THE LOSS OF THE S.S.’ARY’
8th TO 18th FEBRUARY 1947
BY KEVIN GALLAGHER
Ardmore in 1947
Round about these parts the question is occasionally asked, do you remember when the sailors were washed in?. Fifty years on, quite obviously that question would mean very little to most people, but still many people along the coastline from Mine Head to Ballymacoda would have clear recollections and memories of that terrible sea tragedy of 50 years ago in February 1947.
For myself, I was a nine year old youngster growing up here in Ardmore, where the aftermath of the tragedy was centred and as well as remembering some of the events following the sinking of the ARY and the washing ashore of the dead sailors, I recall also that year of the big snow – 1947 broke all records when measured in degrees of cold and frost – the cold spell lasted for round about 10 weeks and rural communities such as Ardmore were frequently cut off in the blizzard conditions when snowdrifts as 10ft were commonplace, I remember the village being completely cut off and the snow being shovelled away at the Sluggera Cross to allow Flemings bread van from Youghal to get into the village.
I was living in the Garda Barracks overlooking the beautiful Ardmore Bay, my father the late Dan Gallagher was the local Garda Sergeant and he was to play a significant role in the aftermath of the loss of the ARY. Some days after the sinking I remember going with my brothers along the cliff walk between Fial Na Sleangara and the Lichanan near the area of the LOOK out hut and seeing two bodies floating over the sunken rock as they passed by ram Head. We could see clearly that they had grey coloured lifejackets on them, all we could see were the backs and part shoulders of their bodies, the heads and legs were under water, as such and the seagulls were kind of swooping down and perching on the life jackets, the gulls appeared to be pecking at the bodies.
Then there was the day in the duty room (day room) of the Barracks when quantities of foreign paper money and personal papers were hanging up on strings to dry, these items were found on the bodies washed ashore in around Monatrae by Willie Roache and transported to Ardmore by Mr. Jack Farrissey in his horse and cart.
On the morning of the funeral it started snowing at 11 o’clock, not too heavy but enough to lay a covering of white on the roads and rooftops all around Ardmore. Eleven sailors were laid out on the floor of the Ardmore Fire station near the Storm Wall, ‘twas a terrible sight to see them there side by side before being taken to the graveyard for burial in the mass grave which was being prepared by Paddy Whelan and Stephen Murphy and now awaited the mortal remains of the most of the crew members of the ill fated steamer the S.S. ARY which sank off the South Coast of Ireland eleven days previously on the night 8/9 February 1947.
THE VOYAGE AND THE SINKING
The S.S Ary, a ship of 640 tons displacement left Port Talbot, South Wales on Saturday 8th February 1947 under the command of 55 year old Estonian national Captain Edward Kolk, who was deputising for the ARY’s permanent Master, Mr. L.J. Catalender who was unavoidably absent at the time. The ship carried a full cargo of best Welsh coal destined for the Great Southern Company at Waterford- she was crewed by a full compliment of an all-male crew of fifteen including the Captain. That February the whole of Western Europe, Britain and Ireland too was gripped by one of the worst winter on record. As night drew in on that fateful Saturday, the Welsh coast was left astern and the ARY steamed away on her 150 mile voyage to Waterford, her first trip to this port at the estuary of the Three Sisters. The East wind was rising – the following seas were getting rougher – the troughs were getting deeper – the waves became higher and ever so stronger. With the worsening conditions, the ship was wallowing in the heavy seas, the signs were ominous, then suddenly the fickle cargo of coal began to shift, a list to port developed, things looked bad. Frantic efforts to rectify the situation failed, water was pumped into the starboard side – to no avail – the list got worse – the situation was desperate – the order ‘ABANDON SHIP’ was given and at midnight the lifeboats were lowered to what was to become the even CRUELLER SEA for these unfortunate seamen.
Nine of the crew were in the Port lifeboat, the other six in the Starboard boat.
As they drifted 100 yards from the stricken vessel, they were forced to watch the sight that every sailor dreads – their ship the steamer ‘ARY’ disappearing beneath the waves.
ADRIFT ON THE HIGH SEAS
The tale of the six crewmen in the starboard lifeboat cannot be told as not one survived, the nine in the port side lifeboat included the sole survivor of the impending tragedy, nineteen year old Polish born Jan Dorucki who had joined the ship during the previous year 1946, his companions in that little boat were the mate, the second engineer, the steward, the cook, three firemen, and an ordinary seamen. They soon found to their horror that the boat carried no oars, sails or engine and there was no food or drink on board, fate indeed had dealt a terrible blow to these hapless sailors forced to abandon their ship and now adrift on an uncaring ocean.
