‘Flying Foam’

A recent post – Fish Palaces and How They Worked – discussed the history of the fishing industry in the south west of Ireland, and focussed on our own Roaringwater Bay. There’s an ‘extra’ story following on from that – well worth the telling, but frustratingly incomplete.

The header picture (courtesy of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich) shows a ‘dandy-rigged nobby’, a traditional fishing vessel built on the Isle of Man during the second half of the nineteenth century. The photograph above shows such a boat, also from the Isle of Man. ‘Nobbies’ like these came to form the basis of a fishing fleet centred on Cape Clear and Baltimore, provided by the benefice of ‘the wealthiest lady in Victorian Britain’ – Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts (1814 – 1906). Here she is, below.

Angela Burdett-Coutts was just twenty-three when in 1837 she gained an inheritance of around three million pounds (roughly one hundred and thirty million pounds in today’s money) from her Grandfather, which she immediately directed to good causes. According to the Dictionary of National Biography

In 1862 Father Davis, the parish priest of Rathmore, co. Cork (now Baltimore), appealed to her for aid on behalf of the people of the south-west of Ireland, especially in the district of Skibbereen, Crookhaven, and the Islands of Cape Clear, Sherkin, Hare, and the Calves, which had never recovered from the sufferings of the famine years 1848 and 1849 . . . Her chief work was to revive and extend the fishing industry of the south-west coast. She advanced large sums of money, on a well-devised scheme of repayment out of profits, to provide the fishermen of Baltimore and the Islands with the best fishing-boats that could be built, and fitted them with modern and suitable gear. In the course of five years the new fishing fleet of Baltimore was valued at 50,000 pounds . Much of the capital was in due course repaid; and Father Davis used all his influence to keep his parishioners scrupulously to their engagements. In 1884 she paid her first visit to the district and was everywhere welcomed with enthusiasm. With the assistance of Sir Thomas Brady she soon afterwards helped to inaugurate a fishery training school for 400 boys at Baltimore. The school was opened by her on 16 Aug 1887, when she was received with bonfires on the wild hill-sides, and flags flew from every cottage down the coast from Queenstown to Baltimore.

Fish processing on the quay in Cape Clear, nineteenth century

By 1900 fishing in West Cork was in its heyday, with an annual turnover of £100,000. Between 1880 and 1926 Baltimore was the largest fishing port in Ireland and 78 fishing vessels were registered locally. By 1907, after the North Pier had been built, the fleet was so numerous that you could, it was said, walk to Sherkin across the decks of the boats!

Looking across to Sherkin Island from the Cove, Baltimore, today

A further version of the story appeared in Ireland’s Own Magazine, in September 2018, narrated by Eugene Daly:

My father, Mícheál Ó Dálaigh, was born on Cape Clear in 1910, the eldest of four children. When his father Eugene died in 1920, he quickly had to take over the part of breadwinner and at a young age became a fisherman . . . The people of Clear, often known as Capers, had for many generations always been fishermen. On Cape Clear one is aware of the all-embracing sea. In the 1880s, through the work of Father Charles Davis, a £10,000 loan was granted by the English philanthropist, Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts. With those loans they bought ‘dandies’, 50 to 60 ft long made in the Isle and Man and later in Baltimore Fishery School. By 1920 there were up to forty of these boats fishing out of Trá Chiaráin, the island harbour. Some of the musical names for these boats include Sarah Gale, Guiding Star, Carbery Queen, Jasmine of Downings etc . . .

What is of interest to us is that – according to local tradition – there is the remains of one of the ‘nobbies’ or ‘dandies’ in Rossbrin Cove, just below where we live in Nead an Iolair. You’ll have to look at low tide: you can just make out the scuttled boat in the picture above, on the right in the middle distance. In the view below the wreckage is clear.

It was our near neighbour, Michael John, who told us that this was one of the Burdett-Coutts boats, and that it was named ‘Flying Foam’. He also remembered hearing a poem or recitation about the boat and its fate at some time in the past but – in spite of many enquiries locally – I can as yet glean no further information. Frustratingly, this is where the story is left hanging in the air . . . Perhaps a reader of this journal might have the memory and can enlighten us? We would love to find the poem!

