Irish Ships and Shipping

Articles and News

 SUNDAY 4th APRIL 1937


This article has been put together by: Leslie Campbell grandson of Captain Robert and Kate Campbell from information taken from the Newry Reporter 

At 4a.m. on 4 April 1937, Fishers’ steamer the Alder (341 tons) edged her way into the Lough in dense fog, steam whistle sounding sonorously. Unwilling to proceed through Narrow Water, Captain Robert Campbell, dropped anchor off Greencastle, which is on the Down side of Carlingford Lough, opposite Greenore on the Louth side and a short distance north of Kilkeel. It was the intention of Captain Campbell to lie up for a few hours before making for Newry.

Alder Lady Cavan Captain Robert Campbell Kate Campbell C/E Robert McGrath John Conlon

Aboard the Alder were Captain Robert Campbell (42) and his wife Kate (39) and the crew: Chief Engineer Robert McGrath married with four children, of 3 Erskine Street, Newry; Second Engineer J. Davis(47) married with three daughters, of 41 Kingscourt Street, Belfast; Mate Michael O’Neill of Fathom, Newry; Deck Hands - Jack Gorman of Rooney’s Terrace, Newry; John Conlon married with four children, of Upper Chapel Street, Newry; James Hollywood of Fathom, Newry and W. Cahoun of Carrickfergus.

The Alder was anchored for less than a quarter of an hour when the Lady Cavan (602 tons), under the control of Captain Gallimore and carrying a general cargo from Liverpool, loomed out of the murk and struck the Alder amidships. On deck were Captain Campbell, O’Neill, Hollywood and Cahoun and they were about to change watch.

The crew of the Alder thought that there was no immediate danger (although coal could be seen pouring through a rent in the plates) but the captain and crew of the Lady Cavan realised the great danger that the Alder and crew were in and offered assistance but those aboard the Alder declined it again apparently minimising the danger.

Captain Campbell went below to arouse his wife Catherine and she came on deck with him wearing an overcoat over her night attire.

The bow of the Lady Cavan was plunged into the collier in the collision and when they were locked together there was a steadiness which concealed the gravity of the injury the Alder had sustained, so that when the Lady Cavan reversed engines and withdrew from the collier the vessel suddenly developed a list.

The water rushed in through the yawning chasm caused by the impact and carried the Alder to the bottom of the Lough.

All aboard the Alder went down into the depths.

Alder as she foundered 3 survivors    

 O’Neill and Hollywood, both strong swimmers, rose to the surface about 50 yards away and swam towards an upturned lifeboat and clambered on to it.

Just after they had got on to the lifeboat they saw Cahoun, a non-swimmer, come to the surface fortunately beside an oar which he held on to until a lifeboat from the Lady Cavan rescued him. 

The Lady Cavan lifeboat circled around and searched until daylight but there was no sign of Captain Campbell, his wife, who had only at the last minute decided to accompany him on the voyage, or the other four crew members.

The victims were:-

Captain Robert Campbell, Kilkeel, who left four children

Mrs. Catherine Campbell, his wife.

Chief Engineer Robert McGrath, 3 Erskine Street, Newry, who left a wife and four children.

Second Engineer James Davis, Belfast, who left a wife and several children

Jack Gorman, Rooney’s Terrace, Newry, deck hand (unmarried)

John Conlon, Upper Chapel Street, Newry, who left a wife and four children.

The three rescued men M. O’Neill, J. Hollywood and J. Cahoun were good friends and had only a few weeks previous been photographed together. They were fed, clothed and sent home by the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society.

Captain Campbell and his wife had been married 17 years and left four children: James (16), May (14), Louis (12) and Percy (9).

Mrs. Campbell had two sisters- Mrs. Nicholson and Mrs. Harper and one brother Mr. Samuel Hale who is in America.

Captain Campbell was the son of Mr. and Mrs. James Campbell, Magheragh, Kilkeel and leaves four brothers; Messrs. Charles, William John, James and Harry. It appears that Mrs. Campbell had arranged to be home for dinner on Sunday. The children were stopping with their grandparents.

The Family of James Campbell at Leestone.

James Campbell, Sarah Ann Campbell (nee Mitchell), Libby (on knee),
Jennie, Bella, Robert, William John, Cissie, Charles, James,

(Harry not yet born).


The mountains around the Lough still bore the traces of a recent heavy snow and one can only imagine with a shudder how the six poor victims and the three survivors must have felt in the icy waters of the Lough.

