Anyone familiar with the Aughrus Peninsula in north-west Connemara will surely know a beach at Aughrusbeg, known to one and all as the Anchor Beach. The name, of course, derives from the big old ship’s anchor, lying there on the golden sand. Few, though, are as familiar with the story behind that anchor.
We must go back in time and place – 7am on June 26 1877, on the far side of the Atlantic Ocean, as the sailing ship Verity was launched from the ship-building yard of William Charland Snr, in St Joseph de Lévy, Quebec, Canada.
BY HEATHER GREER
At 1,022 tons (about 60 tons greater than that most famous of the clipper ships, the Cutty Sark), she was sizeable enough: 179 feet in length.
She was rigged as a three-mast barque, carrying square sails on the fore and main masts, and fore-and-aft sails on the aftermost mast (the mizen).
Verity was built for the Canadian tycoon James Gibb Ross, who owned a fleet of some 80 vessels. Two months after the Verity was launched, Gibb sold three quarters of the shares in the ship to brothers Samuel J and Abram M Hatfield of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, which became the Verity’s registered home port. The Hatfields were well known in Nova Scotia shipping circles.
As with most of the numerous sailing vessels built in Quebec, the Verity was built for the Atlantic cargo trade.
Her maiden voyage in late 1877 was from Quebec City to Liverpool, and in the following year and a half she made 13 cross-Atlantic voyages, often to Belfast or Waterford.
On December 18 1889 the Verity departed Waterford, bound toward Sandy Hook, under the command of Captain George William Corning Jnr, from Ardrossan, south of Glasgow, who had held the rank of captain for at least ten years.
Having no homeward cargo, the Verity was ‘in ballast’: about 450 tons of shingle, sand and mud loaded into her holds, sufficient to keep her upright under sail.
Her full complement was 20, including Captain Corning, a mate, and 15 other of Irish, British and foreign hands, plus three young men from Waterford, who were part-working their passage as emigrants to America.
The weather was good and the winds in the Verity’s favour, and she made steady progress westward for the first days of the voyage.
By midwinter’s day she was at the same latitude as the Fastnet Rock, and over 400 nautical miles to the west of the Irish coast.
From then on, however, the weather turned steadily worse. The vessel endured a succession of violent gales, with vast seas and driving hail. In such conditions the men worked a hundred and more feet above the deck, supported only by footropes slung from the swaying spars. It was not much of a Christmas on ship-board.
But 5am on December 29 found the Verity lying-to in a full storm, carrying only a goose-winged lower main topsail (goose-winging in a square rigged ship meant furling the sail, and then pulling out part of the sail on both sides, to form two small triangles of sail; the lower main topsail is the second sail from the deck, on the main mast).
Even then she was hard pressed, and around 6am the sail came adrift from its yard. The master quickly sent 14 hands aloft to furl the sail, in danger of flogging itself to pieces in the wind.
Balanced on their footropes, the crew had to use both hands to try to tame that flogging sail, in the bitter cold of a mid-winter Atlantic.
While the men were still aloft, disaster struck. The Verity was caught by a very heavy squall and she broached, being thrown onto her beam ends.
A massive sea carried away her bowsprit, followed by the foremast, which broke at deck level; then the main and mizen masts went, breaking just below the eyes of the rigging.
The men aloft fell from the footropes, twelve of them onto the deck, but two of the crew fell overboard and were lost.
Four other men were seriously injured, and were brought below to receive what treatment was available; this, of course, was the captain’s job.
The falling main yard left a gaping hole in the deck, and the men secured it as best they could with a tarpaulin, and then set about the task of cutting adrift the spars which were on all sides beating against the ship’s topsides.
The Verity was now helpless and drifting in heavy seas. On the day that the dismasting occurred, a steamer of about 2,000 tons passed close by, and the Verity signalled her.
The poor, wretched crew must have thought that Providence has spoken to them at that moment, but the steamer just proceeded on her way without stopping.
The crew maintained strongly at the later official enquiry that the steamer clearly saw the Verity’s condition and could have stopped to render assistance had they wanted to.
The master and crew now set about the task of attempting to set a ‘jury rig’, to try to run Verity before the wind and find a port. They were, however, unable to gain steerage way on the vessel, which was drifting towards the inhospitable west coast of Ireland.
She continued to drift to the west and the north, for what remained of December, and into January.
It cannot have been a pleasant New Year’s Eve for the crew – but then life for crews manning square-rigged vessels on deep-water passages was rarely easy.