20 thoughts

    • This comment doesn’t make much sense without the link that didn’t seem to post! I found the flying foam in The Shipping Agreements and Crew Lists 1863 – 1921. The owner of the boat changes between Jeramiah Collins and JJ Cotter. Each log covers half a year and details the dates laid up/ dates fishing and type of fishing. It also names the crew. In general, flying fish was laid up for the winter, fished Mackerel in spring and early summer, then engaged in trawling late summer/ autumn. The mackerel fishing required double the crew that was needed for trawling. The logs are present for the years 1897 – 1903. There is a “-” in the horse power column, so I would say that means there was no engine at this stage. goo.gl/3oKuCg

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      • The crew lists are great! I would trust any real records more than my Gr Aunt’s writing. She told some great stories that probably had roots in the truth. In 1901, JJ was a 40 year old fisherman on the Flying Foam and a farmer in Ballycummisk & by 1911 he was just a farmer. I’m sure there were lots of stories we may not hear. Jeramiah Collins from Horse Island was JJ’s wife’s nephew.

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    • It was J J Cotter that had the mishap – according to the Eric Olson (comments, below). But what a myriad of information is available once you delve into the records. I’m still trying to put everything together chronologically: your links are extremely helpful – many thanks.

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  1. Robert,

    I am loving your blogs especially the one on the ‘Fish Palaces’ around West Cork and now the ‘Flying Foam’ Story. Although I cannot give you any information on the ‘Flying Foam’ I thought you might be interested in the story of the photo of the ‘dandy rigged nobby’ PL11 (courtesy of the National Maritime Museum, Grenwich) that you have used in the ‘Flying Foam’ blog.. PL11 was called ‘The Wanderer’ from Peel in the Isle of Man and was fishing off the Old Head of Kinsale the day the Lusitania was sunk. The crew witnessed the sinking of the Lusitania and saved/rescued 160 people who they took onto ‘The Wanderer’ as well as towing two of the lifeboats from the ship. They handed the rescued people over to the British Authorities off Kinsale who transported them back to Cobh and ‘The Wanderer’ continued on her way back to the fishing grounds. There is a first hand account of their rescue is on the wall on the first floor of the signal tower at the Old Head of Kinsale where the Lusitania memorial garden is –

    Crew member Thomas Woods, of Peel, was alone on watch and steering, when he saw the Lusitania list. He wrote; –

    “It was the saddest thing I ever saw in all my life. I cannot tell you in words but it was a great joy to me to help the poor mothers and babes in the best way we could.”

    The youngest crewman Harry Costain said in his letter home:_

    ….We saw an awful sight on Friday. We saw the sinking of the Lusitania, and we were the only boat about at the time. We saved 160 people. and took them on our boat. I never want to see the like again. There were four babies about three months old, and some of the people were almost naked – just as if they had come out of bed. Several had legs and arms broken, and we had one dead man, but we saw hundreds in the water. I gave one of my changes of clothes to a naked man, and Johnny Macdonald gave three shirts and all his drawers….

    The bravery of these men was not recognised by the Manx Government at the time and it was the Manchester Manx Society that did and presented all the crew with medals of bravery, one of silver for Skipper William Ball and six made of bronze for the crew, at the open air Tynwald Ceremony on July 5th 1915.

    The Wanderer was owned by a commercial fishing company, and her skipper William Ball was their employee. But his quiet competence and humanity had made a lasting impression on those he had saved, some of whom reputedly were millionaires and before 1915 was over, he had received a letter from a firm of solicitors in Peel informing him that a substantial sum of money had been anonymously lodged to his credit in the town and that it was to be used to have his own fishing boat built in Peel – his dream ship.

    The outcome of all this was that William Ball’s 45ft Aigh Vie – it’s Manx for “good luck” – which was launched at the end of 1916.

    And to finish the story, the ‘Aigh Vie’ fell into disrepair and has just been restored in Renvyle by a Paddy Murphy. (more of which you can find on the Afloat.ie website that Winkie Nixon a yachting journalist has written a blog about)!!!

    Sorry to be so long winded and not to have any further updates on the ‘Flying Foam’ but just thought you might like this snippet of information.

