S.S. Connemara and the Coal Carrier Retriever Sinking in 1916

Anglesey, Holyhead, SS Connemara – on the Greenore Service

Early on the morning of Friday the 3rd of November 1916, Captain Patrick O’Neill of the coal carrier Retriever steered his ship out of Garston’s Coal Docks near Liverpool, heading for Newry in Northern Ireland, with a crew predominantly from the destination town. Due to the extreme weather conditions, by the time the Retriever was off Ireland her cargo of coal had shifted, and she was probably somewhat unstable.

Later that day, the 50-year-old Captain George H. Doeg (born near Carlisle), and his ship the S.S. Connemara, left Greenore for Holyhead, with a crew predominantly from the port town of Holyhead on the Isle of Anglesey in North Wales.

The Connemara was a daily ferry between Holyhead and Greenore that carried passengers, livestock and cargo, and whilst it was wartime, and there was an ever-present threat from German U-Boats patrolling the Irish sea, to the Captain’s wife Mary Doeg it would have seemed that her husband had left on a routine journey and that he would return the next day.

Neither ship or their crews, nor the families of the crews and passengers aboard, were aware that the fate of both ships was intertwined, and fatally sealed.

The night of November the 3rd 1916 was a particularly dark night, but because of the danger of German submarines both ships operated with just minimal lighting. In gale-force winds and mountainous seas the two ships collided off Carlingford Bar, despite the lighthouse keeper from the Halbowline lighthouse firing flares to warn them they were too close.

The Retriever collided with the S.S. Connemara, holing her amidships. Invariably – I have found during research – when a steamship sinks, the boilers explode on contact with the sea, and thus the S.S. Connemara slipped beneath the waves within minutes. The Retriever took a little longer, but she also sank to the bottom. Just one man would escape this terrible accident, James Boyle of the Retriever, a 20-year-old fireman. He seldom spoke of the disaster, at least until he was an old man, and he subsequently passed away in 1967.

The next day washed up over 50 bodies. They were mutilated by the boiler explosion, rough seas, or rocks. Over the next weeks, bodies were washed up on beaches, and identification of the corpses was nigh impossible, having to rely on clothing and jewellery.

In Holyhead, the crew are listed on the War Memorial, and some of the crew members are mentioned on their family graves. In Ireland, there was a military funeral with honours to an Unknown Soldier at St Patrick’s Churchyard in Newry, where there is a memorial. Several of the soldiers lost on the Connemara are remembered at the Hollybrook Memorial in Southampton, and the schoolchildren of Kilkeel High School erected a stone memorial in Kilkeel Cemetery.

There were in excess of 90 casualties in total, 31 of which were the Holyhead crew of the Connemara, along with 51 of her passengers, and on the Collier Retriever, 8 of the 9 crew lost their lives.

Captain George H. Doeg is believed to have been buried in Ireland. A memorial to the Connemara was held at St Cybi’s Church in Holyhead in November 2006.

I have tried to put on this webpage as much information as I can about the crews and passengers, all of which will have been researched by a number of people, and I thank them. I just hope having all the information in one place will make it simpler for anyone researching this incident. If you have any high-res photographs of the Retriever and/or the crews of either ship or even additional facts or family anecdotes I would love to add them to this page.

The graves where some of the crew are remembered:

George Owen Engineer died Connemara 1916 aged 35 – George is buried with
his father in law Isaac Evans, a respected elder of Disgwylfa Chapel on London Road. Parents lived at Bodarvon, Holyhead. Later his mother in law and wife – Megan Cybi – would join them.
David Evans, the Steward, died 1916 on the SS Connemara – buried in Maeshyfryd Cemetery with his parents, James and Margaret Jane Evans of 10, Devonald Street, Holyhead.
George Roberts, Leading Stoker died Connemara 1916 aged 53 – buried with his wife Mary Ellen Roberts. Lived at 5, Tower Gardens, Holyhead.
William Humphrey Jones, Deck Boy died Connemara 1916 aged 16 – buried with his mother Ellen Janes Jones. His father was William John Jones, and as he is not buried here one can reasonably assume that he re-married after losing his wife who was aged just 33.

Here are the lists that I have been able to put together from a multiple of internet resources – It is about two thirds complete.

