Bewitching piece of history that will soon be lost forever
I WALK in its shadow at least three times as week, come hail, rain or shine. It’s one of the most photographed and painted icons in the Drogheda area, by local and international visitors.
Yet, up until last week, I certainly didn’t know much about the shipwreck at Baltray beach, bar a small article in the Drogheda Independent after the bad storms last January.
Maybe I’m late to the party, and everyone else in the town can recite the rich and colourful history – not to mention the ignominious demise – of the MV Irish Trader.
But in case not, I thought I would do a bit of digging, as I fear it will soon all be swept into the Irish Sea to an eternal watery grave.
You see, I, like so many beachcombers, have watched this once majestic, if weather-beaten, cargo vessel dwindle in recent years.
I thought it was because I was getting bigger that it seemed to shrink, but a trawl through photographers over the years shows an increasingly rapid decline.
The Irish Trader was built by Noord Nederlandsche Shipyards, Groningen, Holland, in 1949 and began life as ‘ The Admiral Nelson’. Launched in March of that year, the 344 ton cargo ship was sold in 1969 to G. de Ruiter of The Hague. In 1970, it was bought by V F Nolan, Dublin and renamed ‘ The Irish Trader’ and registered in Hartlepool, UK.
After a further four years of service, her final journey took place on February 1 1974, when she ran aground at Baltray beach.
What caused the accident that night has become the stuff of local modern legend.
We do know she left the port of Sharpness in the Bristol Channel bound for Drogheda, carrying a cargo of 410 tonnes of fertiliser. Then the journey took an unplanned diversion. Scurrilous reports of rum-soaked sailing have no foundation in fact, and the weather was said to have been calm that day.
Drogheda Port has no evidence she ever docked there, so the reason for the incident may never be known for sure.
In the days following the crash, five of its crewmen had to stand guard, after thieves looted the stricken vessel of valuable equipment. The robbers broke into The Irish Trader while the crewmen were away and stole £500 worth of radio equipment and other items, quite the haul 40 years ago.
That wasn’t the only time she played host to vagabonds and ne’er do wells.
Another local tale says Clogherhead brothers Kenneth and Keith Littlejohn – bank robbers and alleged spies – used the wreck as a hiding place when being pursued for their transgressions.
Attempts were made to refloat the 500 tonne vessel in early years, before she was abandoned to the ravages of weather and time.
Her rusted skeleton is now crumbling beyond recognition, and it’s difficult to imagine her former glory.
I’m no expert photographer, but it is easy to see why so many have stood ankle-deep in freezing advancing tides waiting for that perfect shot.
Eric O’Neill, Eimhear Collins, Jules Keeley; so many local and international artists have captured the Irish Trader over the years.
All fitting tributes to her before she slips from our sight and memory for good...