Irish Ships and Shipping

Irish Shipping Ltd.

Crew and Ships

Memories of I.S.L.

Stories, Tales  and Memories from bygone days at sea


Sailing through the Suez canal

 ©Michael Mills 2007

A series of stories and reflections from Michael Mills on his time with
Irish Shipping Ltd.

New column , November 2012

Tony Clements,
Turavuori, Finland, March 1960 

Recollections of an Irish Shipping Apprentice
©Tony Clements 2007 
Michael Mc Dermott
Irish Willow 1959-1960 /
 Irish Spruce 1961

©Michael Mc Dermott 2013

Manchester memories
and men of
great character

©John Kelly 2009

The Last Trip of the 
S.T.S Irish Hawthorn

©Edward Griffin 2007

Irish Pine 1950's 

©Eddie Duffy 2007

Irish Elm Maiden Voyage 1968  

©J. Kennedy

Irish Sycamore fire 1965

©Kieran O'Connell 2006



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Michael Mc Dermott-Irish Willow 1959-1960 / Irish Spruce 1961

My name is Michael Mc Dermott. I was born and raised in Dublin.
I joined the MV Irish Willow in Dublin's Alexandria Basin on the 27/11/1959.
I was signed on to the Willow from 27/11/59 until 19/12/1960. The early part of my time on the Willow was on voyages from the UK and Irish ports to France Spain Portugal and Morocco until the ships departure in April 1960 for Canada. I had the humble eclectic position of Cabin Boy during my time with Irish Shipping.
I was 15 years old when joining the Willow having had my 15th Birthday on the 19th September.
I was surfing through photos on the web site specifically the SS Irish Maple site when I noticed a photo of the MV Irish Willow, taken from the Irish Maple, accredited to a Tony Clements, as the Maple was homeward bound in the Western Ocean during April 1960. 

North Atlantic , April 1960, bound East.

Meeting with the “Irish Willow”, bound West.

I was part of the crew of the Willow and distinctly remember that mid Atlantic passing of the two Irish Shipping vessels. It is one of the most vivid recollections of my period in Irish Shipping. The raising of the flags and the sound of the ships foghorns in the barren waste of the mid Atlantic stays with me to this day.
The Willow in April 1960 was heading east to commence an 8 month charter to a Canadian company, Clarke Steamship Company, sailing from Montreal to Cornerbrook Newfoundland on a regular 2 week basis with loading and unloading of general cargo at Quebec City, Chicoutimi, and Stephenville Newfoundland. The MV Irish Rose (our sister ship) was also engaged on this shipping service so when the Willow was in Montreal loading cargo the Rose was in Cornerbrook unloading.
The arrival of the 2 Irish ships in Cornerbrook was greeted by the Newfoundlanders with great interest and a local radio station commenced an Irish music request program where the locals could request music and songs for the crews of the Willow and the Rose.
Great people the Newfoundlanders.

A couple of months in to the charter time I was hospitalised with peritonitis in Western Memorial Hospital in Cornerbrook for 4 weeks. When the radio station news people somehow were made aware of my age and post operative situation they informed the local people and I was inundated with visitors, cards, and fruit baskets etc (the contents of the fruit baskets which I was unable to eat during my post operation recovery period were distributed by me to other patients in the ward) from residents all over Newfoundland. The radio station gave regular updates of my recovery progress to their listeners.
The crews of the Willow and the Rose were also requested by the respective ships captains to visit me when they were in port so I was very seldom without interesting visitors. The Captain of the Willow, John Lees made sure I did not want for anything and also visited me when the Willow was in port.
I actually was absent from the Willow for 2 round trips to Montreal but eventually I rejoined it and continued with the remainder of the voyage.
Needless to say for the remainder of our time in Cornerbrook I was somewhat of a minor celebrity! (my 15 minutes of fame)
The charter ended in November as the St Lawrence River was icing up and we finally picked up a cargo of Pitt Props in Rimouski Quebec, and sailed for Limerick just prior to the St Lawrence River being closed to shipping.  On return to Limerick I and all the crew signed off the Willow on the 19th  December 1960.

An exciting and rewarding introduction to my working life and the wonders of the world that had driven me to go to sea in the first instance against the wishes of my family.
I had one more period with Irish Shipping and I signed on to the SS Irish Spruce on the 13/02/1961 for round trip voyages to the USA and the Great Lakes and finally signed off in Dublin on the 08/06/61.

I then went to London and shipped out from West India docks on various British ships trading mainly to Australia NZ and Africa and the Mediterranean and Middle East. My career in the MN ceased when I finally paid off a merchant ship in October 1963.
I continued my involvement with the sea by working in the Drilling industry initially in Marine environments and later in onshore and marine contracting.
I was offered a position in Australia in the Drilling sector of a major engineering company and moved to Sydney in May 1965.
I have worked in the Drilling industry since that time and still live and work in Australia.
I still have a love of merchant ships and the marine environment and live in Balmain, Sydney. From my home I have a clear view of the inner harbour and the harbour bridge and the overseas merchant and passenger vessels using the working harbour.

My working life commenced with Irish Shipping ,my work ethic was developed in Irish Shipping ,it was not all plain sailing but it was scrupulously fair, egalitarian, just do your own job, carry your own weight, and you would be respected. Also the older men were very protective of the boy ratings and willing mentors.
I have been responsible for the employment and behaviour of hundreds of men during my 50 + years of working and have used the simple principles learnt during my youth in Irish Shipping in handling employees with great effect during all that time!
Thank you Irish Shipping for assisting in shaping my life and by offering me employment assisting, a previously, somewhat wayward boy, in the ways to be a respected man in a man’s world!