On the Sunday afternoon the Lady Cavan steamed up to Victoria Locks, the entrance to the Newry canal. The vessel remained there for several hours before going on to the Albert Basin, which she reached about 6 p.m. Groups of people watched her sadly, in silence, for the tragedy affected everyone. Like a funeral pall the black smoke hung over the green funnel as she steamed past the pier head.  

The Sabbath stillness of the town seemed doubly intense as the dejected townspeople gazed on the ship, gloomily conjecturing the feelings of those on board her. Even the children stood wide-eyed and silent looking at her – and beyond the town.

‘Under the dove-grey sky – as wide as death The sea,

Fall, fall way, all soot and dust despair,

Turmoil and broil, uncertainties that rend,

All grinding noise and pain be ever still.

Here is the end Unmeasured sands to walk as spirits may

With washed unweighing feet, forever free.

The hush of waves, almost unreachable

By mortal sense, as in Eternity’. 

On Monday sightseers from various parts came to gaze at the scene of the collision at Greencastle, but saw nothing more eventful than the operation of shipping potato supplies from the Down to the Louth side of the Lough.

A thick mist hung over the Lough like a pall of death. A few hundred yards from the shore the mast tops of the ill-fated Alder mournfully projected over the waves and the peace of death was all-pervading. The visitors included some of the relatives of the drowned seamen and Mrs. Campbell.

The search for the bodies of the six victims of Sunday’s Carlingford Lough disaster continued without result.

On Monday night the Lady Cavan passed over the spot where the tragedy had occurred, captain and crew standing bareheaded as the steamer made her way out of the Lough.

At a meeting of Carlingford Lough Commission on Tuesday 6 April 1937, the Chairman (Lord Kilmorey) proposed that letters of sympathy should be sent to all the relatives of the victims.

The motion was seconded by Mr. W. Moorehead, D.L. and passed in silence, the members standing. The meeting was then adjourned as a mark of respect. Afterwards the matter was discussed in committee, and arrangements were made for a continuance of the search for the bodies.

At the first meeting of the newly formed Kilkeel Urban Council, the Chairman (M. Edward McGonigle) read the following message from President de Valera:-

‘I have learned with great sorrow of the deaths by the sinking of the Alder, and I beg you to convey to the relatives of Captain and Mrs. Campbell my sincere sympathy – Eamonn de Valera’.

On the motion of the Chairman, the members stood in silence in tribute to their memory. The Clerk was instructed to convey the message to the bereaved relatives.

At Newry Urban Council on Monday 5 November 1937 Mr. G.W.Holt, J.P. referred to the recent shocking disaster in Carlingford Lough, when six people – five from Newry and district and one from Belfast lost their lives and then proposed a vote of sympathy with the bereaved relatives. The vote was passed in silence

At a meeting of the Council of the Borough of Drogheda held on the 6 April 1937 on the motion of Alderman O. Kierans, seconded by His Worship the Mayor (Alderman Walsh), a vote of condolence was unanimously passed with the relatives of those who so tragically lost their lives on the ss Alder in Carlingford Lough.

 The Captain and crew were well known in the town and the tragic occurrence came as a great shock to the citizens and the town clerk, J. Carr was asked to convey to the relatives’ the deep and sincere sympathy of the Council in their bereavement’.

At a meeting of the Carrickfergus Urban Council reference was made to the tragic sea disaster which occurred in Carlingford Lough, resulting in the loss of six lives and the clerk was directed to convey to the bereaved relatives an expression of ‘the Council’s heartfelt sympathy and hope that all will be comforted and strengthened in their sore trial.



A collision in Carlingford Lough in April was recalled when the body of Robt. Campbell(42), captain of the steamer Alder, was washed ashore at Langness, Castletown, Isle of Man.

The Alder was rammed by the ss Lady Cavan and sank in a few minutes, six lives being lost.

Captain Campbell and his wife were amongst those who were drowned.

The body was discovered by Donald Hector Mackenzie, staying, with his brother, a keeper at Langness lighthouse. He was out for a walk and found the body in a gully in the rocks. It was in a badly decomposed state, but was identified by papers in the clothing.


MASTER OF THE ALDER Born 10th February 1895 LAID TO REST IN KILKEEL 17th  July 1937  

Touching scenes were witnessed at the funeral in Kilkeel on Saturday of , master of the ill-fated Alder. The cortege, one of the largest and most representative ever seen in the district, comprised people from all over the Mournes and various parts of Northern Ireland. 

