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Worse things happen at sea

19 December 2016 by Ellie

man at the Liverpool waterfront

Eugene McLaughlin in Liverpool

Today marks a First World War anniversary that many of us will not have heard about before. Our guest blogger Eugene McLaughlin explains why he is visiting Merseyside Maritime Museum today to remember his grandfather’s fateful voyage 100 years ago.

“My grandfather died when I was a baby.  I knew very little about him.  I knew he was from Sligo, he was a sailor and he was once Captain of the Galway Bay tender SS Dun Aengus.  I recall childhood tales that he was the Captain of a ship that was torpedoed during “the” war, which I assumed to be the Second World War.  My grandmother had given me two of his brass buttons from his time at sea.  Other than that, nothing.

So, when my wife gave me a Christmas present of a subscription to an ancestry research website, I had to investigate. 

I uncovered my grandfather’s Masters and Mates Certificates, dated 1909.  This led me to an article ‘The Submarine Menace’ in an Irish newspaper from 1918, which gave full details about the loss of his ship.

Photograph of a ship at sea

Image courtesy of Captain Frank Devaney (deceased, son of the captain of SS Liverpool)

The facts were somewhat different than I had understood.

On Tuesday 19 December 1916, at 5.10 pm, the SS Liverpool sailed from Collingwood Dock in Liverpool, bound for Sligo. At 11.30 pm, 11 miles off the coast of the Isle of Man, she hit a German mine, which had been laid by a U-boat.  Three men lost their lives: Daniel Garvey, James Costello, and John Patrick Gillen.  The Liverpool sank a few hours later.  Michael McLaughlin, my grandfather, wasn’t the Captain, but Second Mate.

Photograph of a uniform button

One of Eugene’s grandfather’s buttons. Image courtesy of Eugene McLaughlin

Few people outside Sligo and the Isle of Man know about the SS Liverpool.  She was only a small ship, only one of seven sunk that day, only one of 5,000 ships sunk by the German U-boat campaign.  17,000 sailors lost their lives.  As with Daniel, James and John Patrick, 11,900 have no grave but the sea.  I know nothing about them, but I am visiting Liverpool on the 100th anniversary of the last sailing to remember them.  I can’t ignore what I have uncovered during the past year. I will take my grandfather’s brass button as my own link to the past.”

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