In October 1803 the brig AID left Leghorn in Italy (some reports state the port of departure as Citta Vecchia) bound for Bristol with a general cargo. Some of this cargo was discharged there and more was loaded and the brig headed for Dublin. Buried deep in the hold was a cargo of antiquities which had been loaded in Italy and which was the property of an Irish peer, Lord Cloncurry. The vessel did not reach Dublin Port and for many years it was commonly assumed that she had been wrecked in Killiney Bay south of Dalkey in County Dublin. It was hoped by historians and art experts that someday the wreck would be discovered and the cargo of antiquities, which included Roman statuary, might be recovered.
It has since been determined that the ship came ashore in a wrecked condition much further south near Kilcoole, County Wicklow. It proved to be a disappointment to many who had searched for the ship in Killiney Bay to find that most of the cargo had been salvaged and brought ashore.
The misconception regarding Killiney probably came about because the consignee of the cargo, Lord Cloncurry, was still in Italy at the time of the wreck and he wrote about the loss of the ship and his cargo of antiquities in his memoirs many years later. He described how this had taken place in Killiney Bay and with the passage of time he had probably forgotten the exact location.
The story of the AID cannot be told without looking at the life and times of a remarkable Irishman, Valentine Brown Lawless, Lord Cloncurry. He was born in 1773 and he died when he was eighty. His grandfather Robert was a Roman Catholic who had worked as a shopkeeper’s apprentice in Dublin’s High Street and had worked his way up to be a partner in the thriving woollen business. When his employer died Robert consolidated the beginning of a large family fortune by marrying the widow. They had a son Nicholas whom they sent to France to be educated and who, when he returned in 1761, changed his religion to Protestantism and added further to the family fortune by marrying Margeret, the daughter of Valentine Browne, an extremely wealthy man who owned a brewery in Kilmainham. From here it was one step up the ladder after another. Banking, stock speculation and property were some of his interests before he became an M.P.. His son Valentine was three years old by then.
After acquiring a degree in Trinity College Dublin, young Valentine did what most of the fashionable and rich young men of the day liked to do, he went on the Grand Tour to Europe. While in Europe Valentine seemingly became acquainted with some of the new ideas which had swept through the Continent in the aftermath of the French revolution. The notion of Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite for the common man would have been very alien concepts for most of the class to which Valentine belonged although the fact that he had sprung from fairly recent common stock would not have been unknown to him. He had met some of the soldiers of the Irish Brigade while in Switzerland which included some of the descendants of the “Wild Geese” and other Irishmen who had chosen to serve in foreign armies and this seemed to have appealed to his patriotic nature.
When he returned home it was to a country which was about to undergo it’s own political upheaval. The spirit of revolution was in the air in the 1790s and Valentine soon became involved with some of the more notable Irish revolutionaries. He joined the United Irishmen in company with Thomas Addis Emmet and another Irish peer who was to die tragically for his efforts, Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Valentine’s father had been elevated to the peerage and was now the first Lord Cloncurry, taking the name from Cloncurry Manor in County Meath which formed part of his estates.
All of this revolutionary fervour was to culminate in the bloody revolution of 1798 which was suppressed with great savagery by the Authorities. Many of the leaders were rounded up and executed and Lord Edward Fitzgerald died in jail from wounds received during his capture. Valentine was arrested but released after six weeks. He had come to the notice of the Authorities following the publication of a pamphlet which he wrote condemning the proposed Act of Union with Britain. This Act would abolish the Irish Parliament and Valentine saw that this would be totally detrimental to Ireland. In 1799 the Habeus Corpus Act was suspended and Valentine was arrested and incarcerated in the Tower of London without being charged or tried. His father died shortly after his imprisonment and he was not allowed out to attend the funeral. He was released after two years in 1801. It was necessary to have the King sign the writ which continued to suspend the Habeus Corpus Act but King George 111 was at that time undergoing one of his many bouts of mental derangement which are thought to have been caused by a disease known as porphiry. Valentine benefited by “The Madness Of King George” as the King was unable to sign the writ. Valentine’s fiancé and his Grandfather Valentine Browne had also died while he was in the Tower.
Valentine’s father had built the beautiful Castle Lyons house in County Kildare, designed by the architect Oliver Grace, as his main residence and he had also built Maretimo House in Blackrock, County Dublin as a summer abode. This was another beautiful Georgian house which was, alas, demolished in the 1970s. It stood overlooking the great rocky outcrop on the shore where in 1807 the troop transport ship PRINCE OF WALES was wrecked with great loss of life. It was to these houses and a large fortune that Valentine, now Lord Cloncurry the second, returned. The country was still in political turmoil after the Act Of Union had been passed in 1801 and Valentine would have remained under suspicion. There were still rebellious elements at large, the last vestiges of these were manifested in Robert Emmet’s abortive attempt at rebellion in 1803. Valentine now decided to absent himself from the country until things became more stable. He was once described by a Lord Chancellor as “A Catholic emancipator, An enemy of the protestant ascendancy and a most violent opposer of the Government”.
Cloncurry moved to Italy where he was to spend more than three years, mostly in Rome, where he became a close friend of the Pope. He gave expression to his egalitarianism by once championing the cause of Jews who were being persecuted. He was accompanied by two of his sisters, one of whom, Mary, was the widow of the eccentric Buck Whaley who had once walked to Jerusalem for a bet. They lived in the Palazzo Accaioli for several years. Cloncurry soon developed a passion for the study and acquisition of classical antiquities and when he gained permission from Pope Pius V11 to excavate in ancient tombs he began to amass a large collection of antiquities which he enlarged by purchasing artefacts and paintings from dealers and bankrupt estates. In his Memoirs of 1849 he wrote the following,
Other items of antiquity were acquired from a fellow collector who sometimes ran short of money due to his heavy investment in works of art, this was Frederick Hevey, the Bishop of Derry.
