Updated: Apr 25, 2019
After the first Chapter which concerns the story of the Mexico and is told by her Captain - Ole Edwin Eriksen, we move on to a Chapter entitled ‘Fearless’. The crew of the Helen Blake set out on their rescue mission during a force seven near gale in a 35-foot long boat powered only by sail and muscle.
The tide was too low to launch from the boathouse slip, so she was brought on her carriage to Fethard Quay and launched there. Even this short journey was fraught with issues, the running gear fouled and ropes repeatedly caught. It is my firm belief that a quayside conference would have been held to gain a consensus on whether or not to attempt the rescue.
Young Richard Bird who survived the tragedy, but sadly died two years later at the tender age of 24, was not a full member of the crew; nevertheless, he volunteered to set to sea with his uncle Christopher due to the fact that Bill Banville was delayed on his journey to the quay. Bill had been tending his cattle on a cliff top field when he saw the Mexico in trouble, he rushed to meet the lifeboat secretary George Bassett, and the signal to launch the lifeboat was given. He subsequently made it to the quay in time, and so the crew was now fourteen instead of the usual thirteen. This, unfortunately, meant the men didn’t have enough life jackets to go round. Bill was heard to say “if I am to be drowned without it, I will be drowned with it”.
In my view, as experienced fishermen who knew the coastline and currents well, I think they took a calculated risk and considered their mission viable. The reason for the terrible loss of life was pure bad luck, three freak waves smashing their lifeboat to splinters on the shore of the Little Keeragh. The first of the emotive images are revealed on pages 22 and 23. This diptych signifies how suddenly a family and community can be pulled apart by unforeseen events.
The crew of the Helen Blake
Christopher Bird - Coxswain aged 54 Drowned
Thomas Handrick - Bowman 39 Drowned
William Bird 36 Drowned
James Morrissey 45 Drowned
Michael Handrick 45 Drowned
Patrick Stafford 54 Drowned
William Banville 33 Drowned
Patrick Roche 55 Drowned
Patrick Cullen 37 Drowned
John McNamara - 2nd Coxswain