The 8th of March 2023 marked the 63rd anniversary of the grounding of the ship the merchant vessel (M.V.) Plassy on the Finnis Rock, located at Inisheer Island in the county of Galway. The ship is not well known today, but once found fame on television in the opening credits of the hit series Father Ted.
The Limerick Steamship Company
The Plassy was owned by the Limerick Steamship Company. The company itself dated back to 1893 but by the time of the 1960s, there were only limited ships in the fleet. Five of these had Irish place names.
These were the Plassy, Derrynane, Dromineer, Mulcair and Galtee. These ships often traded between European ports such as Liverpool, Antwerp and Rotterdam but would also carry goods domestically to Ireland to places like Sligo, Westport, Fenit, Galway and Limerick.
The ships carried a distinctive red and black hull with the red hiding beneath the water line. The funnel itself was black but also featured a wide red stripe on it with a narrow white stripe visible just below.
The Plassy herself was a huge ship. She weighed approximately 585 tons (530 tonnes), was the first motor vessel acquired by the Limerick Steamship Company and was registered in London. To put the weight into context, an average car weighs approximately 1.5 tons (1.4 tonnes). The ship likely weighed as much as 400 cars.
The ship was originally designed to be an armed steamship trawler for the Admirality in WW2. It was built in Yorkshire in 1941 by Cook, Welton and Gemmell. The original name of the ship was the H.M.S. Juliet.
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However, once the second World War had ended, the ship was converted. By 1947, the Juliet became a vessel cargo ship and an extra hatch was added. The Juliet became the Peterjon.
She served this purpose for 4 years until the Limerick Steamship Company bought her in 1951 and renamed the ship to the Plassy. It traded as a tramp ship and basically went wherever the cargo needed to go.
This saw the Plassy visiting areas such as South Africa, Greece, Finland, Russia and Iceland. The Plassy was then converted into a chilled boat with insulated hatches. This allowed for the transportation of fish and fruit.
Usually with a crew of around 11 people, the Plassy would voyage to places all across Europe and Africa. One such journey saw the ship carry fish from Lobito in Angola to Genoa in Italy.
Everything seemed to be going well until one fateful day in March 1960. The Plassy replaced the Derrynane as it was in dry dock, taking over the Liverpool to Fenit to Galway run.
The first part of the run went seamlessly. The Plassy discharged the cargo of steel in Fenit and was sent to go to Galway with general goods for that county. The voyage was estimated to take around 12 to 14 hours.
On Monday 7th March, the Plassy headed for the Kerry Head and crossed into the Shannon Estuary as was normal. However, the Plassy then passed the next stage the Loop Head by about 3 to 4 miles and altered its direction towards County Clare.
It seems like the plan was to pass through the area known as the South Sound. Unfortunately, the weather was atrocious and the winds were reaching gale forces of 9.
The South Sound, the Rock and the Aftermath
On Tuesday Morning, the watch on the boat was changed. They were on the lookout for the light from the lighthouse on Black Head near the Clare coast. Due to the time in the morning, it was pitch black and there were heavy showers of rain thrashing against the boat.
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The ship was tossing and pitching on the waves. What made this more terrifying is that the crew knew that somewhere nearby was the Finnis Rock. This was a flat limestone plateau which was barely covered by the sea and stretches around three quarters of a mile from the shore. The crew were attempting to combat the drift but were up against the harsh weather conditions.
But it was all in vain: as recorded in the ship logs, at 5:10am, there was a grinding and tearing of metal as the ship hit the Finnis Rock. The ship had been heading steadily towards it with a view to passing it safely, but was unable to outdrive the storm.
A hole was torn on the bottom of the ship and water began to pump into the engine room. The ship lost power and the lights went out. A distress message was sent from the captain with the words: taking water fast, abandoning ship”. The gale force winds continued to throw the ship against the rock and further damaging it.
Whilst much of the crew were able to survive, there was a fear about the cargo it was carrying. A local businessman, Mr J. Sweeney, began to fund the salvaging from the Plassy only two weeks after the crash.
Much of the cotton that had been on board was washed away but some had washed ashore. Other items that were saved included whisky, lawn mowers, hand basins and copper tubing. Whilst there, the Limerick Steamship Company evaluated their wreck and believed that the Plassy was unsavable.
It remains there today; it sits high and dry on the rocks as it was washed further and further inland. The spring tides combined with high seas and horrific storms have kept it from washing in the sea.
It remains a constant warning to those travelling those dangerous seas. In addition to this warning, there is now the Finnis Rock buoy that lights up with 3 flashes every ten seconds. In the daytime, the buoy can be seen through its black and yellow paint work. It has become such a significant landmark that the producer of Father Ted needed to use it in their opening credits.
Top Image: The M.V. Plassy on Finnis Rock. Source: Jjm596 / CC BY-SA 4.0.
By Kurt Readman