Remembering the heroic efforts of the Quilty Fishermen in 1907.
The French sail ship Leon XIII had reached the Irish coast off Loop Head and was about to enter the Shannon Estuary to complete her voyage from America with a cargo of wheat onboard when a massive storm blew up.
It was September 30th 1907.
The ship lost its rudder and began to be swept onto large reefs off Quilty.
Eventually she struck the reefs with force and was broken in two against the sharp rocks.
The Captain (Lucas) broke his leg as the stern submerged, and his crew of 22 were left clinging precariously to its foredeck.
On October 1st the ship was seen by the people of Quilty, but the seas were too rough to launch any type of rescue attempt.
That night every home in Quilty put a candle by their windows .It was a simple communication but it gave the lost sailors a tiny shred of hope that their plight was known.
By dawn the next morning it was clear that the waves were not abating.The storm was going nowhere.
Even though the Leon XIII was only about 250 yards (229 metres approx) from the shore of Quilty, it was impossible to reach the crew, such was the power of the waves and the presence of jagged reefs.
A large crowd had gathered to view the shipwreck.The sailors wouldn’t survive another night at sea.
Coastguards attempted to launch a timber keeled vessel in a rescue effort, but it capsized ,one of them nearly drowned in the process.
Two French sailors attempted to rescue themselves and successfully launched a raft.
Their fellow sailors watched in horror as the small lightweight raft began to blow out to sea.
Quilty Fishermen John Connors, John Clancy and Tom Stack launched a currach (type of canoe-like small Irish boat with a wooden frame over which animal skins or hides were once stretched ) to rescue the two French sailors.
They succeeded in the first rescue.
It took them one hour.
Four more currach’s were launched ,one unfortunately overturned ,which saw the men rescue their own.
In Captain Lucas’ report he wrote of the rescue by the Quilty Fishermen.
” It was an experience I shall never forget.The bravery of those Clare rescuers will live in my memory .How can I speak of it in terms that it will properly describe its magnificent character. Those Clare men, they are brave, they put out their little canoes time after time and the waves rolled over them and seemed to engulf them.At one moment they rode over the white crests buoyantly and bravely, another moment they were plunged down into a great valley of water .We on the wreck said ” All is over” but on they came nothing daunted, but why they should come in the teeth of such a tremendous sea can only be explained by their own intrepid instinct; for it seemed they had no earthly chance of getting us away from the wreck in these little currach’s”
13 sailors were rescued by the Quilty Fishermen.The Captain and the rest of the crew were rescued the following day by the naval vessel,HMS Arrogant.
The whole incident had lasted nearly 3 days.
The whole crew of 22 (plus the Captain) survived.
They were all taken to Pat Taltys Hotel in Quilty village, which was later named The Leon.
The bravery of the impoverished Quilty Fishermen made national headlines.
They were even given a parade in Dublin in December of 1907.It was such a feel good story of triumph over adversity.
Meanwhile in Quilty poor villagers began to collect the wrecked Leon’s timber as it finally washed ashore, two months after the ship was wrecked.
There were poems written about the sinking of the Leon and songs too. And a kind of legend grew up around the bravery of the men from Quilty.It is noted that both young and old Fishermen alike had risked their own lives that October of 1907 for strangers lost at sea.
While the Press made the most of touting such bravery, the people of Quilty still didn’t have their own place of worship.
There had been past proposals of a church to be built in the village for years but unfortunately, no funds for provisions or land were available.
There was an appeal to the French Government after the rescue to finally make it happen (an appeal for funds to build a church to thank these God fearing, brave Quilty Fishermen) but it fell “on deaf ears”.
So it was up to Quilty “friends abroad” and in Ireland, who had read the story of the rescue, to dig deep.
A Trust was eventually set up.And two funds formed, one for the Fishermen’s material needs and also for the provisions needed to build a church.
A site for the church was given by a Mr Haren and then work started.
Locals helped in the building of the church.
Stones and sand from pits were given free by their owners.
The bare walls of the church cost £895 and the round tower £100.
Quilty church was completed in 1911.
It was blessed by the Bishop of Killaloe, Dr Fogarty and dedicated to ” Our Lady Star Of The Sea” on the 9th of October 1911.
Those who took part in the rescue had their names engraved on a large stone flag over the churches southern entrance.
The bell from the Leon XIII, which was first heard tolling in distress throughout the district in late September 1907, was found at an Auction in London years after the rescue .It was presented to the Star Of The Sea church and is there today.
I’ve posted a group photo of the Quilty Fishermen of 1907…And then two close ups of the group.
The image of the Leon XIII is there too
Sources: Irish Times, Coast Guards of yesteryear,Clare Museum,