Michael Mc Dermott

July 2013.

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The Last Trip of the S.T.S Irish Hawthorn
©Edward Griffin 2007

 We signed on in Nyborg on 13 August 1965 in the north of Denmark and signed off on 27 November 1965 in Hamburg . The Captain was H.Onion a pleasant man with an easy character. The name of the Consul General of Ireland was Aiden Molloy as per his signature. The flight out was something to remember, fog covered the western coast of Europe preventing commercial flights from Dublin, we being on a chartered flight had to leave, the crew of the tanker had to be relieved and she had to sail to her new charter. The plane was not able to land in the scheduled airport and was diverted to a disused military airport some distance away, memory of exact location evades me. The pilot was a New Zealander, winding his way around to the location of landing actually looking for the runway I can still see in my mind's eye a farmer and his wife running out of their house to look up at us as we flew over their house looking for the runway, because we were flying so low. Anyway, we found it, not with out a few scares and a lot of cheering while still airborne, on landing the pilot came out of the cockpit and asked us "did that scare you fellows" to a retort in a Dublin accent "no sir, did it scare you". 

Two Danish emigration officials had been brought to the airport to meet us and to stamp our passports. A bus waited for us to take us to the Hawthorn and to take away the crew we were relieving, one of the junior engineers did not have a replacement, as far as I can recall he took it upon himself to leave anyway, not on the bus, but soon after. There I was, my second ship, after three months on the Maple second to Paddy Coffey (leckie). I took over the electricians workshop on the Hawthorn from Tony Richards from Waterford , I knew Tony well being a Waterford man myself. The Hawthorn was due to be sold to the Greeks to carry grain when the charter was finished, she was not in a good condition, the fresh water pump flat had flooded, John Dunn (leckie) came out to me to help get her right, thanks to John he was a great help to me, extra engineers were brought out to assist. Harry Dowdoll was the C/E, Jim Lyons 2/E, Tony Hall 3/E Sammy McGarry 4/E John Lee, J.P Ward, and Paudie Byrne from Wexford, others I cannot recall were Juniors. John lee spent a few days in hospital in Ventspils due to a slip in the engine room, he also fitted a set of shell bearings to the windlass, I can still recall him measuring with his micrometer shaping the bearings. A steam driven windlass and warping winch. There is a 2/E called Louis (Christian name) also known as the 'milk bottle' because he never went bronzie not a bit of sun on him, he left her in the Kiel canal to get married?. Donal Burke was 2/E at a later stage. Peter Otter was aboard for a short period.

  Paudie Byrne, engineer apprentice on the port side aft deck of the Hawthorn 
outside the electricians and 4thengineers accommodation
The Hawthorn tied up alongside a Niarkas tanker at Emden.  

The charter was from Ventspils in Latvia to Brunsbuttlekoog in Germany . The Hawthorn had a monotonous habit of losing the vacuum and that she done in a magnificent manner going through the Kiel canal one Sunday afternoon while the Germans were sitting in their deck chairs `watching the ships go by' we lost vacuum and went aground in the canal, we didn't do any damage to her we were going too slow. The first trip to Ventspils was not through the Kiel, I think we may have been a bit early for the charter to begin so we went north of Denmark and out into the Baltic. Jim Corrigan, who I met last Voyage of Memories brought back of few facts to me, he and I took it in hand to move the port side vacuum pump motor across to the starboard pump and get things going right again, now the reason being is the port side vacuum pump impellor was out of order and now the starboard motor had gone down hence the pulling and lumping on the manoeuwing flat of motors and men, those D.C. motors were heavy and bulky, full of copper and laminated electrical rated steel. Jim had to do an extra watch after that, much to his annoyance, we were all very tired and doing long hours, Jim was prescribed a set of contact lenses by an optician in Germany , they were new to us then and we did not really understand what they were.


The donkey boiler had not worked for a long time, getting it into shape was an experience. Eddie Fricker was the Chief Stewart on signing on, Tom Ford came aboard at a later date and saw the charter through. The galley stove wiring started to break down on us one day, John and myself tackled the problem over a period of nights, the wiring had short circuited due to water getting in to the cable duct over the years, talk about porcelain connectors and insulating tape, I hope it lasted for the Greeks. We had a super heater fire going out into the North Sea one night, just as well we were clear of the canal, as far as I can recall Harry Dowdoll shut in the fires for a while and that done the trick. Tom Wren was aboard as 3/E for a while. Loading and sailing from Ventspills was as follows





























 The Kiel canal was always a stand-by situation and caused a lot of sleepless nights for every body. Michael waters, a 3rd engineer from Wexford done the whole charter with us.

The Super of cargo was a German fellow who never really made friends with any body, all he done was eat and drink both to excess. The Cape Verde Islands made up a lot of the engine room and deck crew one of their names stays in my mind, it was Jesus Lopez, also known as snake hips. Going ashore in Ventspils was not easy, being the time of the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States and not too long after the Cuban crisis and the Berlin wall did not help, however we devised our ways of discovering when the Soviet soldiers guarding the gang way were in searching mode or not, our seaman's book was taken from us on going ashore and returned to us on boarding, a curfew was put on us at one stage because some of our fellows would leave it very late to return, hence the curfew.

Tanker man on the deck of the Hawthorn, he is a
Dublin man; can anybody name him.

