Dedication

Dedicated to the memory of
The fishermen who drowned
On 28th October 1927,
To their families, and all those
Who lost their lives at sea,
In search of a living.

Foreword

Sea and water tragedies have long had a special resonance in Society. One only has to think of Eanach Cuan or the Sean nos song Currachai na Tia Baine or even the fascination with the Titanic to appreciate this.

The Cleggan Bay disaster was another such tragedy, which has since it happened, been part of the folklore of Connemara. Indeed Walter Macken wove the disaster and its terrible consequences into his book Rain on the Wind.

Sea disasters are often filled with pathos due to their unexpectedness and their manifestation of the terrible and awesome power of the elements. Looking at the sea on a calm day, it is hard to imagine the ferocity of the storm and its consequences. It was exactly this set of circumstances that led to the horrendous Cleggan Bay disaster, the effects of which are still felt in the Rossadilisk (Cleggan) district and on neighbouring Inishbofin lsland.

As the 75th anniversary of the disaster approaches, it is fitting that a book has been written on the subject, while people are still alive who have an intimate knowledge of what happened. That a young person from the area, Marie Feeney, would undertake this project is a tribute to how the memory of this terrible day is still alive in the area.

Her research, both local and national, has been thorough and mixes documentary records with local memory. While giving an accurate account of the facts, she manages to convey the scale of the human tragedy involved.

The book also records similar tragedies on the same night, off the Inniskea islands and Lacken in North Mayo, giving a feel for the common vulnerability of coastal communities eking a living from fishing in a battle against the seas.

National history is often the accumulation of local events woven in a pattern. The Cleggan Bay disaster was one of these events, which stirred the conscience of the nation and prompted Government action.

This comprehensive recording of the event and its aftermath, complete with photographs, is due to the diligence and interest of Marie Feeney in recording for posterity this terrible tragedy; best summed up in the lament by Agnes Lynam, a young widow, which concludes with the lines.

My man is gone. he is young to die
And I am left alone, mavrone.

Éamon Ó Cuiv, T.D.,
Aire Stait

Introduction

The small fishing village of Cleggan and its offshore neighbour, the island of Inishbofin, share a history that has been shaped, in large degree, by their location. Poised on the jagged western edge of Ireland, in the shadow of mountains that rise abruptly from the sea, the two communities have been honed by salt-laden winds, pounding Atlantic waves and a moist oceanic climate. Before the advent of modern roads and communication systems, the spectacular landscape of bogs, mountains and lakes formed a natural barrier between Connemara and the rest of the country. Self-reliance, resourcefulness, close knit family ties and a strong religious faith were their bulwarks against the relentless challenges of living in such a harsh environment.

This is the story of one fateful night in the life of those two communities – a night that changed the course of local history and had repercussions for decades afterwards. Although it is the story of one specific maritime strategy in the west of Ireland, it is one that will strike familiar chords in small fishing communities, not only around the coast of Ireland, but anywhere that people pit their wits and strength against weather and ocean. It will evoke particular memories in the inhabitants of Inniskea and Lachan Bay in County Mayo, for whom the night of October 28th 1927 was also one of great horror and tragedy.

My own interest in this part of our local heritage comes from the fact that my grandfather, Festy Feeney, was one of the survivors from Rossadilisk (Cleggan). From a very early age I learned about him and his life from Festy Lacey (RIP), another elderly man from Rossadilisk who acted as my substitute grandfather. Much has been written and told about the Cleggan Bay Disaster, and I am very grateful to all those who have helped me with my research by sharing their memories with me.

Times have changed and, thanks to modern technology, improved infrastructure and efficient rescue services such as the RNLI, the number of such tragedies has considerably decreased. Fishing is no longer the mainstay of coastal communities, which now depend on new sources of income such as tourism. For many of today’s generation, events like the Cleggan Bay Disaster of 1927 are wrapped in the mists of local folklore. Eyewitnesses to that terrible night are rapidly disappearing with the passage of time. I hope that in some small way this book will serve as a tribute to all those who lost their lives and to all who were left behind to carry on.

I would like to extend special thanks to all those who contributed to the publishing of this book: Michael and Marion Feeney; Bridie Mulkerrins; Minister Éamon Ó Cuív, TD; Sinead Flaherty; Maureen Davin; Amy Loughlin; Brian O’Donnell; Mary Ruddy; The Ryan (Murray) family, Westport; Noel Schofield; Mary Lavelle; Kieran Concannon; Marie Coyne; Oliver Coyne; John, Neill and David Stenston; Eddie Devane; Phyllis O’Donaghue; Agatha Burke; Cormac Ó Cionnaith; Hugh Musgrave; Deirdre Shanahan; Pamela Lacey; John Hughes AIB Clifden; Paddy FitzPatrick; Pádhraic Ó Láimhin; Frank McMullan A.F.A.I.P.; John Abeyta and Ann Prendergast.

John O’Halloran and Dr. Evelyn Musgrave died before the publication of this book, but both contributed a great deal to it, and welcomed me into their homes with open hearts.

My gratitude goes to the National Archives; Connacht Tribune and Caonnacht Sentinel; Irish Independent; Irish Times; Mayo News; Island House, Galway; National Census Board; Inishbofin Development Association Committee and all those who contributed photographs and drawings.

The author and publishers would be most grateful for any errors or omissions to be brought to their attention in order that they may be corrected in the next edition.

Marie Feeney

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