The 1795 disaster

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The 1795 disaster


Lough Derg--Boating--Disaster--1795


"But the most lamentable catastrophe of all happened here in 1795 — a catastrophe which for many years cast a gloom over the place..."


Daniel O'Connor, 1843-1919


Daniel O’Connor, Lough Derg and Its Pilgrimages: With Map and Illustrations, pp. 155-58


J. Dollard, Dublin




Digitised by, sponsored by Harvard University


Public domain






Pilgrim handbook




54.609093, -7.867454


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"But the most lamentable catastrophe of all happened here in 1795 — a catastrophe which for many years cast a gloom over the place, and the recital of which, even yet, fails not to evoke from the pious pilgrims many a tear and prayer for those who met with such an untimely end. Sunday, the 12th of July, 1795, is a day long to be remembered in connection with Lough Derg. On that day, which set in fresh and breezy, but by no means very stormy, there was the usual bustle and hurry about the ‘cabin,’ or ferryhouse, from an early hour of the morning, amongst pilgrims and the neighbouring inhabitants, who were anxious to hear Mass on the island. A few boats had already taken full cargoes to and fro, when the dread hour of eleven o'clock arrived. Johnston, the ferryman, had already allotted place for ninety-three passengers, all told, most of whom were pilgrims. It appears that some of the passengers took exception to the boat, as being old and unseaworthy ; but their fears were made light of. A very fortunate escape is related of a young man, a pilgrim, who had actually taken his seat in the boat, when he was summoned back by his father, who had dreamt the previous night of some terrible fate about to befall his son, followed him to the lake, and thus saved him from certain death.

At about the hour of eleven o'clock MacTeague, the principal boatman (who is said to have been somewhat under the influence of drink at the time), pushed off from shore, and all went well till they came alongside Prior’s
Island. At this time it was observed that the boat had sprung a leak, and was fast taking in water. The boatmen, however, took no heed of this, thinking they could reach Station Island without any difficulty. As they had reached about midway between Prior's Island and Station Island, the water was now fast gaining on the boat, which alarmed the passengers, and rendered them quite restive. In this confusion and dismay the boat capsized, and all went down in about ten feet of water. It is said that at this time they were so convenient to Station Island that nine or ten good strokes of the oars would have easily taken them to land. Station Island itself at the time was crowded with spectators, who were so thunderstruck by the accident that they had not the presence of mind to push off to the rescue, though a boat or two were within reach at the island. If this had been done, there is no doubt whatever but that very many of the victims might have been saved. It is consoling to record that one of the priests then on the island waded out some distance into the water, gave conditional absolution to those drowning, and repeated aloud certain prayers for the occasion. All the priests then on the island offered up Mass for the souls of the deceased ; and the Prior (Father. Murray) is said to have declared, in a funeral oration on the occasion, that had the accident happened them when leaving the island, there would 'be
room for more consolation indeed’.

A few moments after the capsizing of the boat, a large mass of human beings, having grasped each other with the tenacity of death at the bottom of the lake, came to the surface, where they remained struggling for a little, when they sank to rise no more. Out of the ninety-three passengers but three escaped — one of them a man named Mulharty ; the others were a man and his mother-in-law from the County Monaghan. The boatmen were also
lost, as well as some of the people of the neighbourhood, who were going to hear Mass on the island.

At the time the accident occurred it is said that Johnston, the ferryman, was giving tickets at the ferry-house to a batch of fresh arrivals ; he is reported to have made light of the matter, and to have said that it would by no means prevent the station from proceeding as usual.

All the bodies of those drowned were recovered from their watery grave. Many of them were conveyed home by their sorrowing friends to the family burial-places.
About twenty or more of them were buried coffinless on the topmost part of Prior's Island, earth having been carried up and heaped over their grave ; and here a dense cluster of firs may be observed waving their sombre heads over their lonely grave. Others of them, again, were buried in Templecarn churchyard. The sight of the dead bodies, as they were conveyed on horseback over the rugged mountain, was most heartrending ; and those who witnessed the sad ordeal (and there are some of them still alive in the vicinity of Lough Derg) could never after refer to the subject without shuddering at the recollection of it.

In connection with this sad accident a remarkable instance — if instances were wanting — is handed down of the affection and veneration of the Irish for their departed relatives. It is said how a young girl, the only child of her widowed mother, happened to be in the ill-fated boat, was drowned, and her body was buried in Templecarn graveyard. The following summer her aged parent came nearly one hundred miles to perform the ‘station’ for
her, and brought with her a monument, which she had erected over her daughter's grave in Templecarn. This monument, or gravestone, is, I understand, still pointed out to the visitor." (pp. 155-58)

Original Format




Daniel O'Connor, 1843-1919, “The 1795 disaster,” Digital Derg: A Deep Map, accessed March 30, 2020,