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The Lord Blaney

by Michael G. Crawford

Every maritime country has its spectre-ship. In Justinian's time there were phantom barques with black and headless crews, seen off plague-infested ports; and in later years the Dutch had the legend of the Flying Dutchman. There is a Spanish spectre-galleon that sails the deep, manned by a skeleton crew; the Americans have a blazing ghost-ship seen off the coast of Maine; and the French, Russians, Portuguese and Italians have all their spirit vessels cruising their seas.

Ireland too has numerous Fetch-Ships, the Kerry Phantom that seems driven ashore, and then backs off with people who get aboard; and the Famine-Ship that sails over the land.

Warrenpoint can claim it's phantom-ship also, which is the ghost of the "Lord Blaney" Steam-Packet, which sails up to the pier and dissolves.

One of the first steam-packets to ply regularly across the Irish sea between Ireland and England was the paddle-steamer Lord Blaney, which traded between Warrenpoint and Liverpool.

One stormy evening in the year 1833 a large crowd thronged the North Pier at Warrenpoint. The Lord Blaney was about to sail, and cattle, horses, sheep and pigs were been driven on board; and crates of quacking ducks, hissing geese and cackling hens were been lowered to the holds on top of a general cargo.

Passengers, both steerage and cabin, heavily loaded with overcoats, rugs, boxes and bags, thronged down the gangways eager to secure their berths, for at this time Warrenpoint was the favourite port for all the north and west of Ireland, and passengers could not always get accommodation enough on board the packets.

Among the passengers who went on board the steam-packet this evening were a son of a well known and respected Warrenpoint merchant, named Byrne, and his young bride, who were going to Liverpool to join an emigrant vessel there, intending to try their fortune in the Western world; and a large convoy of the townspeople had come down to see them off and wish them God-speed on their long journey.

As the engines throbbed, and the wheels revolved, churning up the water and sending the Lord Blaney on her course, the people on shore waved their last adieus to their friends on the steamers deck and looked their last on the vanishing hull, as she steamed proudly away.

On the quay was an old cattle dealer steaming and stamping in rage, like one possessed, because one of his sons with a large head of cattle, had arrived a few minutes too late for the steamer. The quay-porters held the old man back as he would have struck his son, for now they missed the cattle market, leaving the animals on his hands to feed for a week.

Still, it was well for "the man who missed the tide" and for his father if he had only known it, as later events proved. The son "that took it at the flood" was never seen again; sometimes it is good to be a laggard, for "the race is not always to the swift". We never know if we are going too fast or too slow in this uncertain world. As the Lord Blaney steamed down the lough on her seaward journey, young Byrne and his bride stood taking a last fond look at their native shore, and if struck with a premonition of coming calamity, his wife put her arm around his neck and said "I feel that we will never see "The Point" again. If we reached America alright there would be a chance of getting back sometime, but I imagine something awful is going to happen us; whether in this ship or crossing the Atlantic I do not know, but it seems near" He tried to reassure her, but the joking smile on his lips froze, for he too felt it.

"And the vessel that they sailed on,
As the smile froze on his lips.
Had borne them seaward to their graves,
From Carlinn of the Ships."

When the ship reached the open sea the wind arose to a gale, and the waves appeared mountains high; the ship was buffeted and battered by wind and sea all night, but still she crossed the Irish Sea in safety and reached the entrance to the Mersey in the early morning, creeping slowly up the river, for it was as black as Hades and the air was full of mist and sprays. Ahead, to port or starboard, nothing could be seen, the men on lookout were staring straight into the gloom, unable to see any length ahead. Some of the passengers were crouching in the lee of the bulwarks, and amongst them were the Byrnes.

All night they had stopped on deck, afraid to go below in the storm, and the strain of watching and the fear of something terrible going to happen seemed more than they could bear. Suddenly with an awful shock, the Lord Blaney was hurled on to a projecting sandbank.

The sudden stop threw everybody to the deck, the masts snapped off short and the funnel went over the side; the hungry waves dashed exultantly over her, sweeping her decks and washing some livestock overboard. The passengers wan and pale, clung to the sides and rigging, the steam-whistle shrieked for help and clouds of vapour floated upwards. Then the minute gun rang out again and again over the clamour of the sea, proclaiming with awful sound to the dwellers by the coast that the people of some ill-fated ship were staring death in the face. For a moment after the steamer struck, the Byrnes were paralysed with fear, their forebodings had come true; they realised their terrible plight, they were face to face with doom.