Forenames Surname Age Relation to Others Ship Status Fate Other Family
  Boyd     S.S. Connemara Soldier Perished Corporal
James Boyle 20   Retriever Fireman Survived  
John Burns     S.S. Connemara Cattleman Perished  
Edwin Righton Carter     S.S. Connemara Soldier Perished Private (Hollybrook Memorial)
William Clugson     Retriever Crew Perished  
Lizzie Collins     S.S. Connemara Passenger Perished  
Patrick Conlon   Brother of Robert Conlon S.S. Connemara Passenger Perished  
John Stanley Cooke 18   S.S. Connemara Solider Perished Private
Stanislaus Marie J Cooke 17   S.S Connemara Steward Perished  
James Curran 60 Husband of Alice Curran (nee Murdock) S.S. Connemara Passenger Perished Had 10 children.
Frank Diver     S.S. Connemara Soldier Perished Gunner (Hollybrook Memorial)
  Diver   Wife of Frank Diver S.S. Connemara Passenger Perished  
  Diver   Child of Frank Diver S.S. Connemara Passenger Perished  
  Diver   Child of Frank Diver S.S. Connemara Passenger Perished  
George H Doeg 50 Husband of Mary Doeg (died in 1918) S.S. Connemara Captain Perished  
Joseph Donnan   Son-in-law of the captain Patrick O’Neill Retriever Seaman Perished  
David C Evans 28 Son of James and Jane Evans S.S. Connemara Steward Perished 10 Devonald Street, Holyhead
Robert Evans     S.S. Connemara Quartermaster Perished  
Jane Fillingham (or Fillington) 4 Daughter of Lillie Fillingham S.S. Connemara Passenger Perished  
Lillie Fillingham (or Fillington)   Aunt to Robert Conlon S.S. Connemara Passenger Perished  
Robert Fillingham (or Fillington) 2 Son of Lillie Fillingham S.S. Connemara Passenger Perished  
Michael Flaherty     S.S. Connemara Able Seaman Perished  
Maggie Glassbrooke (or Clarinbroke)   Aunt to Robert Conlon S.S. Connemara Passenger Perished  
Philip G Goodfellow 44 Husband of K Smith (formerly Goodfellow) S.S. Connemara Soldier Perished Private. Brother of Mary Barry (Hollybrook Memorial)
William F Hambley     S.S. Connemara Steward Perished  
John Hughes     S.S. Connemara Luggage Guard Perished  
Joseph Hughes     S.S. Connemara Quartermaster Perished  
  William E Hughes     S.S. Connemara 3rd Engineer Perished  
William Iliffe 47   S.S. Connemara Soldier Perished Colour Sargeant Major
Hugh Jones     S.S. Connemara Chief Engineer Perished  
John Robert Jones     S.S. Connemara Able Seaman Perished  
William Jones     S.S. Connemara Greaser Perished  
William Humphrey Jones 16 Son of William John and Hannah Jane Jones S.S. Connemara Deck Boy Perished Buried with his mother who died in 1910 aged 33
Catherine Kearney   Sister to Patrick S.S. Connemara Passenger Perished Daughter of Charles Kearney
Patrick Kearney 22 Son of Charles, brother of Catherine S.S. Connemara Passenger Perished Survived collision but was killed on the rocks
Robert Andrew Kenna 23   S.S. Connemara Soldier Perished Private (Hollybrook Memorial)
Peter Killen     S.S. Connemara Cattleman Perished  
  King     S.S. Connemara Soldier Perished Sargeant
Ernest Thomas Knowles     S.S. Connemara Soldier Perished Private (Hollybrook Memorial)
George Henry Logan     S.S. Connemara Soldier Perished Sapper
James Lomax 24   S.S. Connemara Soldier Perished Private
Margaret Alice Maguire     S.S Connemara Passenger Perished  
Rose Maguire   Sister to Patrick Joseph Maguire S.S. Connemara Passenger Perished  
Mary Angela McArdle 19   S.S. Connemara Passenger Perished  
Samuel McComb 35 Husband of Elizabeth McComb (nee Morgan) Retriever Crew Perished Children John (6), Clare (4), and Veronica (6 months)
Simon McGarrell     S.S. Connemara Passenger Perished  
  McGuiness     S.S. Connemara Soldier Perished Private
Joseph O’Neill   Son of the captain Patrick O’Neill Retriever 2nd Mate Perished  
Patrick O’Neill     Retriever Captain Perished  
George Owen 35 Husband of Megan Cybi S.S. Connemara 2nd Engineer Perished Son of William and Mary Owen of Bodarvon
Geroge S Owen     S.S. Connemara Quartermaster Perished  
Richard Owen     S.S. Connemara Fireman Perished  
William Owen     S.S. Connemara Cook Perished  
Joseph Perry     S.S. Connemara Soldier Perished Sergeant (Hollybrook Memorial)
George Roberts 53 Husband of Mary Ellen Roberts (died 1911 aged 44) S.S. Connemara Leading Stoker Perished 5 Tower Gardens, buried with his wife
Owen Smith     S.S. Connemara Carpenter Perished  
John Henry (or Henry George) Tomelty (or Tumelty)     Retriever Fireman Perished  
Jack Whittaker     S.S. Connemara Soldier Perished Private (Hollybrook Memorial)
Margaret Alice Williams     S.S. Connemara Stewardess Perished  
John Williams     S.S. Connemara Seaman Perished  
Owen T Williams     S.S. Connemara Fireman Perished  
Richard Williams     S.S. Connemara Fireman Perished  
William P Williams     S.S. Connemara Chief Officer Perished  
Isaac Woodall     S.S. Connemara Fireman Perished  

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