Authors Posts by Shea Tomkins

Shea Tomkins


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    By Helen Morgan

    National Harp Day will take place on the 20th October this year. All over Ireland events will be held to celebrate Ireland’s national instrument which dates back over 1,000 years. Organised by Harp Ireland, the organisation established in 2016 by harpers in collaboration with the Arts Council, to promote the Irish harp.

    As one of the National symbols of Ireland, a representation of the Irish Harp can be found on the Irish President’s seal. It also appears on Irish Passports, Irish EU currency, official Irish documents and on many state supported organisations such as the National University of Ireland. In addition, the harp symbol is used by commercial enterprises such as Guinness’s Brewery and the budget airline Ryanair.

    In the early 1920s, the Irish Government set up a committee chaired by Senator W. B. Yeats to determine a suitable design for the new coinage. The harp was chosen as the symbol of Ireland. The instrument selected was the modified 16-string version of the Brian Boru or Trinity Harp, which had already existed on Irish coins since the 1530’s.

    The harp is one of the oldest stringed musical instruments in the world. It was depicted in various forms in pre-Christian times; it is mentioned in the Bible, and has been played in Ireland, Wales, Scotland and France since the 9th century.
    It is said that Brian Boru, the last High King of Ireland who was killed at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, was an accomplished harper.

    The word ‘harp’ comes from an Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse words meaning ‘to pluck’. The earliest Gaelic word for harp was ‘cruit’ but over time this evolved into ‘clarseach’ the name used today.

    But how did this aristocratic musical instrument with its dulcet tones become so much a part of Irish culture?

    It is not known where the harp in its present form originated but it is generally accepted that it evolved from the lyre; a simple stringed instrument played in ancient times in Greece, Egypt, Assyria and Mesopotamia. The earliest drawings of a triangular shaped harp appeared in the Utrecht Psalter in the 9th century.

    The Irish are generally credited with bringing the harp to Europe but many believe that the Phoenicians brought it in pre-Christian times. Whatever its origins the harp has always played an important role in Irish folklore and legend and has remained the emblem of Irish Nationalism throughout the centuries.

    In the early Christian period, the harp was the only musical instrument allowed in church. Accompanied by a harper the monks vocalised the sacred music of the day? The Papal Music School was established in Ireland shortly after the arrival of St. Patrick in the 5th century.

    Early harps were much smaller and lighter than they are today and were played in the presence of kings and chieftains. A successful harper was required to evoke three emotions in his audience; laughter, tears and sleep. As well as acting as advisor in the absence of the King or Chieftain, the harper was also responsible for leading the army into battle. Respected by both sides, he was immune from injury or death.

    Harping was banned at the end of the medieval period as it was seen as a symbol of resistance to the English Crown. All harps were destroyed and many harpers were executed. This was to prevent a resurgence of nationalism, as for centuries travelling harpers were known to be the focal point of rebellions. The few remaining traditional harpers became wandering minstrels.

    By the end of the 18th century, traditional Irish harpers were almost extinct. In order to preserve what was left of Ireland’s harping culture a music festival was held in Belfast which was attended by the 10 remaining harpers. Henry Bunting, a church organist, was employed to notate the music during the festival but became so interested in harp music that he continued to collect traditional tunes for the rest of his life.

    Turlough O’Carolan, the celebrated blind harper (1670-1738), wrote hundreds of harp tunes many of which are still played today. It is thanks to Henry Bunting that so many of O’Carolan’s melodies were preserved.

    Over time the harp has continued to evolve and has had many significant improvements made to it over the past two centuries. Today the Irish harp is a tall, stately 34 stringed instrument, usually made of cedar wood. A good quality harp can cost as much as £5,000.

    Today, the harp is once again an important part of Irish culture and the 21st Century holds great promise for its continued popularity.


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      "Waterford & Suir Valley Railway Train at Knockhouse Upper. Sat 28.06.14"

      Invest €13 million in converting an abandoned railway line stretching from the edge of Waterford city at Bilberry to the coastal town of Dungarvan and what is the result? A local and national treasure, the family-friendly, award-winning Waterford Greenway that has transformed the recreational habits of thousands of Waterford natives, stimulated the economy and created a new awareness of the county’s heritage and beauty, writes Tom Hunt.