The seas got rougher and rougher, their situation was made worse by the bitterly cold easterly wind swirling about them, penetrating to their very marrow and slamming them with squalls of snow. They had abandoned ship in such haste that they had only light clothing on them. Soon the cold took its toll as fingers and feet became numb, the steward was the first to be overcome in these freezing conditions, he died as he had lived – a man against the sea. The survivor Jan Dorucki pulled some tarpaulin over himself and soon he fell asleep and as dawn came on that February morning (9th February 1947), Jan Dorucki awoke to behold the most awful and terrifying of sights – his companions in the lifeboat were all dead – they died during the night in temperatures well below zero. Young Jan became very nervous being as he was in a boat full of dead men, so he decided to push the bodies into the sea. He drifted on all through that Sunday and all day Monday and Tuesday too and at dawn on Wednesday February 12th the little boat came ashore carrying a barely alive Jan Dorucki at the ‘Suice’ cliff near the farmhouse of Mr. Cornelious Hourigan at Ballynaharnie on the Old Parish Peninsula on the North side of Ardmore Bay.
THE SOLE SURVIVOR
By some means, not even understood by himself, Jan in a barely conscious state scaled the almost sheer cliff face of the 'Suice', he crawled to the yard of the Hourigan farmhouse and there he lay at deaths doorstep until at half past eight on that Wednesday morning with the brightness taking over from the dark Jan Dorucki was found by the Hourigan family dog, he was wrapped in a blanket and taken inside the house -Garda Sergeant Dan Gallagher, Ardmore was notified and Jan was immediately taken to Dungarvan District Hospital. On duty when Jan was admitted was Nurse Cait Waide the relief night nurse in place of Nurse Guirey who was absent on sick leave. Now living in Kilrossanty, Cait Gunningham as she now is, recalls the events in Dungarvan District Hospital fifty years ago. “Jan arrived in a critical state, he had to be thawed out, he was in extreme pain, he remained very critical for many days, his hands were severely frost-bitten, the fingers were in a dreadful state, his feet were also badly effected.
Dr. Dan McCarthy carried out several operations to combat the gangrene which was spreading upwards from the feet, eventually a decision to amputate both legs was taken, some of his fingers suffered the same fate. The language barrier was a big problem and after some weeks a Polish Army Officer arrived from England to interpret, Jan's father also came he stayed in Dungarvan for some days, they gave the day time nurse, Nurse Dray Moloney, a Polish phrase book and dictionary and she quickly got adept at communicating with Jan. With communication established a great affection grew between the staff, from Dr. McCarthy down, and the young Polish patient. We all loved him, the nuns were absolutely marvellous, Jan was slowly getting better and he was not as frustrated as in the beginning when with pain and the language barrier, he could just couldn’t communicate.”
“Nurse Guirey resumed duty in mid March, Jan was still quite ill when I left him, radio and the newspapers did’nt give a lot of information about his progress, but I always made enquiries when visiting Dungarvan during the following months. Over the years I always remembered him during the month of February especially in times of snow and frost, he went back to Poland after twelve months and I believe he corresponded over the years with Nurse Dray Moloney and I was told that when she married a few years later Jan sent a congratulatory telegram to her wedding reception.”
The sailors are washed in
Later on the same day that Jan landed on the rocky coastline of Old Parish, less than two miles away at Ballyquin, local farmer Mr. Willie Whelan was beachcombing – Willie continues…………”I had not heard anything about the wreck, but ‘twas blowing a gale, say about force 7 or 8 and I walked down to the strand as usual, beachcombing as was the custom with most people living along the coast, so I saw this object stretched at the brink of the water, the tide was out, it was round low water time, I saw the gulls around it, so I went down and there was a body stretched out at the edge of the water, he was first of the sailors to come in and he was found at the Carrigeen Glas Rocks here at the west side of Ballyquin strand. I transported him to the fire station in Ardmore where from papers found on him he was identified as Jose Guisado Mejais, age 32, from La Linea, Spain; Jose was the ship’s steward and he was buried in St. Declans graveyard, Ardmore three days later on Saturday 15th February”.