Even for ships with kindly captains – and that could never be taken for granted – the rations were often meagre, consisting of the worst of meat while it lasted.
This was followed by ‘hard tack’ (dried bread which could break a man’s teeth) and rotten pork fat, washed down by water which was often tainted and almost undrinkable.
When the weather was bad, the seamen’s bunks were usually soaked, as were their clothes and boots, with little prospect of drying them out. Their oilskins were of canvas rubbed with oil to waterproof them, and the oil would eventually wear off leaving little protection.
In the teeth of a severe gale the vessel’s decks were swept by waves, the full length of the ship, often carrying away gear and men, either carrying them clean overboard to their deaths or dashing them against the vessel’s bulwarks and sometimes breaking limbs or worse.
Add to all of that the cold, the terrible cold, such cold as the crew of the Verity must have experienced that winter of 1879.
The wind howling in every part of the rigging and carrying all before it; the vessel thrown in every direction by huge cross-seas; constant hailstorms biting the faces of all of the sea-soaked, miserable, freezing crew. Indeed, it was a hard life, made for the toughest of men, and those who weren’t tough – and lucky – did not survive it.
On the 2nd January, 1880, the Blasket Islands off the Kerry coastline were sighted, lying almost north, about 25 nautical miles.
That night a schooner passed close by, and Verity sent up distress rockets, one of them going right over the schooner, so that the people could be clearly seen on her deck, but she also passed on without offering any assistance.
Verity by now had drifted and sailed some 400 miles eastward. The wind must have backed into the south, for the helpless vessel now drifted in a northerly direction along the Irish coast. Two days later, on the evening of January 4 1880, as darkness fell they spotted the Slyne Head lights, about seven miles to the north-west.
This meant that the vessel had missed Galway Bay and now lay to the east of the dangerous rock-strewn Slyne Head. She must at that time have been in grave danger of drifting ashore onto the rocks and reefs of Slyne Head itself: a terrifying prospect.
Captain Corning watched the lights for around three hours and, concluding that she was bound to go ashore, he made the decision to abandon her.
The desperate crewmen had on two previous occasions approached the master and begged that they be allowed to abandon ship, but Corning forbade it. But now that land was in sight and the vessel in such a precarious location, he ordered that Verity’s two boats be got out.
At 9.30pm on January 4, they abandoned ship; the master and ten hands took to one boat, and the mate and six others to the other.
They made for Slyne Head but it was too dangerous to attempt a landing there, so they kept on and eventually landed in a cove called Stackport, about a mile to the NE of the mainland part of Slyne Head. There, they were accommodated by local people, and presently transferred to Clifden.
The abandoned Verity did in fact scrape past Slyne Head, and continued to drift in a north-easterly direction, on the next day foundering on Aughrus Point in NW Connemara.
Though this was not included in the official enquiry report, some newspapers stated that “the destitute Galway peasantry, defying the police, completely stripped the vessel of provisions and valuables”.
This, of course, was normal practice not alone in Galway, but along all coastlines where ships came ashore as wrecks. Perhaps less forgivable, the crew themselves claimed afterwards that they has been personally robbed of their own effects, though this was never substantiated and may well be untrue.
And what of Captain Corning and his crew? The official enquiry concluded that they had acted properly at all times during the disaster, and that in the opinion of the Wrecks Commissioners, “no blame whatever attaches to the master or to anyone on board for having abandoned Verity as and when they did”.
Captain Corning and all of the surviving officers and crew had their licences returned. Corning himself commanded the American barque Glaneide for two years.
In 1883, he became master of the Scottish barque Modern. He sailed from Shields in England bound for the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), on March 20.
The Modern was spoken by another ship on May 17, while in the middle of the South Atlantic, and that was the last ever report of the Modern, of Captain Corning and her crew. No trace was ever located.
So the unfortunate Captain Corning outlived the Verity by less than two tempestuous years. Around 1950, the owner of the lobster fishery at Aughrusbeg, with a few local men, caught an anchor from the Verity off Aughrus Point in a grapple.
They managed to raise it from the seabed, and towed it to its present resting place at what is now known forever as “the Anchor Beach”.
■ Heather Greer edited this article from a chapter from her forthcoming book, on life and death at sea through the centuries, off the Connemara coast. The book is a work in progress.
Delay in setting up addiction treatment services ‘will cost lives’
Any further delay in setting up an alcohol addiction treatment service in Galway City will result in more deaths, including suicides, of problem drinkers – and cause ‘total devastation’ to local families, addiction experts have warned.