    Kind regards,

    Sally O’Leary

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    • Thank you very much, Sally – more information to add to the many stories which are appearing here. I intend to put up another post collating all this and trying to get the definitive picture of the life of ‘Flying Foam’…

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  2. The “engine” is the cylinder protruding high out of the mud in the picture above. It wasn’t actually an engine at all but a steam boiler to drive the capstan for hauling the nets. You can see them protruding at low tide behind the league in Castletownshend(Reen side), near the pier in Leap and at various places along the shore between Leap and Glandore wherever the old boats were laid up and abandoned…Here is a link to a photo of one of the boilers on the shore between the Union Hall bridge and Glandore: https://66.media.tumblr.com/e894a24b613a1fe81470a65210d312a0/tumblr_n52cfi49uB1rutwvwo1_1280.jpg

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    • Tim – many thanks. I’m gradually piecing all this together – including some more information sent to me by email today. There are still some anomalies to be sorted out. I’ll publish a new update when everything slots into place… Thank you for the photo of the steam boiler, also.

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    • Tim – many thanks again. That’s a great Lawrence Collection picture. Is that model actually a ‘dandy rig’? It seems to have a greater area of sail than the examples I have seen…

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      • A dandy rigged boat means that the foremast is carrying a gaff sail and the mizzen mast is carrying a standing lugsail like in the Richard Hall model. The model of the Nobby Gladys has a standing lugsail on the foremast and a standing lugsail on the mizzen and would have been known simply as a lugger. The Wanderer, which you have pictured above is actually rigged as a gaff ketch because it carries a gaff sail on the foremast and mizzen mast. There is a photo of Union Hall pier in the O’Connor collection that shows the Richard Hall at a later date rigged as a gaff ketch, just like Wanderer. The reason for the large standing lugsail on the Richard Hall originally, was to point the boat head to wind while lying to the mackerel nets. As you can see, it is an unwieldy rig! Later on the lug mizzen was exchanged for a gaff mizzen. They probably continued to be called Dandies even though they were gaff ketches!

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    • Excellent! Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Just one point: in Eric Olson’s account he says that the boat was fitted with a German engine. This must have been retrospectively? Incidentally, there is a complete marine engine (presumably) lying in the mud in Rossbrin Cove, but it’s some distance away from Flying Foam!

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      • A lot of the boats would have had engines fitted retrospectively. That would not have happened until the early 20th century so it would be interesting to get a date on Flying Foams demise!

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    • Certainly by train, Paul – the Baltimore branch of the West Cork Railway opened opened on 2 May 1893, serving Skibbereen, Bandon and Cork (for connections to Dublin), and closed on 1st April 1961. Before those days, connections for cured fish would have been by sea or road.

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  3. My great aunt, Mary Patricia (Harte) Carr wrote a book about growing up in Rossbrin (1913 to about 1923). Her writing was mostly based on facts, so this could be true or a good story based on what she remembered… She is refering to her grandmother, Catherine (McCarthy) Driscoll, who had just married John Joseph Cotter (from Cape Clear):
    ——–
    Her last extravagance toward JJ was an expensive boat which he named the Flying Foam. Besides sails it had a fine German-made engine and luxurious cabin. He sailed magnificently up and down the southern Irish coast along with a boat load of friends, all drinking companions. He had plans of making the boat pay for itself by using it as a pleasure boat with paying customers or taking light cargo from Bantry Bay to the North but nothing ever came of those grandiose schemes. One stormy day while trying to sail into Rossbrin harbor he wrecked the boat off the Castle Point. The boat limped into the harbor and promptly sank near the quay. The boat was a total loss. He made plans to salvage the fine engine, but nothing came of it and the boat rotted away at her moorings. The local wags made up a funny ditty parodying JJ’s sailing prowess. It had several verses, one of which went:
    He could not plow the farming land,
    and neither mow the hay.
    And so he bought the Flying Foam
    and sailed her off to sea.
    The Flying Foam returned home
    and floundered off the castle strand.
    At first JJ was furious at the poem but later thought it grand, and would sing it, off key, to his friends at the pub.
    ——-
    (I’m trying to finish editing/cleaning up/print her book for my kids & anyone else with an interest).

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