Loss of the SS Ardmore

The S.S. Ardmore sailed out of the Port of Cork on the night of Monday 11 November 1940, her destination was Fishguard but she would never make it there, creating a mystery that would not be solved for almost six decades. 

She was the third ship to hold the name, “Ardmore”, belonging to the City of Cork Steam Packet Company (CCSPC), whose office building can still be seen today on Penrose Quay with its distinctive columns and St.George and the Dragon mounted on top. The first Ardmore, built in 1909, had been lost on Nov. 13th 1917, sunk by a German torpedo off the Wexford coast, with the loss of 19 of her 27 crew. The second Ardmorewas built in 1920 for the C.C.S.P.C., but in 1923 she went to the B.and I. Line in Dublin, who renamed her Lady Longford. She spent the rest of her life both with the B.and I. and with the Burns and Laird Co. in Scotland as the Lairdshill, until she was finally broken up at the Hammond Lane Foundry, Dublin, in 1957. 

To replace the second Ardmore in 1923, the Lady Killiney, a Tedcastle ship, came to Cork and was renamed, becoming the third S.S. Ardmore. She was completed in 1921 in the Caledon Yards of Dundee, Scotland, by the Ardrossan Shipbuilding Co. and would have originally been able to accommodate up to 50 passengers, but this area was later taken over for the purpose of allowing more cargo on board. She traded mainly between Cork and Liverpool, primarily as a cattle ship, until 1939 when she began trading on the Cork to Fishguard route. On the day of her final voyage the weather had been particularly bad, with a severe southerly gale blowing, and many ships had remained in port as a consequence Nevertheless the ships Captain, Thomas Ford, made the decision to sail and she left her dock at Penrose Quay at 8 p.m. that evening with her crew of 24 men and a cargo of around 1000 cattle and pigs, and other agricultural produce. 

SS Ardmore
Image kindly reproduced courtesy of salteeislands.info.

Her last reported sightings were off Ballycotton at 10:20 p.m. and just over 30 minutes later she passed Knockadoon Head. She was due into Fishguard the following morning, but never arrived. In the days following her disappearance, air and sea searches along her route could find no trace of her crew or any piece of wreckage from the ship. But over the following couple of weeks some wreckage and livestock were washed ashore both on the Pembrokeshire coast of Wales and on the SalteeIslands, off Co. Wexford. One of her lifeboats was found on the Welsh coast on 26 November and then in December the bodies of Capt. Thomas Ford, Able Seaman Frank O’Shea and Michael Raymond, a cattleman, were found along the Pembrokeshire coastline. None of the bodies of the rest of the crew were ever recovered and mystery surrounded the whereabouts of the wreck or what catastrophe had befallen the ship that she was unable to get off a mayday call before she was lost. In the days immediately after her disappearance, there was a constant stream of relatives of the lost crewmen calling to the company’s offices to find out if there was any news of the ship. 

An article which appeared in the Irish Independent on 15, November 1940 gives us a sense of the grief felt by the families and the general feeling of melancholy that surrounded the city at the time; it began with the following paragraph:
 “Another day has passed without lifting the veil of mystery surrounding the fate of the Cork Steam Packet Company’s Ardmore (473 tons), of which nothing has been heard since Monday night when the vessel left Cork for Fishguard. Throughout the day the offices of the company at 10 Penrose Quay had been visited by streams of relatives of the crew and by persons who had either goods or livestock consigned on the ship.”

 The same day the Cork Examiner carried a detailed article on her disappearance, in which a Mr. Jeremiah Hurley T.D. was quoted as saying:

 “They were men who did their duty fearlessly and had faced the terrors of the deep in order to earn a livelihood for their families. We are all anxiously awaiting news in the hope that our worst fears will not be realised.”

 Unfortunately, as the days went by and no news was forthcoming, all hope was lost for the safe return of the crew. Some time later, while walking along a strand a few miles from WexfordHarbour, a postman found a bottle that contained a few badly scrawled messages on pieces of Gold Flake and Woodbine cigarette boxes, one of which said: “Goodbye to all at home. From M. Ford. Send help quick, ship sinking fast. Ardmore, Cork.”

Although it was generally accepted at the time that she had struck a mine, the mystery of her fate or her whereabouts would not be solved for another 58 years. It wasn’t until 1998 that the wreck of the S.S. Ardmore was officially identified, lying in around 83 feet of water with her mid-ship blown out, a couple of miles south of the Saltee Islands and just under six miles from the harbour at Kilmore Quay, Co. Wexford. She had indeed struck a mine, most probably a magnetic mine, as a few months before her disappearance, on August 8th 1940, a German plane was spotted laying magnetic mines in that general area. It had been divers from Kilmore Quay who had originally discovered the wreck and following a lot of research by Dubliner Peter Mulvany, in conjunction with Eugene Kehoe, one of the divers, she was formally identified. Co-incidentally, her wreck lies not too far from the wreck of the first S.S. Ardmore, which was lost 23 years before, almost to the day. Both were lost during wartime as a result of German aggression, one struck by a torpedo, the other by a mine.

On 25 April 1998 a special mass of remembrance was held in the North Cathedral to honour the crew of the S.S. Ardmore, and to allow the remaining relatives to bring some closure to the tragedy that had befallen their families all those years before. There was a real feeling in the North Cathedral at the time that, while she may have left Cork on that fateful day in November 1940, she was now finally coming home. After the mass, at a reception held in a nearby hotel, the then Minister of State at the Dept. of the Marine, Hugh Byrne, presented family members of each of the crew with medals of valour and certificates. This was done in honour of the supreme sacrifice made by the crew of the S.S. Ardmore.  Shortly afterwards, the relatives had a bronze memorial plaque commissioned and placed on the Penrose Quay side of the Michael Collins Bridge, the spot where the S.S. Ardmore would have docked and where she had left from on that windy November evening 58 years previously.

SS Ardmore Plague Penrose Quay Cork

The Crew.

The 24 man crew were mainly from Cork, but there were also some Englishmen, a Waterford man, a few Dublin men and even a Norwegian, although he was living in Passage West at the time. The following are the names of the crew of the S.S. Ardmore on the night or her sinking: 

Frank Barry Passage West, Cork John Lane  Popham's Road, Cork 
Edward Bruland Passage West, Cork John McGlynn Dublin
John Cronin Spring Lane, Cork Sidney McNally  Liverpool
Bartholemew Desmond  Custom House Street, Cork Patrick O'Donovan Henry Street, Cork
Joseph Dalgarno   Dublin Terry O'Leary Douglas Road, Cork
John Fennel Gurranabraher, Cork John O'Regan  Fort Street, Cork
Patrick Flynn Assumption Road, Cork Frank O'Shea Lower Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork 
Michael Ford   Brown Street, Cork James Power  Blackpool, Cork
Thomas Ford (Capt) Liverpool John Power  Blackpool, Cork
Edwin Hare Dublin  Michael Raymond Farranferris Avenue, Cork
A. Johnson  Liverpool  Patrick Ryan Waterford
John Kelleher  Fairhill, Cork Edward Speed Liverpool
Roger Herlihy is a proud member of the Cork South Parish Historical Society and author of a "A Walk Through the South Parish - Where Cork Begun". He has lived or worked practically all his life in this very historic area of Cork and is passionate about the rich and diverse history of our great city by the Lee. Roger Herlihy

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