      The railway line in question – the Waterford-Dungarvan-Lismore – line was officially opened on Monday 19 August 1878 and carried its last passengers on 25 March 1967. The sense of excitement associated with the opening was remarkably similar to that which accompanied the Greenway’s launch.

      The development of a rail infrastructure introduced a fast and cheap means of transport to the county and, according to the Munster Express, promised ‘to open up to tourists the lovely valley of the Blackwater, aptly named “the Rhine of Ireland”’.
      A Mr. Hanrahan from Waterford city purchased ‘a lot of pigs at Lismore fair’ and had them delivered to Waterford city at 9.30 the same morning. Using the existing Fermoy-Mallow-Limerick Junction route the delivery would have taken twenty-four hours longer and cost three times more.

      On its first Sunday in business, ‘a most delightful trip from Waterford to Lismore was enjoyed … by between 600 and 700 delighted excursionists from the city’. Demand was such that when the passenger carriages were filled ‘cattle trucks with goods waggons were brought into requisition, into which eager passengers gladly thronged …’
      The line was provided with life support in 1972 when the Quigley Magnesite Plant was opened in Ballinacourty, just outside the town of Dungarvan. Dolomite, quarried in south Kilkenny, was transported to the brick manufacturing plant until 1982.

      Commercial traffic on the railway ended but maintenance trains used the line until the late 1980s before it was officially closed in 1994 and the track dismantled.

      The industrial development indirectly made the Greenway development possible as the line remained the property of CIE without reverting to private ownership. This enabled Waterford County Council to obtain a licence from CIE and the council converted the abandoned line to a greenway for recreational use.

      The Waterford Greenway, at 46Km in length the longest in Ireland, crosses eleven bridges and three spectacular viaducts, two causeways and passes through a 400 metres long tunnel. It was officially opened with considerable fanfare on 25 March 2017, exactly 50 years to the date that the last passenger train served the line.

      Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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        Francis Kaye brings us a selection of stories about animals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in protecting their owners

        Many readers will be well aware of the companionship a pet can give, whether it be a dog, a cat, a pony or some other creature. They don’t judge us and they give us unconditional love, regardless of what others may think of us.
        Some pets however, have gone a step further and have saved their owners from injury and even death.

        Jessica Cowley, a 28-year-old blind mother, was strolling near her home in Leigh, Lancashire, in September 2013. She was pushing her one-year-old son, Jacob, in his pram and they were accompanied by her guide-dog, Jet, a black Labrador who had been with the family for five years.

        As they began to cross the entrance to a car park, Jessica suddenly heard the screech of car-brakes. Jet leapt out of her hands seconds before the vehicle hit her from behind, sending her crashing to the ground. The sound of her baby crying was the only way she knew that Jacob was alive.

        A local vet, who witnessed the incident, later told her that Jet had saved Jacob’s life. Just as the car was about to hit mother and pram, the powerful dog had broken free of her owner pushed the pram out of the path of the car.

        “She was worried about me but once she had licked my face and checked I was conscious, she was fine,” Jessica said later.

        Although Jacob fell out of the pram, his only injury was a cut lip.
        Jet had not been trained as a rescue animal, but she instinctively rushed to protect Jacob, with no thought for her own safety.

        “She loves Jacob and thinks of him as her own,” said Jessica. “I am very proud of her.”

        * * * * * * * * *

        A little Thai Bangkaew dog named Pui, from Ayutthaya, a rural community north of Bangkok, Thailand, spends most of his time rummaging for tasty scraps in the local rubbish dump.

        But in June 2013, he discovered an abandoned newborn baby in a plastic bag in the dump. The dog gently picked up the bag and carefully carried the baby home to his owner, Gumnerd Thongmak.

        Once home, Pui began barking but everybody ignored him, as often happens when dogs bark. But Pui continued barking until Sudarat Thongmak, age 12, came out to the patio to see what all the fuss was about.

        The fuss was a newborn baby girl, still alive, with her umbilical cord still attached. The girl rushed to get her parents, who rushed the baby to the hospital, where she was given oxygen and treated.

