seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Sinking of the SS Isolda

isoldaThe Irish lightship tender SS Isolda, which is resupplying lighthouses off the coast of County Wexford, is bombed and sunk by a German Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor on December 19, 1940 despite Irish neutrality. Six sailors are killed.

The lightships provide a vitally important service to maritime traffic for over two centuries. People live aboard these ships that anchor stationary at sea, providing a beacon in the dark for vessels that navigate the more treacherous parts of the Irish coast. These ships are faithfully assisted by ships that resupply them and facilitate crew changes. The SS Isolda is one such ship.

Danger in the waters around Ireland greatly increase during World War II. The Battle for the Atlantic is raging and Ireland’s location near important shipping lanes places Irish vessels right in the middle of a conflict zone. As a result, many casualties are incurred on Irish ships despite their position of neutrality.

The SS Isolda is a lightship tender owned by the Commissioners of Irish Lights. The lightship service is considered neutral and the ship has “Lighthouse Service” painted in large letters on both sides of the hull.

On December 19, 1940 she sails out from Rosslare Harbour heading to re-supply nearby lightships with relief crews and Christmas provisions. After placing the first crew at the lightship Barrels she then heads towards her next stop, the lightship Coningbeg. She does not make it very far as three miles out she is attacked from the air.

A German Condor flies over and drops the first bomb on the ship. The plane circles around and drops a second bomb, sealing the ships fate. Realising the SS Isolda is doomed, Captain Albert Bestic gives orders to abandon ship. Back on shore observers at the army lookout post at Carnsore Point look on helplessly at the carnage. The next day the German High Command admits that it is a German aircraft that had bombed the SS Isolda.

Survivors are picked up by boat and brought into Kilmore Quay, County Wexford. Six of the crew die and seven are wounded. Captain Bestic is among the survivors. This is not his first brush with death as he survived the sinking of the ill-fated RMS Lusitania 25 years earlier when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat.

(From: “Remembering the SS Isolda and her crew | Lost December 19th 1940” by Ann Robinson, December 19, 2017, http://coastmonkey.ie/ss-isolda-1940 | Pictured: The Ship – SS Isolda being bombed – Painting By Kenneth King)


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Death of Inventor Alexander Mitchell

alexander-mitchellAlexander Mitchell, Irish engineer who from 1802 is blind, dies on June 25, 1868. He is known as the inventor of the screw-pile lighthouse.

Mitchell is born in Dublin on April 13, 1780. His family moves to Belfast while he is a child. He receives his formal education at Belfast Academy where he excels in mathematics. He begins to notice that his eyesight is failing. By the age of 16 he can no longer read and by the age of 22 he is completely blind.

Undeterred, Mitchell borrows £100 and starts up a successful business making bricks in the Ballymacarrett area of Belfast. This enables him to start building his own houses and he completes approximately twenty in the city. It is during this period that his talent for inventing comes to the fore and he fabricates several machines for use in brick-making and the building trade.

Mitchell patents the screw-pile in 1833, for which he later gains some fame. The screw-pile is used for the erection of lighthouses and other structures on mudbanks and shifting sands, including bridges and piers. His designs and methods are employed all over the world from the Portland, Maine breakwater to bridges in Bombay. Initially it is used for the construction of lighthouses on Maplin Sands in the Thames Estuary in 1838, at Fleetwood Lancashire (UK) Morecambe Bay in 1839 and at Belfast Lough where his lighthouse is finished in July 1844.

In 1848 Mitchell is elected member of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and receives the Telford Medal the following year for a paper on his invention.

In May 1851 Mitchell moves to Cobh to lay the foundation for the Spit Bank Lighthouse. The success of these undertakings leads to the use of his invention on the breakwater at Portland, the viaduct and bridges on the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway and a broad system of Indian telegraphs.

Mitchell becomes friendly with astronomer John Thomas Romney Robinson and mathematician George Boole.

Alexander Mitchell dies at Glen Devis near Belfast on June 25, 1868 and is buried in the old Clifton graveyard in Belfast. His wife and daughter predecease him.


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Sinking of the SS Tuscania

ss-tuscaniaThe SS Tuscania, a luxury liner of the Cunard Line subsidiary Anchor Line converted for troop use, is torpedoed and sunk on February 5, 1918 off Rathlin Island, north of Ireland by the German U-boat UB-77. The ship is transporting over 2,000 American troops to the war in Europe. Over 200 people lose their lives.

SS Tuscania carries passengers between New York City and Glasgow while in service with the Anchor Line, on a route that had previously been assigned to her sister ship SS Transylvania. She continues to run this route even as World War I breaks out in Europe in August 1914 and Germany initiates a submarine campaign against merchant shipping in waters near the United Kingdom.

SS Tuscania makes international headlines for rescuing passengers and crew from the burning Greek steamer SS Athinai on September 20, 1915. In 1916, SS Tuscania is refitted and pressed into service as a troopship. She makes the news again in March 1917 by evading a submarine and a suspected Imperial German Navy armed merchant cruiser.

On January 24, 1918, SS Tuscania departs Hoboken, New Jersey, with 384 crew members and 2,013 United States Army personnel aboard. On the morning of February 5, 1918, she turns south for the North Channel en route to Liverpool. The German submarine UB-77 sights SS Tuscania′s convoy during the day and stalks it until early evening. Under the cover of darkness at about 6:40 PM, the submarine′s commanding officer, Korvettenkapitän Wilhelm Meyer, orders two torpedoes fired at SS Tuscania. The second of these strikes home, sending her to the bottom of the Irish Sea within about four hours. SS Tuscania sinks nearly three years to the day after her maiden voyage as a passenger liner. Approximately 210 of the troops and crew are lost, while many others are rescued by the Royal Navy destroyers HMS Mosquito and HMS Pigeon.

Three notable passengers who survive the sinking are British critic Sydney Brooks, Leonard Read, founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, and Harry Randall Truman who later dies in the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

The wreck of SS Tuscania lies between Scotland‘s Islay and Northern Ireland′s Rathlin Island, about 7 nautical miles north of Rathlin lighthouse, at roughly 55.41°N 06.185°W in 328 feet of water.