The Christmas Eve Lifeboat Disaster

Pic: Dún Laoghaire Lifeboat and crew. Christmas Eve, 2018

As we celebrate another festive season, it is worth reflecting that Christmas Eve, 1895, was a very dark day for Dún Laoghaire.

A ferocious storm, starkly described as “the most severe of the century”, caused waves to crash over the lighthouse and piers. Last March, Storm Emma also let forth vicous waves over the piers that caused terrible damage, but fortunately, the entire country was on a red alert shutdown. Not so in 1895.  

A Finnish ship called the Palmé got into difficulty. The lifeboat deployed from Dún Laoghaire to rescue it was destroyed with a single devastating wave. Fifteen lifeboat men drowned, their families cruelly struck by grief on what is supposed to be one of the happiest and joyful days of the year. The harbour was littered with debris, wreckage, and bodies.

The funerals are believed to be the largest Dún Laoghaire has ever seen. Flags were lowered to half mast at every European port. The victims, aged between 22 to 60, were buried in Deansgrange cemetery.

Every year at noon on Christmas Eve, a short memorial ceremony takes place. Today, it was extremely well attended. I’m not great at estimating crowds, but I’d guess approximately 100 were in attendance, including members of the Coast Guard, Lifeboat Service, and local elected members.

A song, a few short prayers, a moment’s silence, a mournful lone piper, a Coast Guard of Honour, and the wreath laying itself, featured in a extremely poignant ceremony.

As I was making my way down the East Pier, I spotted a seal swimming in the direction of the ceremony. Another seal swam on the other side of the pier, around the spot where the Dún Laoghaire lifeboat left wreathes.

There is an old seafaring tradition that claims that a seeing a seal is good luck because they are reincarnated souls that were lost at sea. On Christmas Eve, 2018, the 123rd anniversary of fifteen souls lost in the duty of saving lives, I’d like to think there is a little bit of truth in this.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha…

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