Remembering the explosion at Lochán Beag

Next week a commemoration will be held to remember the tragic explosion of a sea mine, 100 years ago on June 15 1917, at Lochán Beag about three miles west of An Spidéal.

The explosion killed nine local people, and devastated the local community. Earlier the mine had been towed in by canvas curragh, and beached on an ebbing tide. People gathered around waiting for the tide to go out so that the barrel-like object could be examined as to what it might contain.

It suddenly exploded killing all present except Joe Hughie Ó Fátharta, who hid behind a rock and survived to tell the tale. At the inquest the following day it was asserted, by the Coastguard Officer that it was not a British mine.

However it later transpired that there was a large concentration of British mines in Galway Bay, placed there to protect Galway Port from enemy U-boats. For security reasons it would have been in the interest of the British authorities to deny the placing of mines in Galway Bay.

The terrible tragedy will be remembered over a weekend of events, beginning on Thursday next, June 15, exactly 100 years to the day of the tragedy, when Mass will be celebrated at the site of the explosion by two priests from the locality. On the following day the drama company Fíbín will stage a dramatic reconstruction of the explosion, at An Trá Mhór, Indreabhán.

The weekend will conclude with the unveiling of a memorial stone inside the main gate of Bohermore Cemetery, Galway, where the fragments of the remains of those killed in the explosion, were buried in an unmarked grave in the paupers’ plot.

The weekend is being organized under the auspices of Cumann Forbartha Chois Fharraige, the local community development committee and has received support from Údarás na Gaeltachta, Roinn na Gaeltachta and Comhar Creidmheasa Cholmcille, Indreabhán to improve access to to the site of the monumental stone, which records the victims’ names.

Further information on the weekend of commemoration can be found on the website www.coisfharraige.ie or by sending an email to [email protected].

THE INQUEST REPORT as reported in The Galway Express in 1917.

A dreadful occurrence took place within a few miles of Spiddal, Co. Galway on Friday evening.

It appears that the fishermen of a little village named Loughaunbeg noticed a dark object floating in the sea. They started out in their canoes to investigate, and towed in the floating mass to the shore.

When the find was hauled on shore one of the men started to investigate, and must have touched a vital part of the mine, when a terrific explosion took place. The nine men who stood about the mine were blown to pieces and a horrible scene of carnage was disclosed. Every one of the unfortunate men was blown into fragments, and in one case a boot belonging to one of the killed was found one mile from the scene. Several houses in the village were wrecked, and the windows in the police barracks at Spiddal, four miles away, were shattered.

The noise of the explosion was distinctly heard in Galway, which is l6 miles from Loughaunbeg. The greatest grief is manifested in the whole district, especially as the nine men killed were the principal bread winners for large families.

Head Constable Killackey from Galway, with several police, drove to the scene later on, and assisted in collecting the scattered remains of the men. The Head Constable states that German characters were found on a portion of the exploded mine. One man, Joseph Flaherty, staggered from the inferno cut and bleeding. He had a miraculous escape, an account of which he gave at the inquest.

Lord Killanin and Father Heany P.P., with Dr. Sandys, were quickly on the scene, and did all they could to comfort the weeping women, who, in the majority of cases, were in a hysterical condition. Hardly a trace of the bodies, with the exception of blackened flesh and a mass of human pulp can be discerned in the dreadful heap collected. The whole district is mourning over the terrible tragedy.

Witnessed by doctor

The evidence given at the inquest was a vivid history of the awful occurrence. It is an undoubted fact that the only person who actually saw the explosion was Dr. W. A. Sandys, the Crescent, Galway, who was driving from a sick call, and when he was within a comparatively short distance of the spot heard the terrific noise and immediately saw dense masses of black smoke envelop the whole sea coast. Dr. Sandys had a miraculous escape, and was almost swept out of his motor car by the concussion.

The names of the killed, their ages and number in family are as follows:—

Peter Folan, 17, single; Tim Keady, 18, do.; Thomas Hopkins, 32, 2 children; Joe Flaherty, 32, 3 children; Coleman Feeney, 20, single; Edward McDermott, 55, 6 children; Manus Faherty, 20, single; Edward Lee, 20, do.; Pat Lee, 25, do.

The inquest was held on Saturday evening by Mr Louis E. O’Dea, solicitor, Deputy Coroner, at Costelloe’s public house, Loughaunbeg.

The following were sworn as a jury:— M.J. Lyons (foreman ); Bartly Faherty, Peter Costello, Michael Kyne, Pat Folan, Thomas Flaherty, Pat Walsh, Martin Waters, Bartly Foran, Peter Folan, Edward Feeney, Michael Feeney, Pat Beatty, Thomas Walsh.

