Ireland’s geographic location on the north-western flank of Europe – and last port of call before America – has meant many great ships down through the centuries have sailed its coastal waters.
Of these ships, whether carrying the ambitions of an eighteenth century imperial power, nineteenth century emigrants looking for the new world or twentieth century middle and upper class passengers cruising between continents, many would never reach their destination. Now, as consequence of both bad and good fortune, Irish waters have accumulated an incredible range of shipwrecks.
Check out six of these fascinating ships below
1. RMS Lusitania
The RMS Lusitania was one of the largest most luxurious cruise liners of her day. On the 7th of May 1915 she was nearing the end of what would be her final voyage from New York to Liverpool. About 11 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale she was fired upon by the German submarine U-20. A single torpedo struck the starboard bow and an explosion erupted within the hull. The ship began to list steeply and within 18 minutes the Lusitania was gone. The loss of life that day was tremendous with only 767 of the 1960 on board surviving.
Several diving expeditions were undertaken to find the wreck and on 6th October 1935, after three months of searching, the Lusitania wreck was located. Today the wreck is under private ownership of Greg Bemis, a retired venture capitalist who acquired it in the 1960’s. He has since mounted several dive expeditions to the site to recover artifacts from the wreck and try uncover the mystery of the second explosion.
Date of wreck: 7th May 1915
Location: 12 miles off Old Kinsale Head, Cork
2. RMS Tayleur
The RMS Tayleur was to be the pride of the White Star Line, but her maiden voyage was doomed to end in tragedy. On the 19th of January 1854 she left Liverpool and headed towards Australia with 650 passenger, including crew, who were hoping to set up new lives and seek fame and fortune in the gold rush. But her design was flawed and problems with the navigation allowed her to drift off course. Deep in the fog she headed west instead of south, straight for the perilous rocks of Lambay island. They noticed too late and the collision was unavoidable. The ship struck the rocks and sank taking with her 350 passengers.
Date of wreck: 19th January 1854
Location: 30m off the South-East corner of Lambay Island
3. SS Gairsoppa
Launched in 1919 the SS Gairsoppa was a British steam merchant vessel, she had a long career and served in World War 2. On the 16th of February 1941 the Gairsoppa had been travelling with a convoy when she took a detour, making her way to Galway to refuel. A German U Boat fired upon her and she went down about 300 miles southwest of Galway with 85 men and a cargo full of silver bullion.
The wreck was discovered in 2011 and an operation began to recover the cargo with an estimated value of £150 million. In July 2013 the US ship Odyssey Marine Exploration recovered 48 tons of silver, making it one of the largest and heaviest recoveries of precious metal from a shipwreck.
Date of wreck: 16th of February 1941
Location: 300 miles southwest of Galway
4. HMS Audacious
HMS Audacious was a battleship of the Royal Navy, although she never saw any combat and served as a wartime anchorage for training and gunnery practice. Only 14th months into service, on the 27th October 1914 she was hit by a German naval mine off the northern coast of Tory island. She began to list and water spread throughout the engine’s compartments, as she headed for land the engines failed. RMS Olympic, sister ship to the Titanic, came to her aid to tow the vessel but their efforts were in vain and the tow parted. By nightfall the ship had capsized and sank.
Date of wreck: 27th October 1914
Location: 15 miles from Malin Head
5. Spanish Armada
In August of 1588 a fleet of 130 ships, known as the Spanish Armada, sailed from A Coruña with plans to invade England. They were met with resistance and clashed with the English at the Battle of Gravelines. They were defeated and driven back to the North Sea. They attempted to return home but were driven from their course by violent storms straight towards the west coast of Ireland. At the mercy of the weather 24 ships were wrecked on the rocky coastline and at least 5000 men perished, and those that managed to reach the shore didn’t fare any better. A proclamation was issued saying that harbouring the Spanish castaways was punishable by death.
Date of wrecks: September of 1588
Location: Many along west coast including Clew Bay, Co. Mayo and Streedagh beach, Co. Sligo
6. SS Empire Heritage
SS Empire Heritage started life as Tafelberg, a whaler tanker. It was hit by a mine in January 1941, but the wreck was salvaged, repaired and renamed Empire Heritage by Ministry of War Transport (MoWT). It returned to service in 1943. She was on route from New York to Liverpool when she was torpedoed by the German U Boat U-482 around 15 miles northwest of Malin Head. She was carrying war supplies, Sherman tanks, and other military vehicles.
Date of wreck: 8th September 1944
Location: 15 miles northwest of Malin Head