The Wreck of the Leon XIII 1907

Leon XIIIOn September 30th 1907 the sail ship Leon XIII had reached the Irish coast just off Loop Head and was about to enter the Shannon Estuary to complete her voyage from America with a cargo of wheat when a great storm blew up along the coast. The ship was blown northwards by the force of the storm and on the morning of October 1st she was sighted being swept helplessly on the reefs off Quilty, having lost her rudder off Mutton Island. She struck the reef and was broken in two by the jagged rocks. The stern became submerged almost immediately and the crew of twenty two were left clinging to the foredeck.

The violence of the storm was such that any attempt at rescue could not be contemplated on that day. At nightfall every home placed a lighted candle on their windows. It was the only means of communication, a symbol of hope for the unfortunate sailors who were so near and yet so far from the safety of the shore. The dawn of October 2nd saw conditions almost as bad as the previous day and as word spread about the wreck, a large crowd began to gather in the village. It was obvious to everybody that the crew of twenty two could not survive a second night on the wreck which was being battered with renewed vigour by the stormy seas. Every attempt at launching a currach ended in defeat.

The local coastguards tried to launch their timber keeled vessel and eventually succeeded only to have it capsized. One of their number was lucky to survive the incident and this put an end to their efforts at trying any further launching. By this time the French sailors had attempted the launching of a raft with some of their colleagues on board. To their dismay it began to blow out to sea. John Connors, John Clancy, Tom Stack and others succeeded in launching their currachs and immediately set about rescuing the sailors. One of the currachs' was overturned in the process and its occupants thrown into the sea, but the occupants of the others, by feats of daring and skill which can only be appreciated by one who has attempted to manage one of these frail craft on a rough sea, were able in a sustained effort to pick up those thrown into the water and get them back into their own canoe which had been overturned. An hour later they were back on solid ground with the sailors, having made a Herculean rescue. The Captain who had a broken leg and a few members of the crew who remained on board, were taken off next day, when the sea had calmed, by a naval vessel from Cobh.

The press of the time made much of the bravery of the heroic fishermen of Quilty and thus, out of misfortune, came better things. It had become known that for years Quilty had been in need of a church which the poverty of these same fishermen had been unable to supply. Indeed one had been proposed but there was no fund out of which it could have been built. After the wreck of the Leon an appeal was made on behalf of the poor fishermen themselves and also for funds for the provision of the land required for the desired church. A Trust was set up and two funds were formed, one for the fishermens material needs and one to build a church. Many kind friends at home and abroad, priests and people, rich and poor contributed to the fund. However an appeal to the French Government, for whose people these brave fishermen risked their lives, fell on deaf ears.

A site for the church was given by a Mr. Haren and work got under way immediately. All the locals helped in the building of the church by drawing stones and sand from pits which were given free by their owners and by helping with the building work. The new church was completed in 1911. It was blessed by the late Dr. Fogarty, the then bishop of Killaloe and dedicated to "Our Lady Star of the Sea" on the 9th of October 1911. The bare walls of the church cost 895 and the round tower 100. This beautiful church and round tower are a monument to the brave fishermen of Quilty and a reminder for us of the heroic deeds of our fore fathers .

The names of those who took part in the rescue are engraved in Irish on a large stone flag over the southern entrance to the church. They are; Martin and Austin O Boyle, Patrick Kelleher, Denis Kelly, Patrick Cunneen, John Mc Inerney, James Falsey, Michael Stack, Michael O Dowd, Patrick O Boyle, Michael and John Kenny, John Kelleher, Patrick Kelly, Michael Mc Inerney, John Scully, John O Connor, Peter O Boyle, Martin Murrihy, Francis Healy, Patrick Mangan, Martin Moloney and John Stack.

Source: Quilty National School, Co. Clare


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