kate embarked on a long battle to have the law changed.

To find out more (see related article here) including an image of The Denbighshire Lass which is credited to Arklow Maritime & Heritage Museum.

Afloat adds the museum includes exhibits from Arklow Shipping Ltd which is the country's largest shipowner managed by the Tyrrells following formation with other shipowning families in 1966.

The establishment of ASL took place during that decade when the age of sail was coming to an end of an era as the remaining auxiliary assisted schooners were replaced by more modern craft, motor powered coasters that led to larger cargo ships.

Published in Historic Boats
Jehan Ashmore

About The Author

Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore is a marine correspondent, researcher and photographer, specialising in Irish ports, shipping and the ferry sector serving the UK and directly to mainland Europe. Jehan also occasionally writes a column, 'Maritime' Dalkey for the (Dalkey Community Council Newsletter) in addition to contributing to UK marine periodicals. 

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