Howard Fiddler was the Mate, a no nonsense type of man, preferred the smaller ships he said to me, less people to deal with.

The seaman’s mission in Ventspils was the `Star of the Baltic', not a long way from the tanker terminal, the terminal itself was closely guarded, going through a military guard hut to get out of the terminal with your recent pass in your possession to be produced on demand exiting and entering or at any time required. Sammy McGarry 4th Engineer had a habit of mislaying his pass, one night he fell into a flower garden much to the annoyance of the owner. The bridge to engine room telephone system had broken down to the extent that we could take a call from the bridge but they could not hear us, we developed a system of communication that we would give two rings on the telephone bell to say we had picked it up and three rings to say that we got the message. The telephone cable had gone down and there was no point in trying to repair it or replace it under the circumstances, there was far too many pressing jobs to complete. The generators were turbine driven and generated 200 and 110 volts D.C. in tandem. The laundry was in a state of non existence, this was situated aft of the engineers accommodation on the port side there were two indication lights wired to outside the leckies door on the bulkhead opposite to indicate if the laundry was left running. There were two photographs of the damage done to the super heaters following a fire at a previous time hanging on the bulkhead of the alleyway under those two laundry lights. The engineer apprentice accommodation was the most aft of all. Just inside the engine room door the two forced draught fans were situated, the soot blowers were a source of annoyance to keep going. I wound up rigging up a circuit to keep them operational. A port and starboard boiler with four fires to each unit ( heat exchangers) to generate 4501bs sq" super heated steam, a steam/steam generator centre of the engine room and above the manoeuvring flat. The diesel generator sat out on it's own, I cannot recall the exact location.


There was a 3rd engineer by the name of Eddie Moore aboard he later died at sea with a U.K. company, his death was recorded on the Signal.

Every time Eddie Moore blew the tubes on his watch we would begin to lose the head of steam much to Harry Dowdall's annoyance. Carbontetrochloride was deemed a banned substance for fighting fire in or around that time, due to the deadly gas given off when it hit a flame, a very effective way of putting out a fire mind you. The engine room had them hanging in relevant areas, they were a small copper unit hanging upside down as it were with a pump handle on them.

J.P.Ward and myself were coming aboard one night with hats we had bought on the black market in the town when the gangway watch searched us, now J.P. being built like a bean pole and I with a bit of weight on me the watch on the gangway saw that he was concealing some thing under his coat and was duly taken away, they didn't bother me and I ran like hell into the accommodation to tell every body that J.P, was taken away, a while later in he comes less his hat and feeling very relieved, there was a piano and a tape deck in the smoke room, J.P. played the piano at his leisure. The tape deck had seen better days and was just a mass of broken tapes.

Photographs were out of the question, there is something running through my mind that some of the crew brought their cameras ashore towards the end of the charter and were made empty the films out at the end of the gangway. Brunsbuttlekoog was not always the port of discharge there was Bremen and Emden too. Faddy Byrne 2nd mate played a mandolin to his enjoyment, many an off watch hour we spent listening to him. He told me the mandolin belonged to his father.


The Radio Officer (sparks) was from Drumcondra, Walsh was his name he insisted on being addressed as Breathnach, a good singer and balladeer.

Smoking was absolutely prohibited forward of the funnel, with stories going round that even if you had a cigarette or lighter or match in your possession forward of the funnel a stiff penalty was the result. Three superintendents were aboard from time to time getting her into shape, Charlie Devlin, Murphy (the quiet man" and one other I cannot name. The senior superintendent ( Hamilton) came aboard towards dry dock time. 'the engine room emergency lighting batteries were leaking, badly corroded through with acid, I made an attempt to get them into some kind of working order to pass a visual test by the Greeks, that worked, how it did so boils down to the fact that the test was not thorough, just a minute or two for the new owners to see that the emergency lighting came on.

Getting earth faults off the board for loading and discharging was always a problem, earth faults every day; the galley was always a favourite and the engine room.

Looking for vacuum leaks in the engine room was an ongoing thing with the engineers. The stewards and cooks I cannot recall, there was an electric water boiler bolted to the deck in the galley that had run dry of water and had burned the elements outright causing the copper to warp. The element was situated directly under the cylinder, John Dunn looked at it when came aboard, he said to me that there was no point in trying to repair it as I was doing, that a repair would be too uncertain so we got a new base and element and successfully fitted it. The cook and second cook and baker were getting a bit annoyed over the state of the galley. The cook was a temperamental fellow, always a good idea to give him a wide berth. The galley was his domain and he let you know that.

The Hawthorn was a `H Class' Tanker, the meaning of the classification is unclear to me, the ship builders number was CJ.N. 400193, G.T. 12168.05, N.T. 7024.54, S.H.P. 7500, registered in Dublin . Can anybody recall the radio call ( E.LS.Q./ E.L5.X.)? please. There was an engine room access to the forward of the engine room at deck level on the starboard side, the story runs that a sea had come through there at one stage and caused damage in the engine room, keeping this access closed at all times was a must. I still have the note book that John and myself kept our records of motors, bearing sizes, condition of this or that motor or that such and such was put on order. Sometimes the hawthorn looked big tied up at Brunsbuttlekoog, taken in the context of the super tankers that were coming on stream she was like a bunkering barge when tied up next to one of them. Onassis and Niarkas had their fleet of tankers then. There was a collision with a Canal Boat while going through the Kiel, you know the type of boat with low accommodation to get under bridges and a family on board, there was no damage to us or them for that matter but it did make a small column on the Irish Press as was the news when I got home in December.

