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  • Harland & Wolff

    An interesting article from today's Irish Times

    The Reina del Pacifico: one of the less famous unlucky ships to be built at Harland and Wolff's shipyard in Belfast

    An Irishman's Diary
    OLD ghosts will rise from the mists of the Lagan when work starts later this year on the £100 million tourist centre on the site of the derelict Belfast shipyard where the Titanic and other great ships were built. Not all the spirits will be from the host of 1,500 people who perished on the Titanic’s maiden voyage in 1912, among them Thomas Andrews, the yard’s joint managing director, and his team of eight workers who were on board to attend to minor defects. The Titanic was not the yard’s only tragedy.
    The names of the Reina del Pacifico and the Juan Peron still also echo sadly down the grey streets of Belfast, from which thousands of workers travelled by foot or by tram in the early dawn to Harland and Wolff’s massive shipyard on “the Island”. No-one worked in “the shipyard”; they worked on “the Island” and there was no prouder appellation than that of “an Island man”.
    I remember being smuggled as a boy into the yard by neighbours who were island men to witness the launch in 1946 by the then Princess Elizabeth of HMS Eagle, a giant aircraft carrier. My only camouflage was the mandatory duncher, the soft cap worn by all Island men, except foremen and other superior beings, who sported bowler hats. It was said that these symbols of unpopular authority were lined with steel in case a heavy tool might be “accidentally” dropped from the deck of a ship by a careless worker. The yard was a mystical galaxy of clatter and clamour inhabited by red leaders, riveters, blacksmiths, drillers, platers, welders and other exotic denizens.
    Many of them would have been working on the refurbishment of the Reina del Pacifico three years later when its engine room exploded. The 17,700-ton passenger ship was built in Belfast by Harland and Wolff in 1931 for the Pacific Steam Navigation Company. It operated between Liverpool and the west coast of South America, carrying 886 passengers and 301 crew. In 1936 it made the voyage to Valparaiso in Chile via the Panama Canal in a record 25 days.
    During the second World War the Reina del Pacifico was requisitioned by the British government as a troop carrier and took part in the Allied invasions of North Africa and Sicily. After its war service it was returned to Belfast for a refit.
    Following a comprehensive overhaul, and before being handed back to its owners as a liner, it went on sea trials on the Irish Sea and the Firth of Clyde; its engines ran constantly at various speeds for over 33 hours. On its return to Belfast Lough on the afternoon of September 11th, 1947 the four engines exploded off the Co Down coast.
    The Belfast Weekly Telegraph reported: “In an instant the engine room was a shambles, the lighting extinguished, ladders and access platforms destroyed and the atmosphere thick with smoke. When rescuers entered the engine room they found fires breaking out and bodies everywhere.” Twenty-eight workers were killed instantly and more than twice that number were horribly burned and scalded. All of them were Island men. The Reina del Pacifico was repaired and continued its voyages to South America until 1958, when it was sold for scrap.
    The second tragedy also had South American connections. The Compania Argentina de Pesca, whose president was Alfredo Ryan, commissioned Harland and Wolff to build a 24,000-ton whaler factory ship, the largest vessel of its class in the world. Named after the country’s president, Juan Peron, it was destined to harvest the seas of Antartica. Its giant hull rose high out of the water in the Musgrave Channel and its boarding deck was reached by two wooden gangways.
    On the last day of January, 1951, workers huddled in the cold damp of a winter’s night on the upper gangway waiting for the “knocking-off” hooter to sound. The gangway began to creak and shudder under the weight of the tightly packed workers. There were more creaks, then a loud crack like a thunder clap. The gangway broke in two at the thirteenth step.
    Some of the men fell 80 feet into the water, their dunchers floating away on the tide. Others fell to the quayside and lay like broken dolls. One man, who was at the top of the gangway when it snapped, managed to grab a thick steel plate welded to the side of the ship a few feet below the upper deck. His fingers bled with the exertion of holding on for agonising minutes until one of the men left on the deck was lowered upside down by his mates and grabbed his wrists. They were both pulled back to the safety of the deck. In a newspaper interview he said the only thing that kept him hanging on was the thought of his young disabled son. In all, 18 Island men were killed and another 50 or so injured.
    The Juan Peron followed the whales in the Antarctic for eight years. It was regarded as an unlucky ship. Its processing machinery was forever breaking down. A young woman was murdered on board and her body thrown over the side. The Argentine government would not or could not give Alfredo Ryan the £3 million he had paid for the ship and refused to return it to him.
    After Peron’s death it was renamed the Cruz del Sur and changed ownership several times. When it was offered to one shipowner he said he would prefer to buy an elephant for his back garden. It ended its days as a training ship for the merchant marine.
    Say NO to violence against Women

    Originally posted by hedgehog
    My favourite moment was when the
    Originally posted by hedgehog
    red headed old dear got a smack on her ginger head