Mr Hildebrand, D.I., and Sergt. Rodgers watched the proceeding on behalf of the police authorities.

Lord Killanin and Father Heany, P.P., were present during the inquiry.

The first witness examined was Patrick Folan, who said he resided at Loughanebeg; on Friday evening, about 5 p.m., he was fishing in a curragh accompanied by Edward McDermott; they saw an object in the water some distance from the shore; it looked like a barrel; there was nothing remarkable about it except that it had irons sticking out of it; they pulled up to it and attached a rope to it and towed it ashore to within 4 or 5 feet from the bench, and there they left it; witness went behind a rock as he was wet and they all intended to report the matter to the police; the tide was ebbing, and in a short time the object would be high and dry; fifteen minutes after he heard a terrible explosion and thought everyone was killed ; he left Bartly Foran, Joe Faherty, Ned Lee, Pat Lee, Manus Faherty, Edward McDermott, Coleman Feeney, Tim Keady, Tom Hopkins, Joe Flaherty, Peter Folan, who were around the object.

The Sergeant explained that the only man who escaped was unable to attend just at present.

A barrel floating in the water

Bartly Foran, Loughanebeg, deposed that he was walking on the shore on Friday evening and saw something like a barrel floating about 500 yards from the shore; McDermott and Pat Foran brought the object ashore; there were spikes in the barrel; it was like a boiler and there were four spikes on it; there was a cross on the side of it; the tapered end was in the water and the round or larger end on the surface; there were two handles on the object; something like a crooked handle was attached; he saw no other marks on it; the men with him were the men who had been killed except two; he was nearly an hour at home when the explosion took place; it sounded like a dynamite blast; he went back to the spot and saw a big hole in the ground and pieces of the dead men.

Martin Costello (Peter ), Aille, Spiddal, said he was fishing on Thursday evening ; he saw a canoe with Pat Foran and Edward McDermott towing something in to the shore; they brought it in as far as it would float— five yards from the shore; the top of the object was like the bottom of a pot and had spikes out of it; the spikes looked about six inches long; there was something like a brass plug on the side, but no mark or letter; when he left the shore all the men who were afterwards killed were there; out of all the men he saw on the beach only two were left alive, Pat Folan and Joe Flaherty; witness gave no warning as to the danger of the object, and left because he was wet, having been fishing all day.

Joe Faherty, the one man who escaped from the awful explosion, was then examined.

Mr Hildebrand said they were all glad to see him there today.

Witness said at about 4 o’clock on Friday he saw two men landing on the shore an object which they brought to within some yards of the shore; it was partly floating; it was black and like a big pot; he noticed iron spikes sticking out; all the men killed (witness here gave the names as above ) were with him at the time; after the tide went out they examined the object; it was wide at the top and narrow at the bottom; it had a crook on the narrow end and looked as if it had been anchored and tied to a rope ; he saw no letters on it, but there was a plain white cross on it; he saw a brass plug on the side of it; they all rolled the object up along the shore; it seemed to be empty; some of them thought it an oil tank, but they did not know what was in it; one of them undid something, and he saw a long thing coming out like the The Tube of a Bicycle, which was attached to one of the spikes; they all got afraid and witness got behind a rock; Pat Lee and Keady ran also, but the others remained behind; when he looked over he saw the tube coming further out and at once the explosion must have occurred, but he remembered nothing more until some one came beside him.

To the Foreman— The reason why they rolled it up was because Edward McDermott told us to bring it to high water mark until they reported it to the police; witness was the only man who escaped.

Colman Keady deposed that he last saw his brother Tim alive on Friday about 7 in the morning; he saw his dead body on the strand last night, and identified it as that of his brother Tim ; his mother, sister, another brother and deceased lived together; he identified the remains of Pat Lee; three of the missing men were married.

Arthur Chapman, Coastguard Warrant-Officer, Costello, said he visited the place with Dr. Sandys after the occurrence; he saw fragments of iron and a brass plug ; the iron fragments corresponded with the description given by a former witness; in his opinion, as an old torpedo man, he came to the conclusion that the mine was A Foreign One, as British mines had the plug at the base and not at the side, and the plug found was not similar to that used in British mines; he never saw a German mine; “We never,” added witness, “use crosses on an English mine” ; the German submarines had crosses representing the Iron Cross painted on them; as far as he knew the British had no potshaped mines at all.

The jury found that the deaths were caused by the explosion of a mine, and called on the Government to relieve the relatives, as the men were all bread winners for their families.

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