We met the Stafford 's of Wexford’s “Manapia” in the canal, much to the delight of the Wexford men aboard shouting and waving at each other saying ``say hallo to that fellow or this fellow". The stories went on about the light house men and the light ship men from the Wexford area, questioning their state of sanity after their term on a 'rock'. There was always a good humor aboard to a lesser or greater extent depending on what was going on.

The starboard generator required to be started at ore stage, the pedestal bearing on the extreme end of the 110 volt set ran dry of oil causing the bearing to seize much to annoyance of Charlie Devlin. One night after coming back on board in Ventspiis Charlie Devlin got the notion that we should `turn to' and do a little before we turned in, Harry Dowdoll made a case against it and we all got a nights sleep.

A bit of German was picked up by all, it fell in handy as time went on. Looking back on it, going into the dry dock was like going to a wake, the fleet was made up of 21 ships then, a lot of good learning and life skills were picked up, it taught you to stand on your own two feet and how to get on with people in a confined condition for a long period of time.

A steam turbine engine room was a pleasure to work in, steam has a character all of it's own, becoming economically not viable, it bowed out to motor engines. The last time we sailed from Ventspils the diaphragm on the ships air horn stuck and there we were leaving the tanker berth and this thing sounding away, we had to shut off the air supply to it listening to it dying away ever so slowly. The ship went straight to dry dock then and the job of releasing the stuck diaphragm had to be tackled.

The port side life boat on the aft accommodation was almost directly over the sea water circulating discharge, the C/E had us warned that if we had to get out of her in a hurry that it was imperative that the circulating pump was shut down using the emergency stop that was provided for that purpose otherwise that life boat would swamp.

The German army had been reinstated circa 1960, to those who are not familiar with that, after W.W.2 the German army was stood down,. The Allied powers were in Germany then with the Russians in East Germany . Berlin was divided into a number of sectors, American, British and French. Anyway, enough of that stuff, the reason I bring up the German army is to recall the regular military manoeuvres being carried out on the canal, an ideal place for them, we took every opportunity to watch them, The German army had been reinstated because of the threat, real or imaginary, from the Soviet Union, by the Allied powers.  

Those were the days when Irish Shipping carried full crews of 40 or so men of all ranks, when good seamanship and good engineering were the practice of the day, maybe we saw the last years of real seagoing when the sextant and the stars were the only means of navigation, when GM.T., sent out by Morse code, was set by the radio officer an the ship's chronometer tucked away in the wheel house or chart room cradled in cotton wool to prevent damage, when the fourth engineer done the chiefs' watch and the chief himself done his tour of duty on that watch. The leckie stood by the telegraph and recorded the movements so that if he was required in any other part of the ship it was known where to find him. The stewards rattled the gong for meal times, the telegraph and horn were checked at midday , the hours were rang out on the bridge bell. The electrician paid attention to the main board every Saturday afternoon keeping it clear of conductive material that might be picked up. The Captain and Chief Engineer done their Sunday morning inspection. The order of rank was recognised.

The railways in Latvia were steam driven, huge engines, oil burners, built for long Continental journeys., always a sight to see. There was a bus from the tanker berth to the town at regular intervals we used the bus to get us there and back, no fare required mind you. Engine room wise the hawthorn was a very interesting ship, several levels of plating and the bottom plating housed the discharge pumps, always 'Jumping off the board" on the engineers, listening to Sammy McGarry and Harry Dowdoll getting on about them was a penance. The donkey boiler was situated astern of the two main boilers, it had not been used for a long time, there really was not a reason to do so because the tanker never spent that much time in dry dock for it to be used hence the condition of the engine room. Harry Dowdoll wanted it going, the boiler fuel oil pump motor was in a bad state the brush gear had been taken out at a previous date, I found it under the leckies work bench and got it up and running. The Gyro Compass packed up early into the charter, the R/O made his arrangements to have it repaired.  

Jim Corrigan came aboard one night on the Kiel Canal after flying out from Dublin accompanied by Michael Kennedy, a lock operator gave them shelter in his operating station and young men being young men they were having a bit of good humored banter between them, the lock operator thought they were laughing at him and he threw them out into the cold, they were absolutely frozen with cold coming aboard. I Think they were waiting hours for us to arrive. Salaries had not yet been set, Sunday at sea was an extra, weekends in dry dock were also extra; coming to think of it set salaries were not a good idea, think of the amount of time worked going through the Welland canal and up into the lakes. The fire pumps had a problem building a head of water, in fact the head of water did not reach the forced draught flat, if there was a fire above that level well, it was all over and done for. The sanitary pumps also had a problem with head pressure managing to reach the wash basins and toilets, after much coaxing and bleeding of air we would last for a day or two more.

The dry dock was misery in itself, the conditions were less than scarce, no heating was the main problem and it just got to you as the days went by. The usual skeleton crew were left on board for the dry docking period, the German customs were on board haunting us, peeping and enquiring, you would think we were going to run away with half of Germany on them. Tom Ford gave me a lecture during that period, I had stashed away a few packets of cigarettes and the customs found them, Tom called me to the find to meet these two customs men and he began to read the riot act to me in front of the two custom fellows. Eventually they being satisfied that the haul was not significant enough ( four packets) and that I had been well told off and having to say sorry to them and forfeit the cigarettes they went away, Tom saying to me " you were lucky there boy, you don't fool with these fellows, and don't ever do that on me again". Tom Ford was a heavily built man, always ready with a bit of advice or direction for you, never a bum steer .

