River Disaster 150 Years Ago — Anach Cuain Wreck Found by Divers?
An Curad Connachtach, Friday, September 22, 1978
An exciting discovery which may unravel a mystery that has baffled historians and local people in Annaghdown for 150 years, has been made by a team of divers from the Galway Sub Aqua Club.
Until two months ago the dark depths of the River Corrib have hidden the secret of the ill—fated Caisleán Nua which sank long September 4, 1828 after leaving Annaghdown Pier for Galway, claiming the lives of nineteen people.
The tragedy was later to become the subject of one of the most famous poems in the Irish language, "Anach Chuain" by Antoin Raifteiri.
But now, exactly 150 years later, divers from the Galway Sub Aqua Club are confident that they have discovered the wreck of the boat which could finally reveal why the tragedy occurred.
According to the September 6, 1828 edition of the "Galway Advertiser" the tragedy when, "an old row boat", in a rotten and leaky condition, started from Annaghdown early on Thursday morning, September 4, a distance from Galway up Lough Corrib, of about eight miles, having, it is calculated, about thirty one persons on board, who were coming to the fair of Fairhill.
The boat and passengers proceeded without obstruction until they arrived opposite Bushypark, within two miles of the town, when she suddenly went down and all on board perished except twelve persons who were fortunately rescued from their perilous situation by another boat.
Since the tragedy it has never been established just what caused the boat to sink, although the most popular theory has been that one of the sheep being brought to the fair put his hoof through a plank, somebody tried to plug the hole with a coat but only succeeded in knocking out the plank.
The women on board are believed to have panicked causing the boat to lift and take in water which hastened its journey to the bottom, causing one of the worst and most mysterious drowning tragedies in Irish history.
Even today local people in Annaghdown are unwilling to discuss the tragedy or to disclose the name of the owner of the boat.
Two months ago, however, members of the Galway Sub Aqua Club, in co—operation with the Annaghdown Anglers Club, carried out an intensive search of the area where the boat is believed to have gone down.
At first all the divers found were what they thought were planks from the boat, but at a point one hundred yards up river from Menlo Pier they discovered what they now believe to be part of the main structure of the boat.
One of the divers, Mr. Ray Raftery said that the team were convinced that they had found the remains of the boat because of the width of the boards.
Said Mr. Raftery:
What we found were the ribs of the boat with ballast in the form of large stones. The structure measures about ten to fifteen feet in width but we are unable to raise it from the bottom of the river.
We are convinced that the structure we have found must belong to the Caisleán Nua because a boat with ribs of that width must have measured about forty feet in length as did the Caisleán Nua, and there is no record of another boat of that length going down in the area.
At the moment we have no immediate plans to search for one main structure of the boat, but if we were to get financial assistance from some quarter to search for the remainder of the boat and bring it to the surface we would consider it to be an ideal winter project.
However, we would need special equipment to recover the ribs we have found as they are in a very delicate condition after being underwater for a period of 150 years.
Meanwhile, the divers' claim has been substantiated by a fisherman in Menlo. Mr. Padraig Creaven told The Connacht Tribune yesterday that he had found the anchor, chain and shackle of the boat not far from where the divers had made their discovery.
Said Mr. Creaven:
While fishing some years ago the anchor, chain and shackle got caught in one of my nets not far from Menlo village. I knew from their size that they had come from a boat the size of the Caisleán Nua.
Also the figures 18 were cut into the anchor and that could mean the year that the anchor was made. The size of the shackle which attaches the chain of the anchor to the boat also suggests that it came from a boat of about forty feet in length.
At the moment the anchor is being used on a boat in Clarenbridge but there would be no trouble in tracing it if anyone was ever interested in reconstructing the boat.