        She weighed just 4 pounds, 8 ounces. Her condition was stabilised and she recovered after being transferred to a larger hospital.

        As for Pui, he’s been duly feted. The district’s Red Cross chapter issued Pui a medal and a new leather collar. It also presented him with a certificate praising Pui’s ‘well-raised’ and ‘courageous’ manner. And the ‘Miracle of Life Foundation’ in the district gave the family money to help feed their three dogs. Pui remains a local hero.

        * * * * * * * * *
        Can animals detect disease? Wendy Humphries, 52, a mother of two from Wroughton, Wiltshire in England believes her cat’s ‘sixth sense’ saved her life. She was spurred to seek medical attention when ten-month-old Fidge, began jumping on her right breast every night as she lay on the sofa.

        “She would jump onto it every night for a fortnight. I went to see my GP because I thought it was bruised,” says Wendy.
        The doctor found a pea-sized lump in the right breast. It turned out to be cancerous and doctors told her that it could have been fatal if it hadn’t been detected so early on.
        “I am the first one in my family to have breast cancer. I am so glad I got her. I couldn’t believe it. She saved my life, no doubt about that,” says Wendy.

        Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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          October 26th marks 100 years since Sir Cecil Chubb donated Stonehenge to the public. Susie Kearley looks at some of the myths associated with the ancient site, including its strong links to Ireland

          According to some legends, Stonehenge was originally created in Ireland. It was only by magical forces that it came to stand on Salisbury Plain in England. October 26th marks 100 years since Sir Cecil Chubb donated Stonehenge to the nation. His gift was conditional upon people having access to it for one shilling or less per visit.

          English Heritage have been celebrating the occasion with a series of special events throughout 2018, including attempts to shift a four ton megalith (heavy stone) using groups of volunteers. There will also be a new exhibition opening in October; it’s a collaborative venture with the British Museum.

          Stonehenge in Ireland
          According to legend, Stonehenge was originally an Irish creation. In 450AD, the Saxons and the Celts fought a bloody war on Salisbury Plain. The Saxons killed 300 native warriors. The King at this time was Aurelius Ambrosius – the legendary King Arthur’s uncle, who’d been exiled to Brittany, France.

          When the King returned to England he was furious. He set fire to the enemy’s tower, rallied troops and defeated the Saxon invaders, executing their leader, Hengist. He wanted to remember the dead with a monument so he asked Merlin for help.

          Merlin said there was an impressive stone circle in Ireland, called the Giant’s Round, which would make a good memorial. It was located on the mythical Mount Killaraus. However, when the King sent his men to bring the stones to England, they were unable to shift the great boulders.

          So, it is said that Merlin put a spell on Stonehenge and magically transported the stones onto ships. They sailed to the English shore, and then Merlin magically put the stones into position on Salisbury Plain. When King Aurelius and his brother, Uther died, they were both buried in the centre of Stonehenge.

          The legend says that giants had originally brought the stones to Mount Killaraus from Africa. The stones had healing powers, so when water was poured over them, the water became enchanted and the sick could be healed by bathing in it.
          Another story says that the giants celebrated the Sabbath by dancing on Mount Killaraus, then one day they were turned into stone. So for years, people believed that Stonehenge was pertified giants, holding hands, standing in a circle.

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            By Peter Smith

            In July 1948, Gail Halvorsen had been flying three round trips a day from Frankfurt to Berlin’s Tempelhof airfield. The flights were an absolute necessity because the Russians had closed off all land access to West Berlin and if the allies couldn’t supply the 2,000 tons of food required each day, the population of West Berlin would starve.
            During one rest period, Halvorson borrowed a jeep and drove to the end of Runway 27 where he saw a group of children.

            “They could speak little English”, he said later, “their clothes were torn and patched and I realised that most of them wouldn’t have had any candy or gum for years.”
            He did have some gum, but not enough for all of them. He broke the sticks of gum into small pieces and handed it over.They shared it out and those who didn’t get any sniffed and licked the wrappers.

            He told them to come back the next day and he would have gum for everyone. He would drop it from his aircraft. But how would they know which plane was his, they asked, He told them he would rock his wings from side to side as he approached the runway.