The last "hurrah". The break up farewell of the Hawthorn. 
L to R Deck apprentice (probably 4h mate), Harry Dowdoll, Eddie Griffin, Donal Burke, 
Deck Apprentice, 3`d mate, Paddy Byrne, Howard Fiddler. Breathnach. (sparks)

John Dunn left some time in September to continue the shore leave he had interrupted to come to the Hawthorn, later on John and myself met again while changing places between the Poplar and the Spruce on the east coast of America . 

The people I met with Irish Shipping were in general good humoured, there will always be the odd one out, after all was not Lucifer thrown out of heaven, or so the testaments tell us. Life is not always a bed of roses. 

The demise of LS.L. was indeed disgusting, an Island Nation without a shipping line is something you would expect to read about in Hans Christian Andersons fairy tales, this fairy, tale had no good ending. The moulding of young men into good careers, the competent seamen all gone into history, the likes will not be seen again, to cause the men of the line to march along O'Connell Street dressed in their uniforms and stand outside the G P.O. to make their case was an insult, certainly to the men who braved the German U-Boats to feed the Country, and to build up the line, as we know their neutrality was not always recognised.

©Edward Griffin 2007,  electrician, ex- Irish Maple, Hawthorn, Alder, Spruce, Poplar, larch, Plane, Cedar, Sycamore.

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Eddie Duffy 2007

Irish Pine / Irish Larch / Irish Poplar 1950's 

I joined the company in 1953 after a stint in the Kinsale Hd SS Guinness,  F. T. Everard, B.T. Tanker, and the Pacific Steam Navigation Co. While on leave I was asked to join the Irish Seaman's and port workers union and a week later I was signing on the Irish Pine. I got a berth and signed on as E.D.H. signing on the same day (19\11\53) with my father and my brother, which lasted for over 3 years or 48 trips across the pond in all weathers and never a Christmas at home. 

But the good people of St John's New Brunswick or Halifax always looked after us. The deck crew remained much the same for those years and now at 74 the memories are great to look back on, we are all about the same age those of us that are left and we haven’t forgotten those that are gone.
I guess I could have done another 3 years in her had the Captain not made a silly remark about our homes having found nothing to complain about on Sunday inspection. It been a beautiful sunny Atlantic morning with all the deck hands making the best of the sunshine, our Captain found one cigarette butt in the deck scuppers and he lost it completely. All the deck hands gave notice that they wouldn't be signing on next trip- that was on the 20/7/56 .

  Eddie Duffy

Irish Pine 1956


I stayed ashore and got engaged to my girl friend with a promise to give up the sea when we married and saying good bye to her on 9/10/56 to join the Irish Larch at West Hartlepool for her maiden voyage little did I know that I would not see her again till a year later on the 3/10/57.  Things did not work out as we had planed and I rejoined the Larch on the 15/10/57 on charter to Cunard carrying cars and Scotch Whiskey for the States, returning to Liverpool on the 24/12/57in time to catch the B+ I to Dublin even got midnight mass onboard.

I was to rejoin her after Christmas but could not go back because of the inter union dispute. I was paid off on the 3/1/58 , battened down for a couple of months and I wondered if I was ever going to get married but the dispute collapsed. I joined the Irish Poplar on the 13/3/58 at Manchester bound for Houston but she developed engine trouble with damaged turbine fins we were adrift for a few days which was reported in the Irish Press of that time.


Tommy Byrne (Bosun) from Wicklow about to take a plunge in the Pool on the Irish Larch

Some crew at Beach Candy (Included are-Sainte Byrne, Sunny Byrne and Chippy Purdy)

Irish larch


We were towed to Port Everglades till repairs could be carried out , during our time there we were able to welcome aboard our gold medal winner from the Melbourne Olympics Ronny Delaney.

After repairs we carried on to Houston and loaded grain for Chittagong, we called into Gibraltar but very little grub came on board and by the time we got to the canal and into the red sea things were getting lean and so were the crew. There were weevils in the cereals and in the flour. We did get oranges but these were always as dry as the Sahara till it was found that the 2nd steward was using a syringe and needle to extract the juices for the captain's breakfast table. I might add that he had his wife and two small children onboard and the poor children were eating nothing anyway.

Discharged cargo Chittagong sailed and for Albany Western Australia where we truly stored up and we dined on the best. We had onboard a second cook and baker whose bread and cakes were a joy to eat. Just before we sailed there was a fire in the galley, thankfully no one was hurt only smoke damage, so we loaded grain for London and Newcastle calling at Cape town and Dakar then homeward bound.

All things being equal it was a good trip with a sing song most nights at sea and on two bottles of beer at that, and a great and happy bunch of lads, sadly it ended tragically when we lost a man when he fell into dock in London, he had only gone ashore to make a phone call home .

After discharging part cargo we sailed for Newcastle where we paid off on 22/8/58 not much time to prepare for a wedding that was to take place on the 3/9/58 and one of my shipmates married on the same day. We tied the knot on the same day; I haven't seen Johnny in years. I gave up deep sea and joined the Irish Lights Granuaile on the 18/10/58 . I served till 23/8/83 .

Irish Lights vessel Geanuaile 1960s

M. Kelly (Bosun), E. Duffy (AB), E. Ferry (chippy)

The trip on the Irish Poplar is identical to that which Tony Clements writes about.

Photo from Tony Clements

Drifting off the Bahamas, (bound Houston), and waiting for a tow into Fort Lauderdale, Florida for repairs (seawater in boilers?), April 1958.

