Beara survivor’s account of a Boston fishing tragedy

Ever since the Great Famine, the huge emigration from Beara Peninsula was to the United States of America, with many of those emigrants heading for Butte City, Montana, where they found work in the copper mines. However, many of these emigrants, having arrived in Boston, Mass., decided to remain and settle there, and that has been the case of the present time.

In those long years, Beara men have become prominent in politics and other spheres of industry. The likelihood that the late President Kennedy’s great-grandmother hailed from Beara brings in its train nostalgic echoes of the memorable meeting between Dave Powers and Kennedy.

Incidentally, it is noteworthy to record that Dave Powers, who was born at Charleston, Boston, was the son of parents who both emigrated from Beara towards the latter end the 19th century The homestead of the Powers family is situated at Rodeen, Castletownbere.

Their association in fact began away back in the year 1946, when Dave Power, an ex-Air Force veteran, then rendered valuable assistance to the young candidate for Congress, John F Kennedy, when he called at Dave’s home in the Charleston district of Boston and asked him if he would help him in his Senate campaign.

This meeting forged the link of an unbroken friendship between them which deepened and mellowed with the passing years. In later years, Powers came to be known as Kennedy’s ‘coatholder’ and ‘Sancho Panza’, because he spent his life tending to JFK’s career, his widow and his children, and finally, his legacy, as curator of the John F Kennedy Library Museum.

Following Power’s death some years back, Senator Ted Kennedy said in a statement: ‘Jack loved Dave Powers like a brother, and so did all of us the Kennedy family. Jack couldn’t have had the New Frontier without him, and we will miss him very much.’ This week we recall Beara men’s experience of Boston 92 years ago.

On the Sunday morning of July 14 1913, fourteen men set out on a day’s fishing from Pier 7, Charleston Boston (this is the area where Dave Powers was born and lived), in the sloop Alberta under skipper and owner Albert G Ayers, who was Superintendent of the Catholic Sailors ‘ Club of Charleston.

Among the group, who were all friends, were four Castletownbere men, brothers Patrick and John Holland or Houlihan from Derrymihan West, and brothers Michael and Jeremiah O’Neill, Rodeen, as well as two men from Bere Island, Daniel O’Sullivan, Ballynakilla and Jeremiah Crowley from Derrycreeveen.

Two hours after leaving Charleston, they anchored off the Ram’s Head buoy in Broad Sound, where they proceeded to fish. All the sails were down, and although the sea became more choppy and the wind increased to a gale around 2pm., they enjoyed themselves to the uttermost. There was rivalry on board as to who would catch the most fish and Captain Ayers was leading, with John Holland a close second.

At four o’clock the contest came to a close with the captain leading by three silver hake. For an hour they took it easy, still laying at anchor, and at five o’clock preparations were made for the return trip. Storm clouds were hanging low on the horizon as the skipper ordered the sails hoisted.

Daniel O’Sullivan, who was from Ballinkilla and was one of the six men rescued, told the story of their ordeal. ‘With three or four of the men, I helped about the sails in order to start. There was little kick to the wind, but no indications of heavy weather. We had the mainsail set and anchor broke. Some of the men were on the act of raising the jib, when a storm broke and hit the Alberta. Before we knew what had happened , the boat capsized. I was thrown into the water with the rest of the party.

‘As I could swim, I made for the bottom of the overturned craft. I slipped off and around to the other side and grabbed the topmast. I clung on to that until I was rescued. Just before I had been taken on board the boat that rescued me, I lost my senses. The water was very cold and the last thing I remembered was one or two of the party trying to cling onto the slippery bottom of the craft, which was being gradually submerged.

‘It was a case of each man for himself, for it came to such a pass that the waves were sweeping over the Alberta and just when you thought you had a firm grip, you were swept into the water again. Skipper Ayers was at the wheel when the blow hit us. He dis not have a chance to luff her into the wind before the wind struck us on the starboard quarter and blew the boat over as it she was a chip. At the time, I think that there were two of three in the cabin. Following the upset I did not see them again.’

Daniel O’Sulivan and the five other survivors, including Patrick Holland, were carried aboard the vessel Vigilant together with the body of John Holland, which was caught up in the boat ropes by one of the rescue boats, and brought to Boston where over a thousand men, women and children had gathered on the wharf gate.

For over thirty-five minutes a life-giving machine was used on Holland without success. All six survivors recovered.Two of them, Patrick Holland and Jeremiah O’Neill, lost brothers in the catastrophe. Jeremiah Crowley was one of the eight lost. The strong link between Beara and Boston is still strong at the present day with a flourishing Beara Boston Society keeping Beara emigrants in touch with each other and with home.

Courtesy of the Southern Star
9th July 2005