            Back in Frankfurt, he bought extra gum and chocolate and begged more from his fellow pilots. The following day, as he approached Tempelhof, he ‘waggled’ the plane’s wings before releasing the packages attached to tiny parachutes made out of old handkerchiefs.

            The children hadn’t told any other children but somehow, others found out what was happening and the crowds at the end of Runway 27 grew bigger.

            After a month or so, Halvorsen was told that the man in charge of the airlift, William Turner, wanted to see him. As Turner was something of a curmudgeonly character, Halvorsen feared the worst.

            To his delight, Turner was all in favour of what was happening. It was ‘good publicity’ and all future drops would be code named ‘Operation Little Victuals’.

            The media picked up on the story and, once news reached America itself, it seemed that everyone wanted to help in some way. Entire classes sent packs of chocolate, some already attached to home- made parachutes.

            Candy and chocolate manu-facturers sent tons of confectionary, so much that a college student, Mary Connors’ took charge of what had become a national project. She worked with the National Confectioners Association to prepare the candy and chocolate and have the packages attached to parachutes. Soon virtually all the airlift pilots were making ‘drops’ on a daily basis.

            The pilots were soon nicknamed the ‘Candy Bombers’ whilst Halvorson himself became known as ‘Uncle Wiggly Wings’ as well as the ‘Chocolate Uncle’, the ‘Gum Drop Kid’ and the ‘Chocolate Flyer’.

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              By John Macklin

              “The rules,” said Harold Mortimer, “are quite clear. No child will enter the classroom before morning assembly.” He turned with a menacing stride perfected over nearly 30 years of school-mastering, approached the door of classroom three, and swept it open.

              The children standing in single file in a nearby corridor waiting to enter the school hall for morning prayers, watched with interest. They too had heard the chatter and laughter which had come from behind the closed door of classroom three and now waited for the culprits to be led out.

              Instead they saw their headmaster halt abruptly in his tracks as he entered the room, and watched with pleasure as his scowl turned to a look of blank amazement as he turned and hurried out. For the classroom was empty.

              So it was that in the summer term of 1939 the small Lancashire village school near Preston suddenly acquired what was claimed to be a class of ghosts… children who could be heard, not seen, and were claimed to be not of this world.

              Harold Mortimer, headmaster of the school, and his two assistant teachers, Mrs Hilda Shaw and Miss Davina Bailey, were at first certain there must be come sort of rational explanation for the incidents, but one was never found.

              Today the phenomenon of the phantom children still intrigues psychical experts–and the people who, as children, claimed to have experienced it at first hand. Shortly before his death, Mr Mortimer recalled the events of the summer of 1939 for the local county magazine.

              “I had been at the school for more than ten years,” he remembered. “It was a typical rural junior school of the time, with good discipline. I’d never had any problems with the children, although I must confess I was a pretty strict headmaster.
              “But I tried to be humane and fair and I like to think the children respected, and even quite liked, me.”

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                By Gaby Roughneen

                One day, in my late teens, I noticed something odd about a house down the street. All its small-paned windows were open, which had never been the case in my memory.
                The hall door was open too, making visible the huge bluey-grey painting of a ship in a stormy sea to anybody passing. I could hear men’s voices as they shouted to each other, and the noise of things being dragged around.

                Then I remembered: old Nora, who had always lived in this house, had died the previous week, and now her house was being cleared out. I remembered her well. She was a kind woman who had never married, and lived there with her sister who had died a couple of years earlier.

                A neighbour from across the street walked over to me as I stood looking at the house. “God rest poor oul’ Nora,” she said. “Paudie and Ned are in there clearing it out now, but do you know, six lorry loads of furniture already came out of that house for an auction,” she said, before walking on. “Six lorry loads from a house that small! Would you believe it!”

                Paudie was the local chimney sweep and general handyman, and Ned was his sometime assistant, both well known to everybody in the village. I couldn’t resist walking into the hall. It led down to the back kitchen, with a room on the left and another one behind it.

                ‘Hello, girl,’ said Paudie, from the front room. He stood in his huge sack apron, ankle deep in newspapers that spread across the floor. Perspiring and cursing, he packed them into big plastic bag.

                “Look at ‘em,” he said, holding up a bundle and pointing to the yellowing folds. “Forty years of newspapers, and hardly any of ‘em opened.”