Her master for the trip when I sailed in her was Captain E.C Horne and as the picture shows her been towed into Port Everglades, I am sure Tony and I were shipmates.

Eddie Duffy the guy who caught the shark while we were drifting.

©Eddie Duffy April 2007

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Irish Elm Maiden Voyage 1968 
By ©J. Kennedy  

On the clear sunny winter's morning of January 8th, we boarded a Viscount at Dublin Airport and flew to Rotterdam to join the new addition to the fleet—the "Irish Elm". How­ever there was snow on the ground as we disembarked from the coach that had taken us from the Airport to Verolme Dockyard, Botlek. The leviathan "Elm" towered over us as we first beheld her floating majestically in the dock, her deck seemed to stretch inter­minably forward bereft of derricks or rigging. She had arrived that morning after her three day passage and sea trials from Cobh . She was to spend about two weeks in the dockyard being completed, cranes being fitted on deck and various improvements and modifications carried out.

Botlek is a £3 taxi ride from Rotterdam and so we had a relatively quiet time. Ashore one fateful Saturday night, it rained and com­pletely froze over, bringing traffic to a stand­still—result : —£5 in a taxi back ! However, by the end of the fortnight all hands had be­come somewhat more accustomed to their surroundings and began to settle in.

We sailed on the cold bleak foggy morning of January 20th, a grey-black pall of smoke hung over the refinery where a disastrous ex­plosion had occurred in the early hours. We made our way downriver on the first leg of our maiden voyage (for those of us that had joined in Rotterdam , it was our first experience of the "Elm" under way) but only to anchor two miles off the Maas entrance, fogbound ! There we remained for three more days sur­rounded by countless other vessels—so bad was the fog that the Pilot and Tug services were suspended for the duration.

However, it so came to pass that on the 23rd, the haze lifted somewhat and we quietly slipped away and down the Channel. Off Dover it was completely cleared away and so we proceeded onwards at a fair speed, south­ward bound to warmer climates ! Our des­tination was Pepel in Sierra Leone , where we were to load our first cargo, iron ore, for Rotterdam .  


The "Irish Elm", call sign EIWT, port of registry Cork , is a bulk carrier. She has an overall length of 632' and a molded breadth of 92', she is 22,186 tons gross and 14,157 tons nett, the largest vessel constructed in the Irish Republic and the largest of Irish Shipp­ing's Fleet. The accommodation is all aft and on her lengthy foredeck are seven hatches, also four cranes (8 ton S.W.L.) and self-ten­sioning winches—two forward, two aft, and one amidships.

The bridge displays a formidable array of navigational equipment — Arkas Automatic Steering, Decca Navigator, Sal Log, Course recorder, Marconi Raymarc True-Motion Radar, Automatic D/F., Echo Sounder, 28 Channel V.H.F., Bridge Control for the Main Engine, Automatic Telegraph Printer, Auto- phone for Foc'stle and Poop, push button Crew-call system, Sound-Powered Telephone system throughout the ship and switchboard for all navigation and deck lights.

In the engine room, the air-conditioned, sound-proof, insulated, centralized Control Room, with it's Main Control Console, Data Logger Printer and Remote-Control Panel with multitudinous multi-colored flashing lights and buttons, is like something one en­counters in a science-fiction novel!

On deck we no longer have AB's, in the engine room we no longer have DG's, what we now have are GP’s! The correct title is GPR, General Purpose Rating, a new form of manning causing both departments to work in closer harmony.

Conditions for personnel aboard are first class—the accommodation is very comfortable and the cuisine, sorry—grub, is good! When off duty, one's leisure hours can be quite pleasantly spent—we have facilities for showing films, a library, to which we are gradually adding by imposing a levy on all hands in each port for the purchasing of more literature and two bars which are a great success. Var­ious individuals take turns behind the bar un­til such time as we can acquire barmaids! Of course the ultimate is the sky-blue swimming pool on the boat deck.

What luxury, in the lower latitudes, when feeling a little "clammy" after four hours on watch, to just plunge into the 65 degrees Fahrenheit pool salt water and soak for half an hour—the 2nd Mate was first in, of course.

We have a Welfare Committee, with repre­sentatives chosen from each department on the board, which meets regularly to discuss matters pertaining to social and sporting activities, complaints and suggestions and any other matters relating to the general welfare of the ship or crew. There is a darts competition constantly in progress, in which a great interest is taken, the 2nd Mate; he again, reached the final only to be ignominiously beaten by a Junior Engineer who carried off the thirst- quenching spoils of victory! Preparations are being made for the organization and training of a football team, unfortunately the "pool" is not spacious enough for water-polo.


And so after a passage of nine days we arrived off Freetown , entered the Harbor, picked up the Pilot and proceeded upriver to Pepel. Pepel consists of a loading gantry around the base of which is clustered one village. For the duration of our stay we had several small craft in attendance in the form of dug-out canoes laden with fruits and other objects and manned by sinister, half-clad, dark salesmen! Some rather odd souvenirs were purchased on a "changey for changey" basis by various individuals aboard.

If one removed the ship and gantry, the scene would probably be exactly as it was when Livingstone, or whoever the good gentle­man was, first set his eyes on the place. A broad deep-flowing, mud-coloured, turgid river bordered on both sides by dense tropical jungle that suffered but an occasional clearance where stood a native village with leaf-huts and canoes drawn up on the alluvial bank.

