Dr Mike Baldwin : Organologist : Historian : Researcher : Writer : Harp maker : Restorer

of the 
Mizen Head
Encompassing folklore, stories, and oral histories from
Crookhaven, Goleen, Lowertown, Schull, Ballydehob, 
Dunbeacon, Durrus, and Bantry
transcribed and edited by Dr Mike Baldwin
Dunlough Bay

John Downing, aged 72, Brow Head, Crookhaven, Co. Cork, 1936-37

Dulough Bay, situated a few miles westward of Crookhaven Harbour, was in the past one of the most dangerous landfalls on our southwestern seaboard. In the days when there was no warning signals on Mizen Head to apprise mariners of danger ahead, many a good ship finished her last voyage in Dunlough Bay, and many a bold and hard toiler of the sea, found his grave at the bottom of its deep waters. In stormy weather the efforts of the crew to escape the doomed shipwhich is dashed against the inaccessibile cliffs which form the landward side of the bay are absolutely futile; for them there is no chance in the ranging sea and cross current that run with irresistible force along its iron-bound coast.

In the beginning of the 18th century an English troop ship with her crew, and 400 troops, among whom were the soldiers’ wives and children, was dashed to pieces against those cruel cliffs and not one escaped to tell the tale. So it was with many other good and valuable ships that had the misfortune to become embayed between the Mizen Head and Three Castles Heads, and of which there has never been any trace, save the wreckage and damaged merchandise that used, frequently after a storm, be seen floating in the coves and inlets of the neighbourhood.

In January 1881, the Leyland liner, “Bohemian” of Liverpool was lost in Dunlough Bay. This fine steamer with a general cargo from Boston U.S.A. was sunk through a mistaken order given by her captain to the officer on watch when the former left the vessel’s bridge at midnight. They had arrived in sight of Dursey Head steering a course due East, which would take round Mizen Head and on towards the Fastnet Rock, and as there was a strong south-west breeze, the vessel was under sail as well as steam, this being the custom with steamers in those days whenever a fair wind offered. The captain on leaving the bridge gave the order to keep the ship “two points off”, meaning two points of the compass off the land, but his first officer took it to mean off the wind, which was of course blowing towards the land. If the order had been carried out as the captain meant it, the ship’s course would have been E.S.E., a course that would have taken her safely up channel but the chief officer altered the course to E.N.E., with the result that the steamship “Bohemian”, under a full press of canvas and a full head of steam, struck the cliffs in Dunlough Bay, one mile north of Mizen Head. She quickly went to pieces on the rocks, but not before one lifeboat with seventeen men succeeded in getting away. They got around Three Castle Head, a distance of two miles north of them, and gain the comparative safety of Dunmanus Bay, where they were able to land. Another boat was capsized, and all the occupants drowned, except the boatswain who had a marvelous escape. He grasped a floating bale of cotton, a part of his ship’s cargo, and hanging on to it, he was taken by the tide, south to the point of the Mizen. Here the tided turned, brought him back past the shipwreck, and deposited him in a little cove under Three Castle Head. He had drifted four miles, while on the bale of cotton, and when found at daylight by the late Mr Peter Sheehan of Dunlough, the poor fellow was in an exhausted condition. Mr Sheehan took hom to his home, where he received the tender care, which had ever been given to the shipwrecked mariners bu the people of our coast. The captain and 32 men of the “Bohemian” were drowned. The most poignant incident in connection with the tragedy, was that two men who got on some outlying rocks, where they clung on until three o’clock the following evening, were washed off by the rising tide and increasing storm in the presence of hundreds assembled on the cliffs. The life saving apparatus was brought from Crookhaven, but they were beyond rocket range, and the sea was too rough for a boat to go to their assistance.

Twenty six years ago a powerful fog signal was installed on Mizen Head, and recently the place has been fitted with the latest type of wireless-direction-finding apparatus, having a working radius of 500 miles. At the present day the dangers of Dunlough Bay to ships and mariners exists no longer, and vessels can now approach that dangerous coast with confidence and safety no matter what weather prevails.

NFCS 287:110-113; John Downing (72), Brow Head, Crookhaven, Co. Cork.
Crookhaven School, Co. Cork, 1936-37. Teacher: Saidhbhín ní Bhoidhléin
Coming soon... an edited collection of folklore, stories, and oral histories, originally written by the children of the Mizen Peninsula between 1936 and 1938, transcribed and published for the first time.