                Ned came in from the back room. He also wore a sack apron. He picked up a couple of the newspapers and read out bits of news from long ago, in a careful voice for Paudie’s entertainment and his own.

                Then they picked up old books from the pile and put them into a separate plastic bag. They’d go to the Convent, Paudie said, because the nuns might have use for them.
                I went back out into the hall and saw cardboard boxes stacked all down the sharply angled stairs, full of stuff to be thrown out.

                Nora had kept paper cuttings, old medicines, with the prices still on the bottles, framed photos of unsmiling people in stiff poses, oil lamps which still smelt of oil, dozens of boxes of good matches, and small plastic bags full of used ones which mystified Paudie.

                “‘Tis a wonder the place didn’t go up years ago,” said Ned, looking over his shoulder at the matches as he went out to the hall. He began to lift the boxes off the stairs and carry them out to the hall door. A piece of green unfinished knitting fell out of a box as he passed me.

                He kicked it into a pile of old clothes near the door. On his way back, he picked up a piece of paper that had also fallen out and read it aloud. It was a bill from the Post Office for newspapers – 13/1d.

                “Now that’s a quare wan,” he shouted to Paudie, laughing. “Sure it wouldn’t pay for a bit of ‘em’!

                A lorry then pulled up outside and the driver jumped down and came into the house. This was Joe, another handyman who seemed to be around everywhere. He stopped for a few moments in the hall to look at the painting.

                Then he called out, ‘Are ye right, lads?’

                They came out, and he helped them to drag out the plastic bags, the boxes and the old clothes and dumped them all into the back of the lorry. They didn’t take the painting, and it hadn’t gone with the furniture to be auctioned. I wondered what would happen to it.

                Then they went back inside, where the noise of their boots now echoed eerily as they pounded on the stairs and down towards the back kitchen, shutting all the windows and, as I left, they locked the hall door. They jumped into the lorry and I watched as they drove away, disappearing around the corner at the top of the street.

                The next day, as I walked out a bit from the village on the road to an orchard to buy apples, I noticed something odd just inside the ditch across the road, near a little pond where cattle used to drink. It was a pile of rubbish, just dumped haphazardly over the side. I recognized it because dangling from a briar, and half off the needle, was Nora’s knitting.

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                  Martin Sheridan was without doubt one of Co. Mayo’s most famous sons. Described as the best all round athlete of his time, he was honoured and feted in many different countries throughout his short, but remarkable, life, writes Margaret Molloy.

                  Martin Sheridan was born in Bohola, Co Mayo, on March 28, 1881, to Jane and Martin Sheridan. He was the youngest of seven children, in a family of four boys and three girls.

                  Born into a very active political family, Martin Sheridan was steeped in the politics of the day from a very young age, and this political perspective shaped his formative years and influenced his decisions in later years.

                  His grandfather, grandmother, father and were heavily involved in the land war, and his uncle P. J. Sheridan, who fled to America in the wake of the Phoenix Park murders, was actively involved with Parnell. According to historian, Paul Bew, it was Sheridan who was instrumental in having Parnell take the Fenian oath, admitting him into the IRB.

                  Martin Sheridan’s father came under the eye of the law on many occasions and had his house searched for arms by the military. Joseph Sheridan, Martin’s brother, was married to Kitty Collins, sister of General Michael Collins, whose life was cut short in the Civil War in 1922. Michael Collins was a regular visitor to Bohola, where his sister taught in the National School there.

                  Martin attended school in Bohola and worked on his f ather’s farm where all the family helped out. He enjoyed the wide open space of countryside and it was here that he perfected his athletic skills which would serve him so well in later years.

                  Martin’s athletic skills were evident as a young boy. In a field adjacent to the local police station in Bohola, local children congregated on a Sunday, and with the assistance of the policemen, who advised them on throwing techniques, Martin perfected and developed his throwing skills.

                  In the weight throwing game, a stone was used and the boys competed to see how far they could throw it. Martin Sheridan was capable of out-throwing any of the others. They played games such as pitch and toss, banging buttons, throwing weights, tug of war and running. Suffice to say that when he took to the world stage of athletic competition, the foundation was well laid in his home in Bohola.

