Wednesday, February 1, 2023
GeneralCOUNCIL TO CONSIDER FISHING TRAGEDY MEMORIAL GARDEN

COUNCIL TO CONSIDER FISHING TRAGEDY MEMORIAL GARDEN

A PROPOSAL to install a permanent memorial garden as a tribute to the 73 men who perished in a fishing disaster off Newcastle 180 years ago this month is to be considered by council. On Monday, Mournes Sinn Féin councillor Willie Clarke tabled a notice of motion on the matter at the local authority’s monthly meeting, though this was deferred for further discussion at the Equality and Good Relations Reference Group. The proposal called on council to acknowledge the anniversary, and to pledge, in partnership with Newcastle Harbour Heritage Association, to ‘install a memorial garden as a permanent and fitting tribute to those who lost their lives in the 1843 tragedy as well as all those who have lost their lives through the dangerous occupation of fishing’. The association is hosting a commemoration and plaque unveiling at Newcastle Yacht Club car park on Friday, and has advised, for anyone wishing to attend, that the event will begin at 7.30pm. A recently authored Conservation Management Plan (CMP) for Newcastle Harbour, adopted by council on Monday night, provides a detailed historical context of the town landmark, and this includes a section on the 1843 tragedy. It highlights that it came against the backdrop of efforts to rebuild the harbour, which had been destroyed during the infamous Oíche na Gaoithe Móire (Night of the Big Wind), an 1839 storm that entered national folk memory, having wreaked havoc across Ireland. ‘Events overtook the rebuilding issue when on 13 January 1843, there was a huge storm and seven fishing boats from Newcastle were lost,’ the document continues. ‘The weather had been reasonable when the boats were rowed out six or seven miles to the south-east fishing grounds, but around 11 o’clock the winds suddenly got up and the boats were left floundering in gale force conditions. ‘On shore, local people realised the danger and boats were launched to try to rescue those at sea.’ Forty-six of the 73 men who lost their lives were from Newcastle and 27 were from Annalong, and the town and Annesley estate ‘concentrated on efforts to provide relief for the 27 widows and 118 children’. A public meeting was called by the Reverend John Moore – the principal acting executor and trustee for the estate following the death of the third Earl Annesley in 1838 – and it was resolved to raise local and public subscriptions for the relief of the widows and children. ‘The story of the tragedy was told in national newspapers and donations poured in,’ the CMP reads. ‘Six weeks later, Reverend Moore reported that the collection had reached £3,654 and it went on to exceed £4,330. ‘A piece of rocky ground to the south of the harbour was selected for the erection of 12 cottages for the widows and orphans of the fishing tragedy. ‘Known locally as Widows’ Row, it took several years for the houses to be completed, and, despite the donations, they were of minimal proportions, without even the usual small garden area for the growing of vegetables.’ The rebuilding of Newcastle Harbour was eventually completed in 1850. An interpretative plaque to commemorate the tragedy, an earlier request of Cllr Clarke, was installed at South Promenade by the council in 2013 to mark its 170th anniversary.

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