Supporting Local News

Descendants of drowned fishermen remembered 100 years on


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Descendants of drowned fishermen remembered 100 years on Descendants of drowned fishermen remembered 100 years on

The descendants of two Bearna fishermen who drowned 100 years ago will this weekend unveil a stone to commemorate the tragedy.

William ‘Liam’ Gill (75) and Peter Faherty (54) both drowned when their currach overloaded with herring sank 80 yards from the shore near the pier.

Cáit Fagan, a descendant of both men, is a member of a committee of relatives who commissioned a stone memorial which will be unveiled at Céibh Bhearna at a ceremony at 3pm on Saturday, October 22.

The stone was carved by Dennis Goggin and Ray Flaherty and was salvaged from Bearna Pier.

Fr Michael Brennan will bless the stone and historian Cormac Ó Comhraí will recall the story of the tragedy. They will then visit the grave.

“Michil Frank always said Peter [Faherty] was a hero because he saved him . . . they were found on Friday the 13th,” said Cáit Fagan.

“It would give you a better understanding of the kind of house my dad (Seán Fagan) came out of. My grandfather never saw his father, and then my grandmother’s [Kathleen Faherty, who married John Fagan] father [Peter Faherty] drowned when she was about ten.

“So it would give you a better understanding of the kind of horrors they were brought up in. It was very sad,” added Ms Fagan.

On October 12, 1922, three men; Michael ‘Michil Frank’ Coyne (40), William ‘Liam’ Gill (75) and Peter Faherty (54) went herring fishing off Bearna Pier in a canvas currach.

Mr Coyne, who could not swim, survived, but the two swimmers, Mr Gill and Mr Faherty, both drowned according to stories that have been passed down the generations through word of mouth, and from a Connacht Tribune report into their inquest.

The trio set out at 4pm and returned with a boat load of herring at 10.30pm, which they unloaded.

They got tea and a change of clothes at the Gill home at Ahaglugger and went back out for another fishing trip at 11.30pm.

Because they caught such a big load of herring on the second trip, they decided to bring it ashore at the beach below Bearna Pier known as Poll Mór.

About 80 yards from shore, their currach sank and was face up in the water; a southerly breeze prevented them from floating out to sea.

The three men were more than 45 minutes in the water, holding onto the boat.

Peter Faherty and Liam Gill had learned how to swim in the Royal Navy. Michael Coyne (sometimes spelt Kyne) could not swim, so Peter put an oar under him and brought him to shore.

When they reached the beach, they could hear Liam Gill shouting that the boat had overturned, and Peter went back out to help him.

Both men got tangled in herring nets within 80 yards of the shore and drowned.

Michael Frank said he could hear screaming but then all of a sudden it was silent. According to locals, Michael Frank suffered as a result of this extremely traumatic experience and was left with a shake in his hand for the rest of his life.

The next day, George Mór Conneely, who lived at 5 Pier Road, found their currach at Lena Riabach, about a mile from Bearna Village between Mags Boreen and Silver Strand. He pushed the currach away and found William Gill’s body.

Michael Lynskey, a cousin of both deceased men, identified the bodies.

An inquest was held the next day in Bearna, which was a traumatic experience for Julia Gill (muddy) who lost her father and husband, the two breadwinners of the family, and had to raise six daughters and a son on her own with no income.

According to the Connacht Tribune report into the inquest, a jury returned a verdict of accidental drowning.

“The evidence disclosed the fact that the two men could have been easily saved if they thought there was any danger,” it read.

The tragedy left scars on the community and the wider Gill family. Out of that Gill household there are three well-known Bearna families – the Fagans, the Greaneys and the Fahertys.

Many of the Greaneys; Peter and Eugene in Lacklea, Tommy and Mary and Detta in Derby are still alive.

Seán Fagan is at Freeport and his sisters, Patricia and Nancy are in the UK; and those still alive from the Faherty family or the Ó Fáthartas are Seán in An Spidéal, Dedo (Peadar) in Indreabhán, Peig (Margaret) in Oughterard, and Jude in Gort.

Cáit Fagan, whose great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather died 100 years ago, said it was a “very sad” story but she was proud that the three families had come together to commemorate the drowning tragedy.

■ All are welcome at Bearna Pier on October 22 at 3pm.

(Photo Kathleen Faherty (1912-1991) who was married to John Fagan, and lived at Barna Pier, is photographed here (seated with a cross in her mouth) with her sisters Mollie, Eileen and Bridie. Their father Peter Faherty and grandfather William Gill drowned on October 12, 1922).

More like this:

Sign Up To get Weekly Sports UPDATES

Go Up