Ship's exotic cargo may be pirates' haul


A LEADING marine archaeologist has described as “absolutely incredible” some of the initial exotic findings on a shipwreck recently discovered off the west Cork coast.

South sea coconuts and Iberian pottery have so far been recovered by Julianna O’Donoghue and her underwater archaeology team from the wreck, which may have been a pirate ship dating from the late 16th or 17th century.

The uncharted vessel was located last month during archaeological monitoring of dredging for the Schull waste water treatment plant. The monitoring is requested by the National Monuments Service underwater archaeology unit as a condition of planning and foreshore licensing.

This precaution has already led to the location of other previously unrecorded craft, such as the Gormanston logboat in Co Meath, and wrecks in Duncannon, Co Waterford, on the river Boyne in Co Louth, and Inishbofin off the Galway coast. An exclusion zone was placed around the site in Schull and dredging work was suspended while Ms O’Donoghue assessed the wreck, with the co-operation of Cork County Council.

Her team retrieved many ship’s timbers, barrel staves, Iberian pottery and several of the coconuts, which may have been part of a cargo or part of crew victuals.

Ms O’Donoghue told The Irish Times that very little was known of the ship’s origins: it could have dated from the 1588 Spanish Armada period; it could have been a trader that was blown off course; or it could have been a pirate ship.

The west Cork harbour of Baltimore was raided by Algerian pirates who carried off prisoners in 1631. “The shipwreck is absolutely incredible,” she said. “I am astounded by the recovery of such exotic finds which may be the earliest appearance of coconuts in Ireland.”

As the wreck is over 100 years old, it is protected under the National Monuments Act and a licence is required to dive on it.