Be­witch­ing piece of his­tory that will soon be lost for­ever

Drogheda Independent - - NEWS - With ALI­SON COMYN

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...

The wreck fo the MV Trader on Bal­tray Beach (Pic­ture Jules Kee­ley) and (above) be­fore she ran aground.

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