Anglers Plan Anach Chuain

The Connacht Tribune, May 12th , 1978


Annaghdown Angling Club has launched a campaign to erect a memorial to the twenty-one victims of the Anach Chuan boating tragedy 150 years ago.

Club chairman, Mr. Desmond Nolan, B.Sc., recalls the drownings: One hundred and fifty years ago this year some thirty people started an ill-fated journey to Galway. They left Annaghdown and set sail for Galway across Lough Corrib, on a bright calm day. One can well imagine the air of expectancy and joviality on board as they moved gently over the crystal clear water of the lake. The older men discussing the harvest and the price of the sheep at the fair of Cnoc an Dolain, the women chatting about the quality of their wool and woollen garments, whilst the young men and women laughed, sang songs and looked forward to an exciting day in Galway.

There was no road to Galway from Annaghdown in those days, a journey to Galway was similar to a trip to Dublin on the present day Express Train.

As the boat continued its peaceful journey Henry Flanagan, better known as Anrai Mor was making way on foot along the shore to Galway, he had missed the boat to Annaghdown and as a result had to carry more than one hundred weight of oats on his back along the rocky shore and the soft bog.

One could well imagine his feelings as the boat sailed out of his view into the old river Corrib, he had still many miles to carry his heavy load. Later on that day having completed his business he went in search of his friends, poor Henry was told that his friends never reached their destination, the boat had foundered with the loss of twenty-one lives. What had happened, how could such a disaster happen on the River Corrib? These questions and many others must have passed through his mind as he walked sorrowfully to Menlo village.

Village of Sorrow

On arrival at Menlo he beheld a scene of total disarray, people running to and fro, groups of tearful women watching bodies being carried to the local public house, boats being rowed slowly up and down the river as the boatmen searched silently for bodies, little children standing in awe as they viewed the sorrowful scene. Eighteen bodies were brought home to Annaghdown across the lake which only a short while before reflected their joyful faces. The bodies of two of the victims were recovered some days later, one victim was never recovered.

Anrai Mor returned home to scenes of unimaginable sorrow and grief. The bodies were laid out in a house in Muckrush village where all the relations and friends gathered to mourn their great loss. The story of the tragedy was recorded by Raftery in his poem Anach Chuan. As the boat approached Menlo village a sheep put its leg through a plank, a woman who was sitting nearby put her headscarf into the hole to stop the water, one of the men seeing that the water was still getting into the boat removed his waistcoat and pushed it into the hole. To make sure that the coat stayed in position he pressed down on it with his foot but only succeeded in bursting out the plank completely.

Panic broke out as the boat filled with water, of the thirty-one people on board only ten were saved. Two of the heroes of the tragedy, John Cosgrove and Thomas Cahill brought a number of people to safety but were both drowned in their valiant efforts to bring others to safety. John Cosgrove is said to have been drowned when he went on to the rescue of his fiancée. One of the survivors, a lady, told the story of her escape from drowning. When she saw that the boat was sinking she threw her bag of wool out onto the water, jumped into the water herself and held onto the bag of wool and the bow of the boat until she was picked up by boatmen from Menlo village. She lived for more than sixty years after the tragedy and died at the age of one hundred and five.

One hundred and fifty years have passed since the tragedy occurred and in that time no memorial of any type was erected to the memory of those who drowned. The Annaghdown Angling Club whose members have a great love of the lake has decided to commemorate the tragedy by erecting a memorial at the pier in Annaghdown. The unveiling will, because of Raftery’s poem, be of national and local interest. The project has reawakened the interest of many in the history of Annaghdown which can be traced from the time of St. Brendan, the Navigator Circa 550 A.D. to the present. It is not widely known that the Diocese of Annaghdown which is known to have existed from 1171 to 1484 included in the Diocese of Galway including Galway City itself.