On the 4th of September, 1828 a boat called Caisleán Nua left Annaghdown Pier filled with people and animals and sailed downstream. The passengers intended to attend a fair at Fairhill in Galway City. Lore tells us that a sheep put its hoof through a board and instead of plugging the hole a whole board was damaged when someone used a coat to stem the inward flow of water. Panic set in resulting in the boat sinking quickly near Bushypark. Twelve of the thirty-one passengers were rescued by a passing boat, writes Ray Cleere
Early on Thursday morning, September 4th, 1828, 190 years ago, some 31 people started an ill-fated journey to Galway. They were on board an old Lough Corrib ferry boat, the ‘Caisleán Nua’, which, it was said at the time, was in a rotten and leaky condition.
They left Annaghdown Pier and set sail for Galway, across Lough Corrib, a distance of about eight miles, on a bright and calm day. The boat was overloaded with too many passengers as the 31 men and women tried to get to a fair in Galway City.
Also on board were ten sheep and a quantity of timber which made what became an already perilous situation even worse. The sheep were for auction at the fair of Fairhill (Cnoc an Dolain).
At the time one could well have imagined the air of expectancy and joviality on board as they moved gently over the crystal-clear water of the lake.
In a light-hearted atmosphere the older men discussed the harvest and the price of the sheep at the fair; the women chatted about the quality of their wool and woollen garments, while the young men and women laughed, sang songs and looked forward to an exciting day in Galway which afforded them what was then a rare opportunity to meet friends and relatives.
There was no road to Galway from the village of Annaghdown in those days. At the time a journey to Galway was similar to a trip to Dublin on the present day express train. However, the light hearted atmosphere was short lived. It quickly changed to panic and eventually tragedy which caused one of the worst and most mysterious drowning accidents in Irish history.
As the boat continued its peaceful journey, Henry Flanagan, who was better known at the time as Anrai Mór, made his way on foot along the shore at Galway. He had missed the boat to Annaghdown and, as a result, he had to carry more than one hundred weight of oats on his back along the rocky shore and the soft bog.
At the time one could well imagine how he felt as the boat sailed out of his view into the old River Corrib; he still had many miles to carry his heavy load.