Addiction Counsellors of Ireland (ACI) has demanded that the Health Service Executive (HSE) immediately establishes an alcohol treatment service in the city.
The professional body – which accredits counsellors – claims that GPs in Galway are ‘flooded’ with drink-related patients, and the Emergency Department “can’t cope” with the level of alcohol admissions. It said the long-awaited alcohol addiction treatment service planned for the city would save lives and save tens of thousands of euro on alcohol-related emergency admissions at University Hospital Galway.
Some €470,000 a year funding for the service was announced by the previous Government last December; and a commitment for the service was contained in the Programme for Government agreed by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party.
This week, Galway West TD Hildegarde Naughton, a Minister of State in the new administration, confirmed that some €225,000 for the service from now until Christmas is available in the 2020 HSE budget to get the service up and running.
Local addiction counsellors have now demanded that the HSE urgently hire the staff, and source a building, to roll out the alcohol addiction service, which has been absent for the past seven years.
Chairperson of ACI, Seán Harty, said there was a high price to pay for more delays in setting up an alcohol treatment service.
Mr Harty said “death, families left devastated, breakdown in families, increases in suicide and total devastation” will result if the service is not rolled-out quickly.
“Each and every day that we have this funding and the service is not open we are letting the people of Galway down,” he said.
Another leading accredited addiction counsellor based in Galway, Joe Treacy, who is also a spokesperson for ACI, warned that getting the service established was “a matter of urgency, lives are at risk”.
“We need the HSE to stop pussyfooting around, and pretending that we have a service. Without it, this city has a huge void in relation to the ongoing treatment of alcohol addiction. The impact is enormous without this service. There are families in dire circumstances. There were families in difficulties prior to Covid-19 and now more and more the void is there,” said Mr Treacy.
An addiction treatment centre at Merlin Park was gutted by fire following an arson attack in 2013.
The HSE told a County Galway Joint Policing Committee meeting in May that ‘higher priority’ than reopening the addiction treatment centre at Merlin Park, was ‘a network of community-based addiction services’.
ACI said that the statistics proved the need for the service to be replaced. They said that the Merlin Park centre was dealing with up to 900 referrals a year before it was burnt down; the new treatment centre will cater for around 70 referrals per month.
“A study of the Emergency Department in Galway found that 30% of episodes of alcohol associated with attendees were for repeat attendees. That meant they had one or more episode of care at ED within the year, and some up to 40 times per year,” said Mr Harty.
He pointed out that alcohol associated attendances to Galway ED cost approximately €700,000 per annum, which does not include costs for patients admitted to hospitals.
Ambulance call-outs for alcohol-related incidents in Galway also cost about €1m million every year.
The plan is to line the new treatment service to the ED, which will reduce costs, and provide more effective and efficient services to the people who need it, Mr Harty said.
He added that savings would not be limited to health, but right across society, and would take pressure off the Court Services, Probation Services, An Garda Síochána and more.
“This service is going to pay for itself without a shadow of a doubt. It is extremely good value for money to the Exchequer and will absolutely serve the people of Galway, hopefully with a roll-out to County Galway, Mayo and Roscommon in the coming years,” he said.
However, it was imperative the HSE act as soon as possible, he said.
“The urgency is that GPs are flooded with people presenting with alcohol related issues; ED can’t cope. It can’t cope with the numbers of repeat presentations for alcohol. It’s a huge problem. There are 2,000 beds per night in Ireland taken up with alcohol. Two thirds of suicides, there is alcohol in the system,” added Mr Harty.
Statistics show that there is very little service provided for people with a primary alcohol problem who require outpatient services in Galway – the city has one counsellor per 50,353 people, while Waterford has one per 9,346 people and Tralee has one per 3,948.
Mr Treacy said Galway is playing catch-up since the services were removed in 2013.
“What we need in Galway is a comprehensive alcohol-addiction treatment centre for a city of this size, and without that we have a huge void in services. It’s a basic commodity that we don’t have in Galway at the moment.
The impact is enormous without this service. We have an emerging problem in the city and it’s catching up faster than we can keep up,” added Mr Treacy.
The €470,000 annual funding committed by Government provides for three addiction counsellors, one family support counsellor, one project worker, one liaison nurse and one administrator. The HSE has been urged to hire the staff with the money available, and source a building, which is also budgeted for.
(Main photo: The addiction treatment centre in Merlin Park which was destroyed by fire in 2013).
