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The Collision of the "Connemara" and "Retriever" - by C.A. McWilliam

I am grateful to Sonja Harding of Ottawa, Canada, for this poem, written by her great uncle Charles Albert ("Bertie") McWilliam while he was a boy of 15 at King's Hospital and Free School in Dublin. Sonja thinks that part of the reason he was interested in the tragedy was the surname of the lone survivor - Boyle. Bertie's great-Grandmother was Ann (nee Boyle) McWilliam. Bertie was a gifted poet and his death in the influenza pandemic of 1918 cut short a promising mind.

Although the sole survivor, James Boyle, was a member of crew of the Retriever, not of the Connemara this does not detract from a powerful evocation of a horrendous event still remembered in the locality.

10 August 2005

The shades of night are creeping swift around Greencastle's shore,
The dusky shadows round the cliffs are spreading more and more.
The lazy tide is rolling in the smooth-worn rocks to meet,
And from Clough-Mor is wafted on the breeze an odour sweet;
The fishermen have left their boats to seek for rest and sleep,
Though some forebodingly have seen that cloud upon the deep;
Faint lights begin to glimmer from the village of Kilkee,
And peasants to their peaceful homes are plodding wearily.

From the harbour of Greenore a ship is seen to glide,
And parting shouts of emigrants are echoed far and wide.
Oh! little do they think that cry will be their last farewell,
That evening chime from Carlingford will be their dying knell.
That ship was called the "Connemara" and she has on board
As many passengers and men as she can well afford.
Oh! some are soldiers who are now returning to the war,
And some are Irish emigrants, and strangers from afar.

And as she leaves the Lough behind, and steams straight out to sea,
A dreadful, distant, hissing sound is heard upon the lee;
Louder it grows until at last the gale has struck the ship,
And down before the onslaught she does now her broadside dip;
Then rights herself, and once more pushes forward on her way,
Alas! the Captain cannot now put back into the bay!
The sleepy swell has suddenly become a dreadful squall,
And o'er the the towering billows now the ship doth rise and fall!

Then suddenly the Captain sees ahead a glimmering light,
And then discerns an inky shadow thro' the dusky night;
Then all at once becomes aware of danger, - all too late,
The rushing steamer cannot now its awful speed abate;
Instictively he raises from his lips a warning cry,
Which instantly is answered by the steamer coming nigh;
Then comes a dreadful, sickening crash - the vessels now collide, -
The "Connemara" quivers through - then lies upon her side.

Then all's confusion - panic - strife, the people rush on deck,
On hearing that their noble ship has now become a wreck;
Then cries of "To the boats" are heard, - the passengers run wild.
Unheeded are the women now - unseen the helpless child!
An overcrowded boat is launched - the men row lustily,
But all is vain - it cannot live in such a stormy sea.
Then follow dreadful, drowning cries, and loud, despairing wails,
O! God! help those wretches when their own aid nought avails!

As the "Connemara" sinks beneath the chuckling sea,
A man is seen to leap off her stern despairingly,
Then clutches wildly at a boat which floats close by his hand.
O! man alive, now struggle hard - you may get safe to land;
He's gripped the gunwale - now he's in - the boat along is swept,
And with a gleeful thrill of hope his spirits he upkept,
When all at once that hopeful joy is dashed from out his mind,
The boat is overturned by the cruel wave and wind.

He's drowned! - He's drowned! - not yet! - not yet! he's holding to the keel,
As o'er the troubled waves the upturned boat doth toss and reel,
When suddenly an angry billow turns it right once more -
Then boat and man along are swept towards the distant shore.
On reaching it - he's wrecked upon the rough and rocky beach -
But luckily he sees a spar which floats within his reach;
Astride of this he gets with toil - holds on with one numbed hand
And so, half drowned and weary - he at last gets safe to land.

A coastguard who is at that time on duty near the shore,
Hears sudden cries for help, which die away now more and more,
And, hastening down toward the beach, he gives an answering shout,
And, having gained the wave-worn rocks, he searches round about;
Until he finds a shivering man, half-frozen and half-dead,
Whom he bears to his home, and quickly lays within a bed -
And when that man's recovered quite, he tells his woeful tale,
Which made many a person sigh indeed, and many a mother wail.

Next morning on the stormy beach is seen a wondering crowd,
And from the female lips there comes a wailing long and loud,
As on the crest of each huge wave a human form is borne,
And all have torn and tattered clothes, and dealy looks forlorn.
O! some are so disfigured that they can't be looked upon,
With here and there a corpse from which the head or limbs are gone;
And some are children young and fair, but now are dead and cold, -
O! God - how can a human eye that awful sight behold.

Like wildfire on the heath'ry moor the shocking news has spread,
And many an Irish mother now is wailing for her dead, -
That dread disaster of those ships will never be forgot,
On Irish history pages 'twill appear a darkened spot;
O! when can men forget that sight of mangled flesh and bones,
Which upon that morning were washed up on Greenpoint's wave-worn stones.

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