Rev. Martin Funeral of Captain Robert Campbell    

In the course of a touching address based on the text ‘This is a grief and I must bear it’ (Jeremiah 10 v 19) the Rev. Martin said:- 

"The large number at the funeral proclaimed the unabated sympathy that is extended to the Campbell family in their very tragic bereavement. I do not wish to say one word that might uncover the wounds that are slowly healing or make their grief any more fresh than it has been made by the recovery of the remains.

That had happened, continued the speaker, in the all-wise Providence of God, and now they knew that Robert Campbell lay, not out in those wild and wandering waters but under the peaceful shadows of the family burying ground. So that when they thought of their sad loss they would not turn their eyes to the expanse of sea, but there to that little plot.

There were words in the Old Testament which better than any others described the feelings of the mother and father. Jeremiah said’ This is my grief and I must bear it’ Those words were in the lives of a great many people. Sorrow and despair melted away and that was why Jeremiah was able to face his grief so manfully. Grief might seem for some just like a shadow of a cloud in the infinite sweeps of the sky, a patch of cloud in the blue.

The pleasures of life are marred, the joy of life passed out and the tears come. How often has that happened when it seemed as though the mist will never lift again? But then they knew that the sun shines brightly after the longest winter even when it seems that grief will come and occupy every other thing. Sorrow was just like a grey thread that had been woven into the life of every man and woman. Jeremiah had said ‘Woe is me’ but he also said’ This is my grief and I must bear it’. He had taken himself under control. There was an absence of panic and a sense of strength. There was quiet dignity and perfect patience. He recognised the grief, and submitted to it. That was part of God’s plan for man.

Jeremiah did not say ‘I must share it’. He said ‘I must bear it’. Then, how many grief bearers were there in the world, bearers like Jesus Christ Himself, walking princely to Jerusalem.

In the hour that He was going to die Jesus rejoiced in spirit.  

There was something in that awful tragedy that made the Campbell family feel like Jesus – that was the faith of a Christian man, and that was where they differed from the worldling who gave away to grief, who saw no light, but only tragedy and misery.

Let them walk with Jesus Christ down that road leading to Jerusalem and through the streets of the city to the hill called Calvary. In that hour Jesus Christ rejoiced in spirit. Concluding, the speaker said might that be the faith of those whose grief they could not help sharing, but in whose gladness they could not help sharing also. Might God comfort and console them in that hour for His name’s sake."

The chief mourners were;-

Mr. James Campbell (father); Messrs. Charles, William John, James and Harry Campbell (brothers); Masters Jim, Louis and Percy Campbell (sons)

Messrs. Joseph Fisher, Newry, owners of the Alder were represented at the funeral.



(Down, Armagh and Louth Times) 

The Carlingford Lough Tragedy 

Not for many years has a shipping tragedy of such tragic dimensions occurred in Carlingford Lough, as that of Sunday 4th April 1937, when five members of the crew of a Newry steamer and the Captain’s wife lost their lives, their ship sinking immediately after a collision in a dense fog, with another vessel.

The news fell upon the ears of the horror stricken people of Newry, Kilkeel and the surrounding districts like a bomb shell, shattering the peace of a Sunday afternoon. Six lives were lost in the space of a few minutes. In war time such a calamity, although evoking the sorrow of a people prepared for the like, would not count for comparatively little, but in time of peace the loss of six lives is something which rends the very hearts of all. Homes have been rendered fatherless, and in one case parentless. A father and mother have been snatched away from their little children. And so we might go on reflecting on the aftermath of such a sad occurrence, Stark tragedy has the effect of compelling us to face facts, and once more the truth of man’s futility in the fight against nature is borne out.
They say there is sorrow on the sea and too often has that saying been justified. Fogs, as well as tempests have a way of providing epics of the sea; of bringing sorrow to the heart of man. Sunday’s tragedy makes us sadder, when we realise that it was not at sea in the ocean sense that it occurred, but within sight of land. The Captain of the sunken vessel and his wife were drowned practically within sight of their own home. What an ironic prank fate has played here.
Their four children living peacefully asleep in bed, while only a few miles away, across calm waters hushed under a blanket of dense fog, father and mother perish together. Although sympathy is but a poor enough comfort to those who have been bereaved, we know it is the desire of all our readers to express on their behalf the heartfelt condolence with the relatives, and this we do in the hope that it shall at least serve to bring some small measure of comfort to hearts wrought with anguish and despair.


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