By John Tierney
The 125th anniversary of Achill's greatest disaster, on Thursday 14th June 1894, was commemorated with mass and visit to the communal grave in Kildownet graveyard on Saturday the 15th of June 2019. All those who drowned were aboard the hooker "Victory" which capsized at Westport quay as it transported 125 seasonal workers from Cloughmore pier to join the Steamer “Elm" at Westport quay which was to carry them directly to Ayreshire.
Prior to the mass which was celebrated by Fr. Tom Gallagher the mass goers attended a brief talk at the graveside about the 32 victims. 24 of the 32 victims were women and girls as these were packed down into the hold and when the hooker capsized they became trapped and unable to reach the surface to be rescued. By evening 30 corpses were laid out on the pier.
Many of those rescued were ill and recovering while the bodies of two young men were still missing. Even in the face of such a tragedy the majority of those rescued boarded the "Elm" to continue their journey to Scotland in their soaked clothing.
As the packed train to Achill was ready to leave Westport station on Saturday with its 30 coffins and accompanying families and relatives word came through that the bodies of missing Patrick Cafferkey of Tonregee and Joseph Cooney of Bleanaskill were recovered. Their bodies were to await a coroner's court on Monday. The remains of Honor English was taken from the train at Rosturk to be buried in the local graveyard. At Tonregee Mary Cooney's remains were removed to be of buried in the family grave in Tallagh, Ballycroy.
At 2.00pm the train reached its destination in Polranny where the remaining 28 coffins were taken from the train and placed on horse carts for the funeral journey to Kildownet. On reaching Kildownet graveyard the grieving families decided that all victims be buried in a communal grave. The grave digging commenced and by nightfall their bodies were laid to rest. Late on Monday night Joseph Cooney was buried beside his sister Nancy and brother Martin. Patrick Cafferkey was buried in Tallagh graveyard. The 32 names appear on the Kildownet Communal Grave.
Cill Damhnait 2020 Imeachtaí na Bliana agus Súil Siar