                  Having completed his national school education and with little or no employment available locallym Martin knew that emigration was his only option. Like many places in the west of Ireland, Bohola had suffered dreadfully, from the Famine of 1847 and at the hand of the landlords in the Land War, with high rents commonplace and failure to pay the rent, eviction was inevitable. Emigration was rife after the Famine, which was to be the only avenue open to Martin Sheridan himself.

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                    By Steve Coyne

                    Ireland’s recent ‘grand slam’ success at Rugby Union where players from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland play as one team, continues to contrast with the division within association football. There was a time, however, when soccer players did turn out for both teams.

                    I did a search of career records both sides of the Second World War and discovered there were some seventeen players capped by both the FAI and the IFA during the years up to 1939. In addition, a further nine players were dual internationals during the period when football resumed after the war, up until 1950 when the practice was halted.

                    Historically there was just one team – Ireland – formed by the IFA in 1880 in Belfast. After 1921 the FAI was established in Dublin. During 1936-50 therefore we have a period when both Associations selected on an All-Ireland basis. The list contains one well-known player, Johnny Carey, while others who had interesting careers included Tom Breen, Jacky Brown, Tom Farquharson, and Alex Stevenson.
                    Mick O’Brien’s career is notable for its longevity. He first represented pre-partition Ireland in 1921 so he could claim to have represented all three national teams over time.

                    The careers of many of the players followed a familiar pattern. One of Ireland’s greatest players, Peter Doherty, first played for his home-town club, Coleraine, and Glentoran before moving to England in November 1933, and this was the path followed by many of the names on our list.

                    Both Tom Breen and Jacky Brown played for Belfast Celtic before joining Manchester United and Wolves respectively. By 1936 Brown commanded a £3,000 transfer fee when he moved on.

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                      Eugene Daly recalls the tragic sinking 100 years ago this month of the yawl the Thomas Joseph, owned by his cousin John Daly.


                      October 10th, 2018, is the centenary of the wreck of the Thomas Joseph, a sixty foot ‘lugger’, fishing out of Cape Clear Island. The Thomas Joseph, owned by John Daly, was wrecked on the Catalogue Rocks between Sherkin Island and the mainland on October 10th, 1918.

                      Six people lost their lives, while five were rescued. This disaster still lives on in the folklore of the area; the sad event is still talked about with much speculation about what happened.

                      John Daly was one of the eight children born to Donal (Dan) Daly of Comar, Oileán Cléire (Cape Clear); his mother was Johanna Coughlan of Goleen. The family had a public house in Comar, the island village, at the time.

                      The Thomas Joseph was built by Tyrells of Arklow. Despite his young age (30), Daly was acknowledged to be a good seaman and successful fisherman.

                      On New Year’s morning 1917, with the aid of Captain Cadogan and his two sons, and his own brother, Tim, John Daly showed his bravery when they rescued forty-six people from the liner Nestorian, which was shipwrecked on the western side of Cape Clear.
                      In the autumn of 1918, he decided to replace the Gardner engine of the Thomas Joseph with a new Parsons engine. The engine was installed by the Parson engineers in early October, 1918. On Thursday evening, October 10th, it was decided to journey from Baltimore to Schull on a trial run.

                      The boat left Baltimore about 4 or 5 p.m. and reached Schull about 6. On board with John Daly, the skipper, were two crew members, Mike Walsh of Cape Clear and John O’Driscoll of Baltimore and three marine engineers, Messrs G. White, Edgar Stoate and J. Inglis, manager of Parsons and Co. Ltd., Dublin.

                      Eight others were on board, Edward Shipsey, fish buyer, Baltimore, Joseph Burke, Inspector, Congested Districts Board, and Constable Crowe of the Baltimore Coastguard Station. The five others were Albert Collins and his sister, Rita, who accompanied her teenage friends, Lily and Nan Shipsey, and also John Minihane, Ballymacrown, Baltimore.

                      Miss Nan Shipsey of Baltimore gave an account of her experience to The Skibbereen Eagle’s representative, published in the Eagle on October 19th, 1918. She stated that they were within ten minutes of Baltimore when the disaster occurred.

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