SS Connemara

From SpottingWorld, the Hub for the SpottingWorld network...

The SS Connemara was a twin screw steamer, 272 feet long, 35 broad and 14 deep with a gross tonnage of 1106. She was sunk on the night of 3 November 1916 at the entrance to Carlingford Lough, Louth, Ireland after being hit amidships by the coalship Retriever. 97 lives perished that night and the only survivor was James Boyle - a fireman on the Retriever and non-swimmer (sic).

The captain on the Connemara was Captain G. H. Doeg. The captain on the Retriever was Patrick O'Neill. Both men were experienced seamen and the accident was attributed to the atrocious weather conditions on the night.

SS Connemara facts & figures

  • Ship Type: Twin screw steamer
  • Captain: GH Doeg
  • Second Mate: ?
  • Weight: 1106 gross tons
  • Built By: Denny Brothers of Dunbarton in 1897
  • Owners: London and North-Western Railway Company
  • Length: 272 ft
  • Beam: 35 ft
  • Draught: 14 ft
  • Crew: 30 (all from Holyhead in Wales)
  • Cargo: 51 passengers (and livestock)

Retriever facts & figures

  • Ship Type: Steel screw, three mast steamer
  • Captain: Patrick O'Neill from Kilkeel
  • Second Mate: Joseph O'Neill (Captain's son)
  • Weight: 483 tonne
  • Built By: Ailsa Shipbuilding Company in 1899
  • Owners: Clanrye Shipping Company
  • Length: 168 ft
  • Beam: 25 ft
  • Draught: 10 ft
  • Crew: 9 (all from Newry except the sole survivor James Boyle who was from Summerhill in Warrenpoint)
  • Cargo: Coal

Previous accidents

Both the Connemara and the Retriever had been in separate collisions with other ships before the fatal accident:

  • The Connemara sunk the Liverpool vessel Marquis of Bute on 20 March 1910.
  • Similarly the Retriever sunk the Spanish ship the Lista at Garston dock on 31 August 1912.

The accident itself

  • Accident Date & Time: 3 November 1916
  • Conditions: Gale force winds from SWS against a strong ebb tide of some 8 knots. Mountainous seas & dark conditions.
  • Retriever Origin: Left Garston @ 4 a.m. on Friday
  • Retriever Destination: Newry
  • Connemara Origin: Left Greenore (her berth) @ 8 p.m.
  • Connemara Destination: Holyhead

The outbound Connemara met the inbound Retriever approximately a half mile beyond the Carlingford bar. The bar in Carlingford is marked by Haulbowline lighthouse. Beyond the bar is the "cut" or channel, which in Carlingford's case, is very narrow being only about 300 yards wide. This lack of space allows for very little manoverability for passing vessels. Both vessels were showing dimmed lights, as for fear of U-boats.[1] Their masters were on their respective bridges. There was no evidence to indicate they were not alert.

The watch at the Haulbowline lighthouse, seeing the ships too close for comfort, fired off rockets in warning.

However the atrocious conditions had caused the Retriever's cargo to list. She was fighting both wind, tide and cargo inertia. She hit the Connemara on the port side penetrating her hull to the funnel. Immediately Master O' Neill reversed engines and the Retriever swung wide. The Connemara however was terribly ripped below the waterline on the port side from bow to amidships. She sank within minutes, her boilers exploding on contact with the cold water.

The Retriever with her bow drove in took about 20 minutes to sink about 200 yards from the Connemara. Her boilers also exploded on contact with the water.

The sole survivor: James Boyle

  • From Summerhill in Warrenpoint
  • He was a fireman on the Retriever
  • Was below deck at the time of the accident
  • A non-swimmer! (sic)
  • He clung precariously to an upturned boat and avoiding being dashed against the rocks
  • Found exhausted by William Hanna (the son of a farmer at Cranfield) and Tom Crutchley
  • 21 at the time of the accident
  • Lived for another 50 years in Warrenpoint
  • Refused to discuss the tragedy until interviewed by television as an elderly man
  • Died: 19 April 1967

The aftermath

  • 97 fatalities
  • 1 sole survivor
  • Shorelines littered with corpses, dead animals and flotsam and jetsam
  • 58 bodies found the next morning
  • The other bodies washed up over the following weeks from Cranfield to Kilkeel
  • Many corpses were badly mutilated & burned (due to the boilers exploding)
  • Unidentified were buried in a mass grave in Kilkeel
  • The inquest was held on 6 November in Kilkeel
  • Coroner and members of the Jury journeyed to the scene of the tragedy to view the wreckage and the bodies that had been collected
  • James Boyle gave his evidence breaking down several times
  • The verdict was death by drowning caused by the collision of the ships

Passengers' stories

There are 97 stories from that night. A very small selection are here:

  • Patrick Conlon, a Dundalk railwayman, was travelling to Wigan with two female cousins - Mrs Lily Fillington (plus her 2 children) and Mrs M. Clarinbroke. His body was initially misidentified as he was wearing the jacked of his brother Tommy.
  • There were many young female victims. They were more than likely travelling over to England to work in the munitions factories during World War 1.
  • Mr Patrick J. Kearney, and his sister, Miss Catherine Kearney, children of the Principal of Drumilly National School, Whitecross were waiting at the Edward St Station in Newry. Mr Kearney had recently completed his training in Waterford for national school teaching, Miss Kearney assisted her father in the school. They were going to meet a married sister who was coming from America. While waiting for the train to Greenore they were told by Sergeant Fitzpatrick, who was always on duty at the station, that the Greenore boat on which they meant to embark might not sail as the night was so rough. After some hesitation Mr Kearney tossed a penny on the Waiting Room table and on an the strength of the result decided to make the journey.

Memorial & poetry

  • In Dublin, the tragedy inspired a 16 year old schoolboy, C.A. McWilliam, to write a poem - The Collision of the Connemara and Retriever
  • On 3 November 1981 the pupils of Kilkeel High School erected a stone memorial in Kilkeel Graveyard in memory of the victims of the tragedy.


  1. Ferguson, Patrick (2008). Troubled Waters. p. 50. ISBN 9781845889128. 

External links

de:Connemara (Schiff)