Galway Fire Service seeks retention of ‘temporary’ offices
The Fire Service has sought permission to retain unauthorised ‘temporary’ offices and parking spaces at Galway Fire Station.
The existing planning permission for the offices to the rear of the building on Fairhill Road and seven parking spaces at the side expired in May 2019.
However, planning officials warned six years ago that a proposal to seek a further duration of retention of the offices may not be favourably considered. If permission is refused, the offices – which include a breathing apparatus training area – will have to be demolished.
Galway Fire Service has been struggling for more than a decade to find a suitable location for a new headquarters to serve the city.
Now, Galway County Council – which operates the Fire Service – has come back to the City Council for permission to retain temporary office accommodation at the rear and seven parking spaces at the front of the station.
The offices were given a five-year grant of permission in 2000 by the City Council. Subsequent grants of permission to retain them were given in 2005, 2007 and 2014.
A Warning Letter was served by the Council on the County Council in 2014 that because retention permission had expired, the buildings were unauthorised.
A further planning application for retention was subsequently lodged and approved, and the City Council’s Senior Planner Liam Blake said: “It is noted that on the expiration of this permission in 2019 that temporary permissions have been granted in 2000, 2005 and 2007 for this site (i.e. nearly 19 years) and in view of this, it is considered that the application should be advised that consideration of a further application for an extended period may not be considered favourable as the cumulative number of years for which temporary permissions have been granted far exceeds what would normally be considered temporary and the nature and impact of the works are such that a permanent grant of planning would not normally be considered.”
In the latest application, Chief Fire Officer Gerard O’Malley said: “When permission was previously granted for the temporary accommodation, it was envisaged that Galway Fire Service would be building a new fire station in a different location within the city.
“However, this has not yet materialised and subsequently, Galway Fire Service are not in an immediate position to vacate the existing site.
“A number of sites are undergoing feasibility studies and we would hope to expedite the relocating process in the coming years.
“We wish to apply for retention planning permission until we are in a position to construct a new HQ in the near future. The temporary offices are essential to the operation of Galway Fire Service,” said Mr O’Malley.
The building includes offices for the Chief Fire Officer (CFO); four Senior Assistant CFOs; five Assistant CFOs; administration rooms and a meeting room.
The Council previously said that while the offices had been in place for many years, they are not suitable in the long term because they are adjacent to and visible from the graveyard of St Mary’s Church, a Protected Structure.
A decision is due on the latest planning application at the beginning of September.
Work to start on Merlin Park ambulance base
Two of the contractors who were unsuccessful in tendering for the contract to build a new ambulance base at Merlin Park Hospital have queried the process with the Health Service Executive (HSE) – just as the successful bidder is due to move onsite in August.
Joe Hoare, HSE West Assistant National Director of Estates, told last week’s HSE West Regional Health Forum that the project has been tendered for, and a contractor has been selected.
“We have a contractor ready to start,” he said, adding that two of the unsuccessful contractors “did have questions” they wanted answered.
These questions, insisted Mr Hoare, would be responded to within days, and the contract will be awarded “within the next two weeks”.
He confirmed in response to queries from City Councillor John Connolly (FF) that the new ambulance base will be on the grounds of Merlin Park, and “construction will start at the end of August on site”.
Cllr Connolly welcomed the clarity in the verbal response from Mr Hoare at the Forum meeting on Zoom, but he was disappointed with the level of detail that was contained in the written response to his queries.
Cllr Connolly said it was good news that “finally there is movement on a new ambulance base”.
“The temporary facilities they’re using currently at UHG are Third World nearly. You would have to wonder how it’s two years since they got planning permission and it hasn’t started. It is good that a contractor has been selected and it will start soon,” said Cllr Connolly.
The need for a new ambulance base has been highlighted in recent years in Galway City Tribune.
In March of this year, ambulance staff lashed the conditions of the existing base which is housed at the old Fever Hospital at UHG. It was not fit-for-purpose, according to staff.
Asked by this newspaper for an update last week on the planned new ambulance base, a spokesperson said: “The National Ambulance Service have engaged with staff regarding concerns about the current accommodation. The National Ambulance Service have been working with colleagues in HSE Estates division as well as colleagues in the hospital group to address these concerns. Issues have been progressed and resolved while others are still being worked upon.
“Management within the National Ambulance Service area continue to work on the issues raised by staff and will continue to engage with staff on this matter. The plan is for a new ambulance base for staff, however this must go through the normal planning and funding channels.”
(Main photo: Inside the current ambulance base in the old Fever Hospital at UHG).