By far one of the worst boating accidents on the River Shannon occurred on the 1st December 1946, when the 45M barge sank with the tragic loss of three of its crew.
John Boland, Edward Gleeson, James McGrath and Tony Ennis were on board the 45M, a Grand Canal Company boat when it encountered bad weather on Lough Derg with tragic outcomes. Boland, Gleeson and Ennis were Grand Canal Company employees while James McGrath had only went along for the trip.
On that fateful Sunday the 45M had met the tow boat the St James at Kilgarvan and was towed by them on to Garrykennedy. Having travelled from Dublin with a full cargo of Guinness the skipper was determined to get to their final destination of Limerick. The weather was not too bad when the two boats left the harbour at 2.30pm but it quickly turned as they headed out into Lough Derg.
As they rounded the notorious Parker’s Point, just 200 yards from the shore, and headed out into the lake proper, four winds rose up, creating a phenomenon known as ‘boxing swells’. The St James pulled the barge directly into the rising waves and she was swamped.
We were going grand until we came opposite Parker’s Point. From the shore it became a raging storm, and I saw the 45M give a leap and go down completely.
(Patrick Logan, Skipper of the St James)
The two tow
ropes connecting the 45M to the St James broke, the boat listed to one side and
the cargo slipped from the boat.
succeeded in grabbing a plank was swept towards the coastline and deposited
unconscious on the shore where upon awakening hours later staggered to a nearby
the boat heeled over I grasped a plank and then I saw John Boland ahead of me
in the water. The water was rough and he disappeared, and I did not see him
after that” (Tony Ennis, survivor)
The St James crew unable to give any assistance meanwhile buffeted it's way through the gales to Killaloe and reported to the Garda there. A rescue party was dispatched and an exhaustive search of the shore, strewn with barrels of stout and planks and wreckage from the ill-fated boat, was carried out. John Boland, the driver, was found dead on the shore. Ned Gleeson's body was discovered some three months later, and it was assumed that Jimmy McGrath went down with the vessel.
An inquest later determined that the 45M was overladen for such conditions on Lough Derg and may possibly have been shipping water from the time she left Dublin.
The terrible tragedy and loss of life may have consigned the 45M to the history books but the story of the 45M doesn't end there.
45M lay at rest for the next 29 years at the bottom of Lough Derg. In 1975 after buying it from CIÉ 1 for £20, Donnacha Kennedy had the tricky job of locating her exact location. A simple recording echo sounder and a magnet were used to find her in the murky depths. With friends, family and a team of eager divers, 90 plastic barrels pumped with air were secured to her and after a number of failed attempts she was eventually lifted from where she lay in 80ft of water.
When she was brought up from the bottom the general condition of the hull was beyond their dreams as a thin crust of lime formed over everything and when that was knocked off the original paint showed underneath. To the credit of the Swedish engineering the semi-diesel bolinder engine started and ran with little bother.
Owner Donnacha Kennedy remarked that they were unable to toast their success using the salvaged cargo
"Unfortunately we could not drink the toast with any of the 1900 gallons of beer in the hold as it has not 'matured' in the 29 years under water."
The 45M was fully restored to its original condition by David Coote who had swapped his boat 34M with Donnacha Kennedy shortly after it was raised. It remains in his family under the continued guardianship of his daughter Susie.
1. CIÉ had taken over from the Grand Canal Company and were the official owners of the sunken boat when Donnacha Kennedy purchased 45M
Memories of the 45M
Over the years the 45M has touched many lives, you can hear about these stories first-hand by listening to the clippings below.