ong before GG started raiding the archives and compiling seemingly endless photo galleries, Derek and Gary Paine were painstakingly pulling together volume after volume of local history.
And now, four years after the passing of his father, Gary continues to dig deep into Greystones’ past, going far beyond the faded photograph and way down into the footnotes.
Which is where you can really unearth the finer details of times gone by, something that anyone who grabbed Derek’s 2018 book, A Pictorial History Of Greystones & Its Coastal Environs 1760 to 2018, will already know.
Here, to mark the 110th anniversary of the two-day storm that would prove a major tipping point for Greystones’ harbour, Gary takes a leaf or two out of that book.
Where, of course, you’ll find all the finer details of this remarkable story. Over to Gary…
One hundred and ten years ago today, Wednesday 12th October 1910 would prove to be a seminal moment in the commercial history of Greystones harbour, a tipping point which lead to a secular decline in coal imports.
As the old photos reveal, Greystones harbour was hit by one of the severest storms in decades and over the ensuing 48 hours, three coal vessels trapped in the harbour suffered substantial damage.
The Bray & South Dublin Herald reporting on the event noted that ‘Greystones at any time, owing to its dilapidated and dangerous condition, is anything but a safe harbour, but with the north-east gale on this occasion, it was simply a death trap for any craft moored within its precincts, as it was exposed to the full fury of the storm’.
It was common for up to three coal vessels to tie alongside the pier at any one time and, unluckily, this was case as the storm struck. The vessels concerned were the schooner Velinheli of Greystones along with two chartered ketches, Reciprocity and Federation, both of Widnes. All three were operated by Arthur Evans [below, left], Greystones’ foremost schooner owner and coal importer of the late 19th and early 20th century, running his coal business from Wavecrest [right] near the top of the old boat slip. His main coal yard was to the rear of The Beach House.
The newspaper report noted that by high tide on the Thursday morning, ‘tremendous seas were breaking over the pier, the vessels, which were moored alongside one another, were tossed about like matchwood’.
The men initially remained aboard, but seeing the precarious position they were in, the crews of the Velinheli and the Federation scrambled from one vessel to the other. Making their way along the bowsprit which overhung the pier, they jumped ashore to safety. The crew of the Reciprocity declined to follow suit and, as she was laden with coal, she was driven under the stern of the Velinheli where she sank. Her crew then clambered up her rigging and onto the Velinheli, by now half-submerged. With several hundred residents looking on, the Greystones coast guards, under the command of the station officer, Mr McCarthy, successfully got a line to the Velinheli by means of firing the Manby mortar rocket lifesaving apparatus. Within four minutes and to the cheers of the onlookers, the crew were brought safely ashore.
Writing in 1986, Dr. Leslie Doyle noted that ‘the Velinheli particularly was part of the Greystones folklore in the two decades before 1910, the final 20 years of the golden age of the harbour area’. She was the workhorse for Arthur Evans’ coal import business for more than two decades, helping keep the home fires of Greystones burning. Now badly damaged, with her aft, port and starboard bulwarks sheared off, she proceeded to Arklow for urgent repairs before resuming her coal imports to Greystones.
The main fall-out from the October 1910 storm however was that from this date onwards, marine insurance cover was unavailable for schooners sailing to Greystones, leading to a substantial decline in the tonnage of coal imported. Schooner owners struggled on and Arthur Evans, whose coal imports peaked at 2,600 tons in 1907, saw his tonnage fall by over 1,000 tons to around 1,500 tons by 1914 as the lack of insurance cover restricted the number of sailings.
The Velinheli’s luck finally ran out, when, on 27th January 1915, laden with coal, bound for yet another trip across the Irish Sea, she became an innocent World War One victim. At the mouth of the Mersey, with all vessels sailing without lights due to the German U-Boat threat, she was rammed and sunk by the 2,183-ton SS Laertes – but not before her crew of three, along with the ship’s cat, were rescued.
Alas the compensation received by Arthur Evans ran to only one eighth of the Velinheli’s true value, so she was not replaced. The honour of being the last recorded Greystones schooner owner to import coal under sail into Greystones harbour fell to William H. Dann [left], the then owner of The Beach House. On 25th September 1916, his schooner, Joseph Fisher, entered Greystones harbour for the last time carrying coal from Garston. With the condition of the harbour continuing to deteriorate, coupled with a new crane having recently been installed on the quay in Wicklow, the latter became her new port of call.
Ironically, she too, just like the Velinheli, fell victim to German U-Boat activity when she was torpedoed and sunk within eyesight of Greystones, 16 miles north east of the Codling Bank by U-Boat UB 64 on 15th September 1918.
Get the full story in Gary Paine’s fascinating book, which is available to order for €35 plus postage online here, or at Greystones Antiques. You can view the pics above in hi-res here, check out our 2018 interview with Gary here.
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