The steamer broke in two amidships, the stern half going right down, with most of the passengers and crew. The bow half had a hold on the sandbank still, and the Byrnes fighting hard for their lives climbed up to the highest part. There were no life preservers in those days, and when a shipwreck occurred passengers had to depend on whatever floated off the wreck.

The bow now slid under and the Byrnes managed to grasp a hen-coup that was near and for a moment felt the exultation of escape from a watery grave but they were washed seaward, and felt in dispair they were still facing death. With helpless gaze they tried to pierce the surrounding gloom, as the current carried them into the sea on an aimless course, and as the hours passed they drifted on and on, and at last sank down exhausted, and in kindly unconsciousness they were washed away.

Amongst the livestock on board the Lord Blaney was the famous racehorse called "Monteagle". He had beaten all rivals at home and his owner was bringing him over to try his luck on the English racecourse. Monteagle was a powerful animal, and when the ship struck he was washed off the deck. He swam bravely on through the terrible seas, and although swept back again and again he was determined not to perish in the waves, and he ultimately succeeded in gaining the beach been the only living thing to reach the shore from the Lord Blaney.

I am not likely to forget one particular night I went fishing on Carlingford Lough, in company with two boatmen. The weather was clear and beautiful and the moon lit up the landlocked Lough, making it look it's best. There was just enough frost to make the fish bite well, and it was our intention to stop out all night. The water was like a mirror, not a ripple disturbed the silvery surface of the bay, not a breath of wind came over the Benns of Burka or Carlingford; Manannan the Sea God of the Gael and his brother Gaoith, the God of the Wind, had both gone to rest.

As midnight drew near we were very much surprised to see a small white vapoury cloud, low down in the water, in the direction of the Bar. It came drifting up towards Warrenpoint and in a straight line for where we lay at anchor. We felt alarmed at this extraordinary phenomenon, and watched it closely. As it approached us we could see dimly through the mist the tall masts and funnel of a steamer appear, as if she was rising from the grey breast of the sea; then the mast-head light shining like a star burst full upon us. The ship was tossing as if knocked about in a storm, although where we lay it was dead calm. We could hear the sound of the rushing water against her side, and the wind blowing fiercely against her rigging as she rolled onward on her course. When she came opposite to the Quays at Warrenpoint wee saw the clouds of steam go up as if the whistle was shrieking a warning; then she slowly sank, her stern-lights vanishing below the waves. The vapoury cloud in which she was enveloped, dissolved, fading out of sight and nothing was left to our view but the calm moonlit waters of Carlingford Lough. The boatmen felt half frozen with fear and the dread of the supernatural scene they had just witnessed and prayed to be delivered from such phantoms of the deep.

However I was fully convinced that I had seen a good ship go down of the pier-head and I thought perhaps she had struck the "Scaur"-- a submerged bank that reaches out there, so I forced the boatmen to row over to the place where we had seen the vessel sink, fancying that perhaps some of her people might yet be holding on to some piece of floating wreckage. We searched about for some time but in vain. There was no trace of anything to show that a vessel had just gone down.

"It was the Fetch or Ghost of the Lord Blaney" remarked the older boatman, now somewhat recovered from his fright. "Twice before this the Phantom Packet has appeared at the Point and after each appearence a vessel belonging there has been lost; first it was the Favourite, and then the Mary brig, so it must be a warning; some other Point vessel will soon be wrecked and lives lost".

And he was right, for the Point built and owned schooner Robert Brown was driven ashore on the Dublin coast a few days after and the crew were all drowned but one.

Note by Pat Devlin: On 3 November 1916 the SS Connemara, an 1100 ton passenger ferry, plying between Greenore (on the Co Louth shore of Carlingford Lough about 6 sea miles from Warrenpoint) and Holyhead (in Wales), collided in the Lough with SS Retriever, a 500 ton coal boat, and sank with the loss of 97 lives. One man survived. It was reported that the ghost ship "Lord Blaney" had been seen some days before the tragedy. My wife's great grandfather, James Curran, aged 60, was among those drowned. For the story of the tragedy visit Tragedy in Carlingford Lough