20 February-Fethard Lifeboat Disaster

Fethard-on-Sea is a village on the Hook Peninsula in Co Wexford, Ireland. There is a memorial in the village to nine members of the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution), who died at sea over one hundred years ago. They were taking part in one of the greatest rescue operations ever undertaken off the coast of Ireland.

The men who died were attempting to save the crew of a ship which had run aground off the Wexford coast. The ship, a Norwegian schooner called ‘Mexico’, had hit rocks near Keeragh Island off the coast. The ‘Mexico’ was enroute from the port of Laguna in Mexico to Liverpool in England. The ship was carrying a cargo of mahogany and cedar when it ran aground near Keeragh Island. In response to distress signals the Fethard lifeboat, called the Helen Blake, set out to rescue the crew of the stricken ship in what were described as mountainous seas. By the time they reached the schooner, it had already begun to break up.

The Helen Blake was struck by a huge wave and it was filled with water. It was then thrown onto the rocks and completely destroyed. Nine members of the lifeboat crew (Christopher Bird [Cox], Thomas Hendrick [Bowman], Michael Hendrick, James Morrissey, Patrick Roche, Patrick Cullen, William Bird, William Banville and Patrick Stafford) of fourteen lost their lives. The five survivors of the Helen Blake and the seven survivors of the Mexico scrambled onto Keeragh Island. They were eventually rescued by other boats after they had spent two days on the island. All except one of the crew of the Mexico were saved.

Reports of the event attracted world attention. A relief fund was established which attracted contributions from Ireland and from around the world. King Haakon and Queen Maud of Norway made donations to the fund which eventually reached over £9,000. The fund was used to support the families of those who had lost their lives in the rescue attempt.

The Fethard Lifeboat Disaster occurred off the coast of Wexford in the year 1914 On This Day.

Monument in Fethard-on-Sea

Photo Joe Rattigan

February 24, 1914



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