The 1856 Fishing Tragedy at Knockadoon

This is the story of possibly the worst fishing related accident to occur in Knockadoon – the loss of five men to the sea in the summer of 1856.

At 6am on Wednesday morning, August 20th 1856, five men and their fishing boat set off from Barry’s Cove for the purpose of hauling their nets (the concrete slipway in Knockadoon didn’t exist at this time). There was a heavy sea and a north-easterly wind blowing. Not a single member of the crew would return alive.

According to newspaper reports at the time, the boat and crew were seen by witnesses on the shore between 7am and 8am that morning, and were in the process of hauling their nets. The sea was rolling and the north-easterly wind was now blowing hard. According to the witnesses, what happened next was to decide the fate of the men – their boat suddenly capsized in the heavy sea.

Three of the men managed to rest on the keel of the upturned boat, and the other two were seen to use the heavy wooden oars of their fishing boat to attempt to support themselves in the water. The men on the keel were seen to call for assistance and attempt to signal to those on the shore that urgent help was needed.

On the shore, the crew of another boat who had just put in, Jeremiah McCarthy, Michael Barry, and John Sheehan attempted to gallantly re-launch their own fishing vessel and reach the men in distress. Ultimately, their brave efforts failed and the men narrowly avoided being drowned themselves in the worsening conditions.

Those on the shore watched helplessly, as their friends and neighbors were lost to the sea. The men on the oars disappeared after a short time, and the men on the keel were eventually beaten off by the terrible conditions. Some time later, their empty boat was driven on to the rocks at Knockadoon and smashed to pieces. It was reported in newspapers of the time that two of the bodies of the men washed ashore that day, but it is unclear when/if the others were recovered from the sea. An inquest was held on the following Friday at Castlemartyr by Henry Barry, coroner for the district, with a verdict of ‘Found drowned‘ being recorded for the men.

The following are the details of the men who drowned, as reported by the Cork Reporter at the time:

William Ahern – aged 47, leaving a wife and three children.

William Barry – aged 45, leaving a wife and five children.

William Lynch – aged 45, leaving a wife and six children.

Garret Barry and Daniel Barry – brothers aged 23 and 20 respectively, reported as leaving an aged mother and father.

Reports of the tragedy at Knockadoon carried widely in both national and international newspapers of the time. Later, an appeal was made to support the families of the deceased fishermen.

Report carried in the Cork Constitution, September 4th 1856

It is a wonder we don’t have some sort of simple memorial to these men at Knockadoon in the form of a plaque or similar. Such a tragic accident should not be lost to the ages.

References and Further Information

Kilkenny Journal, and Leinster Commercial and Literary Advertiser, August 27th 1856

Cork Constitution, September 4th 1856