Updated: Oct 28, 2022
As we walk along the clifftop just south of the sound between Guns Island and Ballyhornan we pass The Long Hole. It is a spectacular natural fissure in the bedrock. A lower path on the bank takes us past a ten metre deep canyon to the water below. In November 1827 disaster struck at this location, I now refer to an entry in the Tales & Legends of Lecale by Dr. T.M. Tate:
THE WRECK OF THE DEMERARA
“On a lovely evening late in summer I passed by a little field of corn in which an old man had been working all day. He was standing alone looking out on the open sea. I stopped to speak to him. He was an old friend. “Did you ever hear the story of the wreck of the Demerara?” he asked. “No,” I said, thrilled that a page of local history was turning back for me. “It’s long over a hundred years now since it happened,” he said. “I heard my grandfather telling it many a time. She was a three-masted ship, bound for the port of Glasgow from the West Indies, carrying a cargo of molasses and sugar. One night she ran into a southerly gale coming up the Channel, and was driven on the sandbanks off the coast of Wexford. The rudder was broken: she became unmanageable.
“So the crew deserted her, leaving her to her fate. Towards morning the wind veered to the south-west, floating her off on the rising tide, and she drifted along the coast helpless before the storm. Captain Blair sighted her off Ardglass, and boarded her with a local crew. To his surprise he found a black man sitting under a mast mending his trousers, and a black Newfoundland dog lying by his side. They had been forgotten by the crew and left behind. Captain Blair rigged up spars over her stern and sailed her before the wind, beaching her safely under the banks in Ballyhornan Bay.
“That evening the girls of the village with their spinning wheels had gathered in a cottage neat by to spin their yarn. Someone, to play a joke on them, brought the black man ashore, telling him to open the cottage door and rush in among them. They were terrified, never having seen such a strange being before. Many of their spinning wheels were broken in the confusion and excitement which followed.
“There is the spot where Captain Blair was afterward lost,” he said, pointing to a wide fissure in the cliffs beneath us – the Long Hole. “He bought a little sloop with the money given to him by the owners of the Demerara, and traded between Ardglass and the Isle of Man, carrying chiefly potatoes and salt to that Island. One dreadful night he was caught in a gale from the N.E., and foundered on these very rocks. The rest of the crew were saved, but he was then a stiff, worn-out old man, and failed to jump clear in time. Next day the rocks were strewn with Manx pennies which he had brought back with him”. Here the story ended. We talked of other things for a little while, and then parted.”
To pick up on the demise of Captain Blair, I now go to the Diary of Richard Clark. In the random notes in the early pages a reference is made:
On searching for further information on the ‘Demerara’ a very similar story of a ship called the ‘Demerary’, which like the story above, struck a sandbank in Wicklow (in 1804) and the captain and crew abandoned her, only for the ship to be refloated. Read the full story here: http://lugnad.ie/demeray. The story of the ‘Demerary’ however mentions no connection to the Lecale coastline, but was the legend of the ‘Demerara’ inspired by it?
Demerary is the Dutch for Demerara, which is a region on the coast of South America (the West Indies as mentioned in the legend).
The excerpt from the Tales and Legends of Lecale was orginally transcribed by the Lecale and Downe Historical Society during the Covid-19 Lockdown. The connection to the Demerary was discovered by Philip Blair who permitted this piece for inclusion on the blog. It is thanks to Noel Teggart that we know in recent years Manx pennies have been found on the rocks north of Sheepland Harbour.
Richard Clark, who appears to have been the owner of The Peggy, was born in November 1795. He would have been 32 when the ship was wrecked. As he is my great great great grandfather and I am now 31, I do feel slightly inadequate!