The Kingstown Mystery
My name is Joe Bradley and I’m the keeper of the Dun Laoghaire East Pier Lighthouse.
On a calm Christmas Eve in 1995 I was making my way down the pier towards the lighthouse to service it for the Christmas and whatever bad weather may come, during the holiday season. The weather was cool but nice and the water in the harbour was as smooth as a mirror.
All was going well and I was looking forward to a quiet night,
All of a sudden, I noticed a subtle change in the weather. “The class must have dropped suddenly “I thought. “That’s strange”
The wind started to pick up and was blowing gale force in just a few minutes.
Icy rain started to beat into my face like a thousand freezing needles.
What had been a calm sea now turned into a raging storm, sending roaring waves over the rocks and pier walls and a shower of spray over my head.
As I struggled against the wind, I became aware of a tall dark figure walking beside me, wearing a sou wester hat and oil-skins.
He had dark, deep set rheumy eyes that stared far beyond me and a long weathered beaten face that must have encountered many a bitter wind in the past.
I introduced myself to him “I’m Joe Bradley” I said. “I’m the keeper of the light “
And then in a dry voice that sounded like it hadn’t spoken in a hundred years, he spoke “I’m Alexander Williams “and not a word more he said.
I was looking over the pier, when to my horror I saw through the gloom of the night, a ship, with its side-lights burning bright, south of the Burford bank, heading for the rocky shore, rocking and rolling from port to starboard before smashing onto the rocks with a resounding, thunderous crash that split the air around me.
Over the noise of the plunging and crashing waves came the shouts and screams of the terrified sailors calling out to their God to save them from the raging and vengeful seas.
Then out of the stormy darkness I saw a long boat low in the water with its crew rowing fiercely through the treacherous sea. On and on it came, the sea sending towering, thirty-foot waves violently crashing down over their heads.
The boat was sometimes under the water and sometimes riding the crest of the waves as onward they struggled, each man pulling on his oar as if his life depended on it.
And I knew that the poor sailors lives on the stricken ship depended on the courage of these brave men as they ploughed through the angry sea. I suddenly realised that the men and their boats were not of this night, but from earlier times and not of my world.
As the lifeboat, (For that’s what it was,) reached the floundering ship there came the sound of a man’s frozen voice coming from the boat and calling to the terrified sailors onboard the stricken ship. “Hold fast me boys, we’ll throw to you a line” he shouted. But before he could act there came a thunderous roar, like the sound of an old steam engine as it pulls into a station, a rogue wave hit the life-boat broadside capsizing it into the water and throwing men and boys into the unforgiving waters of the Irish sea.
There were no cries from the sea, no calls for help, not a soul could be seen.
In a matter of seconds men and boat were gone, all that was left was a scattering of wooden splinters and tattered sails. With that the wailing wind subsided as quickly as it had blown up and the storm died down. The rain had stopped falling and all was deathly quiet.
The Christmas moon came out from behind the scurrying clouds to light up an empty sea.
All were gone, the ship, the lifeboat and crew, the sailors, all gone.
When I turned to the man in the sou/wester, he was nowhere to be seen.
I made my way back up the pier shaken and traumatised by what I had seen and heard that night. I sought out the Dun Laoghaire lifeboat station to see if they could throw some light on my experience. On entering the station, I was greeted by a group of life-boat men huddled by a blazing fire and sharing a Christmas drink together.
I introduced myself and proceeded to tell them of what I’d seen that night. I told them of the storm, the ship and the ill-fated life-boat and of the stranger, Alexander Williams.
“No” said one of the men through a cloud of pipe smoke “There was no storm here tonight and the life-boat never left the station, but that’s a strange co-incidence all the same, because on this very night a hundred years ago, while going to the aid of a stranded ship called “the Palm” the Kingstown life-boat capsized with the loss of her coxswain and entire crew.”
In shock at these words, I asked. “And what happened to the ship”, Did she survive the storm?”
“No” he replied.” She was lost too, but when the storm subsided and the tide went out in the morning the entire crew were able to walk ashore”
“So “I said, “The loss of those brave men was all for nothing.
And does anybody remember the disaster to-day or the names of the crew”?
“Not many” he replied, “Except for the coxswain,,,,,, Alexander Williams”
The Kingstown Disaster
It was Christmas Eve in eighteen ninety-five
The biggest storm in years was blowing wild
Never had we seen it’s like before
As we drifted helpless towards the Kingstown shore
The wind was blowing like a wild banshee
Our ship was tossed upon the raging sea
Each man on board believed it was the end
We thought we’d never see our homes again
Suddenly there came a mighty sound
Our sails in shreds as they came tumbling down
How nobody died I’ll never know
As we ran aground upon the rocks below
We prayed to God to see us through the night
We had many hours to go before day-light
When suddenly we heard somebody call
“Stand fast me boys we’ll save you one and all
With burning eyes, we stared into the night
I must admit it was a wonderous sight
The Kingstown lifeboat drawing up abeam
Our eyes could not believe the sight we’d seen
Hold tight me boys we’ll throw to you a line
To tell the truth we haven’t got much time
The tide is turning fast before our eyes
We’ve got to get you off before sunrise
Then through the night there came a mighty roar
A towering wave of twenty feet or more
Came crashing down upon the men below
Such fear and terror you could never know
Splintered timbers scattered all around
Of those brave men there wasn’t sight nor sound
Capsized and smashed into a million parts
Enough to break a hardened sailor’s heart
Alex Williams was the cockswain’s name
His likes I know we’ll never see again
Fifteen men and boys were lost that night
Gone to their reward before daylight
Saint Stephen’s day they laid them in their grave
Wives and mothers prayed their souls to save
And we stood by just glad to be alive
That Christmas time in eighteen ninety-five.
P.S. Kingstown, was the Victorian name for Dun Laoghaire.