And so, having loaded our cargo-35,400 tons—in roughly 24 hours, all hands aboard and the ship ready for sea, we sailed from Pepel, heading north once again to the cold. Off Cape St. Vincent the " Alder " and " Cedar " were quite close, the former heading down around the Cape for East African ports, the latter on her way to Dublin . As we ventured farther north the weather grew pro­gressively colder, thereby curtailing our enjoy­ment of the delight of the " pool."

We arrived and berthed with the assistance of five tugs at Vlaardingen Ore Berth on Tuesday, February 13th, and no sooner had we tied up than discharging had begun with the overhead grabs plunging into the depths of the holds and emerging with their massive jaws full to their 16 ton capacity which they yielded to the barges alongside offshore. We discharged the complete cargo in under 30 hours and began to realize the difference be­tween general cargo " jobs " and the bulk carriers.  


We left Rotterdam on Thursday, February 15th, in the very early hours of the morning bound for the Gulf of Mexico , port un­specified. From the English Channel we steered a great circle course to the Azores and from thence towards the Bahamas . The weather during the latter state was " rough " which made us appreciate the calm after the storm all the more—the ship did not behave too badly considering it was her baptism of fire.

Passing through the Bahamas, long de­serted stretches of yellow sandy beaches could be clearly seen from the bridge, but try as we might, not a single comely inhabitant could we discern—must be " off-season." We then made our way down round the coast of the sunshine state and across the Gulf to the mouth of that mighty, also deep-flowing, mud-coloured, etc., river—the Mississippi .

We dropped " the hook " in the quarantine anchorage just below New Orleans and having been cleared shifted back to the general anchorage to await our turn to proceed to the berth. We are to load a cargo of grain for —once again— Rotterdam .

At present we are lying quietly to both anchors with the weather fine and sunny, the river bustling with the usual noisy traffic scurrying up and down. To-day, half the Canadian fleet passed up (well, a carrier and six frigates!). The captain was made a citizen of and received the keys of the city. Two television sets arrived on board and all hands are re-reading their mail, those who received none complaining of inefficient agents, etc. There is a lunch ashore to-morrow and top of the list of items to be tended to are: a change of films, purchase $30 worth of paperbacks and two rubber footballs for playing in one of the spacious lower holds.

And so we leave the “Irish Elm “as she patiently bides her time resting after her longest passage yet. There is an air of dignity about her, as there should be of a vessel of her class, and she seems to appear slightly disdain­ful at having to consort with such company as a rather scruffy looking Greek tramp anchored ahead and a puny sized 15,000 tons Liberian tanker astern—a "proper lady" is she!

©J. Kennedy

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Manchester memories and men of great character

©John Kelly 2009

My name is John Kelly , I sailed on board the Irish Poplar  1967 -68 as Electrical.Engineer,  and on board the Irish Cedar 1969 - 1970.  

Some times I look back at those few years that I spent at sea ,and I think they may have been the best years of my life.

Perhaps it was the spirit of youth , but I think there was something more than just the enthusiasm and vigour of youth. There seemed to prevail amoungst those who sailed the seas at that time –an adventurous nature, but mostly I found a great spirit of  camaraderie . I think it was the last years of real adventure, before the world changed. Travel became so easy – the world opened up and TV became reality. Before that we could only  read in books or heard about far flung places on radio or film.


I joined the Irish Poplar in Dublin about November of 1967, as a junior Electrical Engineer. A chap called Mick O’Regan was the Senior Electrical Engineer, and his remit was to bring me up to speed on what was expected of me as a seafarer and ship’s engineer.  We sailed from Dublin to Manchester, where we picked up cargo for the East coast of America.   I cant remember exactly how long we were in Manchester – I suspect one or two weeks, loading dry cargo and from there we sailed  for the United States of America. It was my first time away from home, I do not remember my first crossing of the Atlantic,  but I do remember that we docked in Brooklyn New York just before Christmas of that year, and I spent my first Christmas away from home in NewYork  -- I loved it.

During my time on the Poplar, I remember sailing with  Sammy McGarry , Jim Fahey ,  Paudy Cullen, Tony Bolster, Derry O Rourke and Billy Matthews,  and many others , all men of great character and integrity.     


  This 1968 picture of the barber on the Poplar is Mick Thullier, dayworking donkeyman, and his nephew Derry O'Rourke, probably 4th. Engineer at the time>>>
        D O'Rourke off the Azores, Irish Poplar 1969.   North Atlantic 1969.


I think Johnny Poole was master on my first voyage, rumoured to be an Irish Quaker, and certainly a gentleman.    Jack Johnson was Chief Engineer -- a Manchester man  who had sailed as an engineer on the Atlantic Convoy ships during the war, during one of these voyages his ship was sunk , and it was rumoured that Jack had been held prisoner of War for some years,  during these latter years of the war.

Jack had a ferocious temper - if upset, and would sometimes retreat to his quarters to play the music of Wagner loudly until he had calmed down. This, Jack’s love of Wagner, we always attributed to his time spent as prisoner of war in Germany.  Jack had a wild streak in him, and under normal circumstances was the finest of company, regaling us with tales of his exploits during years spend at sea. He also had a generious side and I remember when we engineers (including the Lecky) had completed  a job of work which sometimes meant working -- flat out – in difficult circumstances and conditions for long hours. No air-conditioning at that time -- just forced draft fans pumping air down to the engine room, which was always warm by virtue of the fact that the engine inevitability created heat in itself.  

