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29 May 2022

Trip Through Time: The Dundalk Storm of April 1858

Trip Through Time: The Dundalk Storm of April 1858

The past week has been the anniversary of the wreck of barque Mary Stoddart on the sands off the South Bull of the entrance to Dundalk Harbour which resulted in the deaths of nine persons.

This story is well known in Dundalk because of the Monument to Captain James Kelly at Roden Place which also happens to be the terminal for the Blackrock Bus service where countless Dundalk secondary school children have gathered in the afternoons for generations to board buses to get home in the evenings.

A place where, no doubt, many romantic relationships were formed that have led the establishments of many families both at home and abroad.

This storm, which is described in the Shipwreck Inventory of Ireland as 'one of the worst storms to have hit the coastlines of County Louth', began on Tuesday April 6 and did not subside until the following Sunday.

During the period heroic efforts were made from various launching sites to rescue the 17 crew of the stricken vessel but, unfortunately nine of them died and four of the rescuers, including Captain Kelly whose body was not found until the following June, all died.

What is less known is that a second vessel the Dutch galliot (a small vessel, rounded fore and aft, with flat bottom), the Gebroeder Zelling, with a cargo of wheat, on route from Rostock (on the Baltic then in Germany) to Douglas on the Isle of Man was also driven ashore in Dundalk Bay in same storm.

This vessel went aground near the mouth of the River Fane, not far from where the Mary Stoddard was stranded, but, almost miraculously, the entire crew (the Inventory does not say how many) were able to walk ashore at low tide.

Another curious fact about this shipwreck, recorded in the Inventory, was that 'the cargo and some of the wreck sold at the German Embassy in Dundalk. Loss on vessel £1,200'.

Now, how did they manage to salvage a wheat cargo in those conditions and where exactly was that Embassy?

I have often wondered why the crew of the Mary Stoddard were unable to wade to the shore at low tides but, then, its shallower draft may have enable the galliot to get nearer to the shore?

Thoughts on a Late Easter

Easter Sunday this year is later than usual, just a week before its latest possible date on April 25 - the earliest occurring on March 24, although, in theory, it could happen on March 21.

Easter Sunday in 1858 occurred on April 4; so the Mary Stoddard tragedy happened during Easter Week.

Easter was also late in 1916, starting on Easter Monday April 25 that year.

There used to be an old belief in Ireland that a late Easter was unlucky. I hope that proves to be wrong this time around.

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