The sinking of the stout


ANGLING:MY EARLIEST memories of the Guinness boats steaming down the Liffey date back to the early 1950s.

Living close to Stoneybatter, I often took time to stand on Queen Street Bridge as the barges, filled with Guinness barrels, slowly made their way from James’s Gate to Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. I remember clearly the skipper standing beside the open wheelhouse in his navy blue polo-neck jumper, captain’s hat and pipe. Standing close to the red funnel was important because of the high tide. This necessitated lowering the funnel at each bridge which, in turn, caused a huge billow of smoke. The skipper always had a smile and a wave before he would disappear for a few moments under the white cloud.

On arrival at the quayside at Butt Bridge, the barrels were hoisted onto the Lady Graniaor Gwendolen Guinnesscargo vessels for transport to Liverpool. A memorable occasion for me at the time was a tour of the Grania by a family friend and engineer on the vessel.

These memories were rekindled recently with the discovery of the first Guinness merchant vessel sunk almost 100 years ago in the Irish Sea. The vessel, still showing deck features and lying seven miles east of the Kish Bank, was sunk by a German torpedo in 1917.

Earlier this year, the RV Celtic Voyager, while on a mapping survey for Infomar – a project run by the Marine Institute and Geological Survey of Ireland – discovered the wreck by towed sidescan sonar.

The WM Barkleyset sail from Dublin, bound for Liverpool with a cargo of “hogshead” barrels of the company’s world-famous stout. The ship had a displacement of some 569 gross tons unladen and was the first Irish merchant ship to be “defensively armed” with guns against attack by the German navy. Unfortunately, the deadly attack that sank her came from below the waves. On the night of October 12th, 1917, the WM Barkleywas torpedoed without warning by the German submarine UC-75, a small mine-laying submarine equipped with 18 mines, seven torpedoes and a deck gun. The ship broke in two and sank, taking with her four men, including the captain.

Survivors took to the lifeboats. As survivor Thomas McGlue described: “We saw the U-boat astern. I thought she was a collier. There were seven Germans in the conning tower. We hailed the captain and asked him to pick us up. He asked us the name of our boat, the cargo she was carrying, who the owners were and where she was registered. He spoke better English than we did . . . He said we could go . . .”

Left alone in the darkness and surrounded by barrels of stout, they put out a sea anchor after a failed attempt to row for the Kish lightship. They were finally rescued by a passing collier, the Donnet Head, and arrived back in Dublin port to a warm fire, dry clothes and brandy.

“As the first Guinness-owned ship, the WM Barkleyplayed an important role in the story of the transportation of Guinness beer overseas,” said Guinness archivist Eibhlin Roche.

A scale model of the WM Barkleyis on display in the Transport Gallery of Guinness Storehouse, commemorating the lives of the men who perished and those who survived, and illustrating how this piece of history was brought to light with cutting-edge technology.

Viewing the imagery of the shipwreck recently, Minister for Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte said: “I am delighted to note the valuable work being carried out under the Infomar project. These images from the deep reveal a unique view of part of Ireland’s marine heritage.”