In the days following Willie Whelan’s gruesome discovery in Ballyquin, across the bay from the historic Village of Ardmore, the artic conditions continued, the gale force easterlies swept the other dead sailors on the past Ram Head towards the estuary of the River Blackwater at Youghal and beyond to Knockadoon Head close by the village of Ballymacoda. Two were washed in at Monatrae, they were found by Mr. Willie Roache the Guileen in Carty’s Cove just west of Whiting bay on Sunday 16th February, seven days after the sinking of the ‘ARY’ in the vicinity of the Tuskar Rock Lighthouse on the night of 8/9 February 1947. Willie says "I remember well that Sunday morning 'twas about quarter past seven, I was doing my bit of beachcombing I got to the Guileen, I saw a body faced down and wearing a grey coloured life jacket, then my father came down and about an hour later we saw a second body in the water, 'twas at the first of flood and the body was being washed up on to the rocks, we then took the two bodies and laid them side by side on the Guileen, afterwards we took them up to near the Coast Guard Station and at about four o'clock Jack Farrissey took the two bodies to Ardmore Fire Station where the first of the two to be washed in at Monatrae were identified as being the ships Master, Captain Edward Kolk, Tallin, Estonia, they were all buried side by side in Ardmore. I still visit the grave, just to say a prayer for them",
During the course of that weekend nine more bodies were recovered, the Ferry Boat came on three when crossing from the east side of the harbour at Monatrae to the quayside at Youghal, the others came in at various places west as far as
Knockadoon Head; all were taken to the Market House in Youghal and from there by lorry to Ardmore.
On the morning of Tuesday 18th February the inquests recorded verdicts of 'Death from Exposure' on all; the funerals commenced at 2 o'clock, all through that afternoon the people of Ardmore paid their respects to these poor souls being buried in that hallowed ground in the shadow of Ardmore's one thousand year old Round Tower. It snowed all through the individual services as the coffins were laid side by side in the mass grave at the S.E. Corner of St. Declans Graveyard, the graveside prayers were said by Rev. Fr. O'Byrne, Parish Priest of Ardmore and the Church of Ireland Rector the Rev. Warren, the Curate of Ardmore, Rev. Fr. Johnny Walsh was also in attendance.
JAN DORUCKI GOES HOME:
And so, the weeks went by, then the months, February led into March and early spring, the evenings grew lighter, they grew longer too, Jan Dorucki was tenderly cared for by the Doctors, the sisters and the nursing staff of Dungarvan Hospital in West Waterford. He was young, and as his recovery progressed he required specialist attention at St. Patrick's Hospital, Waterford City and also in Dublin.
It was during one of Jan's stays in St. Patricks, that, when visiting her father in .the next bed to him that Annie Lonregan became acquainted with the only survivor of the 'ARY', Annie recalls: "It was when I went to visit my father one night, this man was in the bed next to him, he was only in for the night, he was going off to Dublin the next day, he looked to me as if he had no legs, 1t was the next day my father told me the story of him climbing the cliff and that someone with a dog had saved him
I visited my father every day and it was about three weeks later when going down the corridor to the ward, I saw coming towards me a man on crutches, he nodded to me and I nodded to him I thought he looked familiar, my father told me that it was indeed Jan Dorucki and that he was back from Dublin with two artificial legs, he remained in St. Patricks for some time after that.
I can't remember exactly when it was, but later that year I was at the quayside in Waterford saying goodbye to my two sisters who were returning on the 'Great Western' to their nursing jobs in England after their holidays at home in Ballygunner, Jan was there on the quayside with a Red Cross nurse, he was taken aboard in a wheel chair, but when he got on deck he stood by the railings of the 'Western' and waved goodbye to us, to Waterford and to Ireland as he started out on the first leg of his long journey home to Poland…….
And so, fifty years on, the story of the 'ARY' is told, Ardmore remembered; the dead sailors were prayed for at the Sunday masses fifty years later and a graveside Remembrance Service was conducted by Rev. Pat Butler and Rev. Peter Rhys- Thomas on the anniversary of the burials of the twelve interned in St. Declan's Graveyard here in Ardmore.
“Ar dheis De go raibh siad"
In order of burial these are the twelve that were buried on 18th February 1947, except for Jose Guisando Mejais the ships Steward who was buried on the 15th of February:
Stefan Pawlicki Seaman (Fireman)
William James Fisher Seaman (Fireman)
Alexander Malm Ship's Engineer
Edward Kolk Ship's Captain
Antonio Rodriquez Seaman
Ludwig (Peter) Fisher Seaman
H. Nugis Seaman (Second Engineer)
Marakin Edmund Stefanski Seaman
And three unidentified bodies. Two members of the total crew of fifteen were unaccounted for.In the Autumn of 1947 at the request of relatives, the remains of Alexander Malm were exhumed and re-interred a short distance from the mass grave. At present the writer with assistance from the Polish Embassy in Dublin is attempting to establish whatever became of Jan Dorucki who was born in Poland in 1927 and survived this tragedy off the Waterford coast in 1947………….
Copyright Kevin Gallagher 1997