Newry.ie

Newry Maritime Association recently unveiled a SS Connemara and SS Retriever Heritage Trail to help keep alive the memory of what was Newry's greatest maritime tragedy to date. 94 lives were lost when the two ships collided in treacherous weather conditions on Carlingford Lough, 3 November 1916.

It marks five years of work by the association, and later this month they will unveil a plaque at Cornamuklagh Omeath on the site of the former railway from Newry to Greenore. It's Saturday 25 August, 2.30pm and all are welcome. 

There is a total of 22 stops on the trail from Kilkeel right round to Dundalk and the Maritime Association hope it will add to the tourism available in the area as well as raising awareness of the tragedy.

Members of Newry Maritime Association remember the SS Connemara and SS Retriever tragedy. From left: Colm Curran, Murtagh Duffy, Owen McDonnell, Eamonn Walker, James McArevey and Michael Mallon, Chairman. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Members of Newry Maritime Association remember the SS Connemara and SS Retriever tragedy. From left: Colm Curran, Murtagh Duffy, Owen McDonnell, Eamonn Walker, James McArevey and Michael Mallon, Chairman. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

A guide brochure for the trail  was unveiled at a function in the Sean Hollywood Arts Centre in July. Speaking to elected representatives at the event James McArevey, PRO, Newry Maritime Association spoke of Newry's rich maritime tradition and how it makes our city different   "Lets play to our strengths. The maritime tradition and heritage is what makes Newry different. That's why we are different to Banbridge, to Armagh, to Portadown. We've had 250 years of maritime tradition behind us. This is what this town, now a city is built on. The opening of the Newry Canal in 1742 brought Newry to become a hub of global trade. We had imports and exports from all across the world ... here in this town, and lets remember that, lets be proud about it"

The SS Connemara & SS Retriever Heritage Trail.
The SS Connemara & SS Retriever Heritage Trail.

Today 102 years later the Connemara Retriever tragedy is still the worst tragedy to have impacted on the district with the only witnesses to the tragedy, lighthouse keepers at Haulbowline who set off flares but were powerless to do anything else.

Comparing the immediacy of modern communication to the event in 1916 Mr McAreavy said "This tragedy occurred on a Friday night at around a quarter to nine when the Connemara was sailing out from Greenore to Hollyhead and the Retriever was inward bound for Newry with coal. It was half past nine the following morning before the news filtered through to Greenore, yet it was only three miles away but there was no means of communication remotely like what we have today."

Massforth Tragedy

A Plaque sits in the Nautilis Centre in Kilkeel to remember Captain Paddy O'Neill the Skipper of the Retriever, the Newry registered coal boat belonging to the Clanrye Steamship Company. Captain O'Neill had taken command of the ship following the death of Captain Matt Barry and was living on Merchant's Quay, Newry at the time, though originally from outside Newcastle. When the ship went down that night the bodies of all the 8 crew members on the Retriever were all recovered, but sadly that wasn't the case for many more.

As James McArevey comments "Paddy O'Neills wife was a girl called Margaret Donnan from Newry Street, Kilkeel and when she went out to Massforth for the funerals that day she was following three coffins, her husband Paddy, her only son Joseph and her brother Joseph, so she was walking as a wife, a mother, a sister and buried the three coffins in Massforth."

Drumilly Deaths

Explaining a south Armagh part of the tragedy, Mr McArevey remembered the Kearney family from Drumilly "Packie and Kathleen Kearney, brother and sister, their father was the principal of St Brigid's PS in Drumilly, it was built at the height of the famine, 1846 and they were going to Liverpool to meet a married sister who was coming home from America, her marriage had broken down and she was coming home with her children. They met their inevitable fate when the ship went down and sadly while Packies body was recovered, Kathleen's was never found and there are reports of her father cutting a melancholy figure cycling up and down to Cranfield for years in the vain hope that he might find something to do with Kathleen."

You can find copies of the heritage trail at tourist offices and shops throughout the district.

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