This could at times, in warmer climates, be difficult to bear.    Jack at times like that, when the task was complete, would slip a couple of cases of beer down to the “Smoko“  for the lads. The :Smoko“ being the little cabin just on top of the stairs as you came out of the engine room, where we had our breaks for coffee and and a smoke . Almost everyone in those days smoked, fags were cheap on board, and no one knew or cared that they might be (as we know today) so bad for you.

 These were the times when we all pulled together, everyone, whether on shift or off shift, juniors ,donkeymen, seniors, the lot ,we would all muck in to get the job finished, so that the ship was ready to sail and continue on its allocated journey on time.

Yet another chief engineer I remember was one Peter Otter from Cork. Peter was a bit of an exccentric, one of the youngest engineers with Irish Shipping to gain a Chief’s ticket .     Peter as the saying goes ,could turn his hand to anything and master it, from stripping Doxford engines to playing the clarinet.  

Another Chief engineer I sailed with, Johnny Moynihan, hailed from Dalysford Rd. in Galway. Being from Galway myself , Johnny Moyniham was the only other Galway man that I was to sail with., during my time at sea. 

Others that I sailed with, who’s names escape me now,  but all contributed in their way to make sailing the seas a wonderful and character building experience.

Most of my time on the Irish Poplar was spend on the Atlantic run,  sailing up and down the East Coast of America, and if time and censorship permitted some lofty tales of onshore exploits could be told about.  However we all survived them and apart from some broken hearts, nobody got hurt.

During this time most of our cargo was picked up in Manchester docks, we were in fact chartered by the then Manchester Liners company .  Manchester a place we all became familiar with.   The “Salisbury Arms“ was a great big Victorian pub just across the road from the main gates of Manchester Docks , and I remember looking anxiously at my watch as we sailed up the Mersey canel towards Manchester, wondering if we would get docked on time to make a pint in the Salisbury Arms before closing time.    I was not alone in looking at my watch at time’s like these.


At that time also, I somehow became responsible for organizing a few of the “Officer’s Parties“  held on board the Poplar whilst in dock loading cargo at Manchester.

Somehow we got to know some student nurses who worked in the Hope Hospital in Eccles, Manchester, and it was my duty to get in touch with these nurses whenever we hit the English channel and  started our journey up the river Mersey from Liverpool to Manchester , a journey at that time of approx 13 hours. I would phone up my contact at the hospital and get them to spread the word – an  “Officer and Gentleman's party“  to be held on board the Irish Poplar in Manchester Docks. Loads of free food and booze, and a bunch of strapping single  young Irish lads(Gentlemen to a man)) ,all ready to party.

Taxies would be laid on, to and from the ship for these nurses.


These parties were a great success indeed , so much so that we had to limit the amount of invitations to 12 or 13 persons.  The student nurses from Hope Hospital were young and a bit wild -- same as ourselves,  and afterwards we would get letters requesting advance invitations  to make sure we let them know , when we were next due back in Manchester.  All would be ready and looking forward to the next party.   I must also pay due respects to the catering and galley staff and chief steward on board at that time for their help in making a great  success of these parties , great food and beverages available, for these occasions.


Little did I know at the time , that such would be my own love for the city of Manchester that I was to spend the greater part of my adult life living there.  Even today although I now live in Ireland , I still keep a place in Manchester and still visit the place frequently, and still feel the same love for the place.


On the Irish Cedar I sailed with a  chief engineer called Gorden Rowe, originally from St Ives in Cornwall but married to a Dublin girl.  Gorden I remember was always waiting for the gang plank to be lowered when we came alongside, and always seemed to be first man ashore when we came into port.

I met Gorden about 12 or perhaps 14 years ago,  I was catching a flight from Dubai where I was working at the time ,  Gorden was on his way back to Ireland from someplace in the far east, where he was still sailing chief on some vessel out there. We did not have enough time between flights at the airport to chat and cover all the lost time in between , but it was good to see him again. Apart from age which comes to us all,  he had not changed.

 On board the Irish Cedar , Timmy Sullivan for Mallow Co Cork, was always masterful at his job ,and game for a session afterwards ,  Tony Maxwell from Dublin, and so many others whom I called mates and friends at that time – I have often wondered where life’s path might have taken them and indeed, where they are today.


Irish Cedar
Richard Saunders
(April 2012)
  Richard Saunders at anchor off Cobh 1969 Mick Boudioukas
(The Irish Greek!)
Henry Kent, Blackie Healey   P.Duffy, R.Saunders,Ano, H.Kent
Dublin to North Arfica


Harry Bond was Chief Steward at the time , and occasionally tried to restrict our bonded rations, but somehow we always seemed to find enough to enjoy a few cans and a sing song. It seemed to me at the time that wherever we seemed to go ,we always seemed to manage to enjoy the life at sea.  Hard work and a sense of responsibility came with the job, and I think this helped a man form a character that would equip him to deal with any situation which he might encounter later in life.

We worked hard and played hard in those halcyon days of youth.


For myself , when I left Irish Shipping , I spent a year or two working back in Ireland until the restlessness caught up with me again. Spent about a year working in New York, came back home for a few months, them went to Manchester, where I later married and became a resident of that city.  Based in Manchester,  still the lure of travel stayed with me and  I have subsequently spent the past 35 years travelling and working in the oil industry , mostly in the Middle East and North Africa, where I am presently even as I write this.

Those who might remember having sailed with me , who would like to say hello , I would be delighted to hear from , my e-mail address being John Kelly (


©John Kelly 2009

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