  • #2

    Conor O'Brien and his sister Margaret on Kelpie. In 1914, he used the yacht to land guns at Kilcoole, Co Wicklow
    An Irishwoman's Diary
    Lorna Siggins
    ‘THE natives, pleasant, humorous and healthy, are very nearly white, or appear so, and are busy workers. The majority of the women, in my opinion, are very good-looking, intelligent and, in some cases I have seen, with perfectly clean-cut features.” Small wonder that Sidney Lavelle, the author of the dispatch to this newspaper, was fired by his skipper, who shoved “a steerage ticket by the next boat” into his hand in Capetown, South Africa, and told him to “get the hell out of it”.
    That was just a few weeks after publication of Lavelle’s above impressions of Brazil’s Pernambuco port in The Irish Times on November 3rd, 1923. By then the skipper, Limerick man Conor O’Brien, had had enough of both of his crew, with whom he had left Kingstown (as Dún Laoghaire was then known), to attempt the first Irish circumnavigation by small yacht around the world.
    Cablegram dispatches from Lavelle during the voyage had been published in The Irish Times from early July, 1923, but the accounts had played down tensions on board. After all, a preview of the voyage noted “there is something irresistibly romantic in the thought of this little cockle shell of a boat . . . setting sail on a voyage that is likely to make yachting history”.
    The Baltimore-built yacht would “not hug the coast, as one might have expected”, the newspaper noted. It would “strike boldly out into the vasty deep, making her first call at Madeira, and thence taking a bee-line for Cape Town”.
    And the “vasty” deep was an irresistible magnet for O’Brien, seasoned sailor and barefoot mountaineer, architect and founder of Dublin’s United Arts Club, gun-runner with Erskine Childers and grandson of nationalist politician William Smith O’Brien.
    He was also an accomplished writer. In his autobiographical work, From Three Yachts , he compared the different sounds of water when sailing or climbing. The climber hears “the patter of drops falling from a projecting rock, the rumbling of the river echoing up the valley . . .” For the sailor,the sound is of the “ripple of the tide . . . the splash as the lines are cast off . . . the gentle hissing of foam along the ship’s bows”, and all play their part in the “full orchestra of the ocean”, he wrote.
    Perhaps it went with the territory, for Nova Scotia-born sailor Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail solo around the world in 1895-98, was also a fine writer and his trip account is regarded as a classic of travel literature. While O’Brien had up to 16 different crew in all by the time he had finished his voyage, (including his sister Kitty for the last leg), he was first to sail south of the three capes.
    His was also the first boat to do so with the new Irish Tricolour. Mind you, that bit wasn’t easy. Writing in this newspaper on November 1st, 1923, O’Brien described how a “valiant attempt” had been made to show the Irish flag in the Brazilian port of Pernambuco, but “local press persisted to the last in describing us as English naval officers, and locating Dublin in England”.
    Judith Hill has trawled through Irish Times archives and other sources for her new account of O’Brien’s life, which has just been published. His life story has already been told in Irish by Padraic de Bhaldraithe, in Loingseoir na Saoirse , published by Coiscéim, and further researched by designer and boatbuilder Gary McMahon who has been restoring another O’Brien boat, the Ilen .
    Hill’s starting point is O’Brien’s background as a member of the ascendancy family which ruled Thomond from the mid-10th century. Influenced by his unorthodox aunt, Charlotte Grace, a writer and social reformer, O’Brien was reared in Britain, but began coming to Ireland more frequently when training to be an architect.
    By this time he had taken up climbing – among his friends was George Mallory, the mountaineer who disappeared with Andrew Irvine on Everest in 1924, and poet Robert Graves. The poet was fascinated by O’Brien’s ability to climb barefoot – “mesmerised”, as Hill notes. O’Brien took Mallory climbing on Mount Brandon and sailing off the Kerry coast in 1913.
    In 1914, together with Erskine Childers, owner of Asgard , O’Brien used his yacht Kelpie to land guns at Kilcoole, Co Wicklow, as part of Roger Casement’s plan. However, he then took a course in minesweeping as part of the British naval reserve after the outbreak of the first World War. He was given command of a fishing trawler which had been converted to hunt for mines, and recorded how he was forced to sail with “the most amazing collection of incompetents”.
    Returning to Ireland after the war, he proposed a strategy to stimulate the fishing industry, but it proved disastrous, set against the backdrop of civil war.
    By this stage, however, he was planning construction of the ketch which was to permit him, as this newspaper described it, to “put a girdle around the globe”.
    Some 10,000 people attended his homecoming to Dun Laoghaire after the epic circumnavigation in 1925, with his two sisters, Kitty and Margaret – both keen sailors – on board. “O’Brien emerged in dark glasses,” Hill writes. “He was cheered and carried shoulder-high as people pressed around. He was met by members of the Dun Laoghaire Urban District Council and then driven into Dublin in a procession of 100 motor cars headed by one carrying a model of Saoirse with his young godson, Conor Cruise O’Brien, dressed in a white sailor suit posing as Conor. That evening the Arts Club hosted a gala dinner.”
    The author wonders why a man of so many parts and so honoured in yachting circles has been largely forgotten by others. In Search of Islands: a life of Conor O’Brien , redresses that. Published by Collins Press with wonderful illustrations at €29.99
    This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times
    Say NO to violence against Women

    Originally posted by hedgehog
    My favourite moment was when the
    Originally posted by hedgehog
    red headed old dear got a smack on her ginger head