Lord Cloncurry began to ship parts of his collection home to Lyons House and Maretimo around May 1803. They were crated and delivered to Leghorn for shipment aboard the brig AID. There were many packing cases in this consignment which was just one of several which Lord Cloncurry sent from Italy. There was another very valuable shipment of antiquities aboard the AID, the property of a Mr. William Moore, uncle of Lord MountCashel. The following extracts from Lord Cloncurry’s papers and memoirs will give some idea of the type of items being shipped and their value.
Lord Cloncurry had engaged the architect Richard Morrison to carry out extensive improvements to Lyons House in his absence and all of the red granite pillars mentioned above eventually found their way to Lyons House where they were incorporated into the structure of the main entrance portico. Even the pillar of grey granite, which had been painted by Rafaelle, was used in the grounds to support a statue of Venus.
Lord Cloncurry to his agent, Thomas Ryan of Ballinakill, Kilcock,
The water font and crucifix mentioned above were in the small chapel near Ardclough, County Kildare.
The AID was a fairly typical cargo brig of the period, she had two masts with square sails on each and she was one of thousands of such vessels which carried a great deal of the maritime trade of the known world, particularly for middle distance voyages around Europe. She was somewhat short in length, 76 feet, but she was comparatively deep and beamy with 11 feet draught and 21 feet beam. She was fairly new having been built in Quebec just a year before. She was first registered on July 27th. 1802. Her owners were John and William Beatson of Quebec and London who were shipbuilders and merchants and the Master was an American, William Cranitch. She was classed A.1. at Lloyds.
The AID arrived at Bristol on October 1st. 1803 where she unloaded 60 casks and jars and 100 bags of juniper berries for J. Morgan & Co. Among the items of cargo loaded at Bristol were coal, sugar, tin, iron hoops and rods, hops, train oil and bales of cloth. There were also some passengers on board. A considerable time elapsed before she set out for Dublin as she arrived off the Irish Coast on January 12th. 1804.
An interesting item in the cargo of the AID were records of the Jesuits in Ireland which were being sent to Ireland from Italy. There were probably several reasons for this. The Society Of Jesus were in disfavour with the Pope at the time and were about to be proscribed, also, with the general relaxation of the penal laws in Ireland many of the restrictions on Catholics and their priests had been lifted and records which possibly had been moved from Ireland to Italy during penal times may have been sent back.
Exactly how the AID came to be wrecked is not made very clear in the reports in the newspapers of the day. Shipwrecks were commonplace occurrences particularly in winter and very often they excited just a brief report if at all. What is clear is that there was a storm and the ship seems to have come ashore (some reports say she was towed in.) in a wrecked condition about three miles north of Wicklow on Friday, January 15th., 1804. This would place the site of the wreck somewhere between Broad Lough and Sixmile Point. In all probability the AID was overcome in heavy seas and perhaps dismasted. There were four females on board who were lost, the Captain’s wife, the wife of a sergeant of the 18th. Dragoons, the wife of a Scottish officer, and a lady’s maid. The captain’s son was also lost. It would appear that most of the cargo was salvaged and taken ashore as the following letter to the Freeman’s Journal on January 18th. 1804 will testify.
Some of the goods taken ashore seem to have been auctioned off possibly to pay the cost of the salvage, this would be especially likely if the ship was actually towed in to the shore by salvors. Some of the artefacts may have been bought back on behalf of Lord Cloncurry who wrote the following to Thomas Ryan, his agent,
Cloncurry later wrote a letter from Lyons House in which he mentions a broken mosaic table which had been stored by James Ryan, the brother of his agent, stating:
There is some evidence to suggest that Lord Cloncurry shipped cargoes of antiquities from Italy on three other vessels named YOUNG HENRY, FORTUNA and DIANA.
As the years went by the details of the wreck and the aftermath seem to have faded from memory and the publishing of Lord Cloncurry’s’ memoirs in 1849 gave rise to the popular idea that the wreck lay at the bottom of Killiney Bay with a cargo of antiquities. Prior to detailed research, which was carried out in the early 1980s, many divers had searched in vain in Killiney Bay for the wreck. Mr. Desmond Branigan of Marine Research in Dublin instituted a detailed search of the archives which uncovered the truth of the matter regarding the AID. He prepared a report at that time in collaboration with Professor John Dillon, Regis Professor of Greek, Trinity College, Dublin, which contained a feasibility study for a search and subsequent survey and salvage of the wreck. Some of this was brought to fruition in 1985 when a team of ten divers from Dublin University Sub – Aqua Club carried out a project under the direction of Desmond Branigan.
Although they were aware that some of the cargo of the AID had been brought ashore it was hoped, if the wreck were found, that some of the artefacts would have remained aboard and might be recovered. The seashore at Kiloughter consists of a shingle beach which slopes steeply to the waterline and is part of a flat featureless coastline that stretches from Greystones Harbour to Wicklow Bay. The tides run along the coastline with a very strong current close to the shore and this was to prove a hindrance to the project.
Desmond Branigan had been a member of the team of divers which searched for and found the wreck of the Spanish Armada ship SANTA MARIA DE LA ROSA in the Blasket Sound in County Kerry in 1968. This had been organised by Sydney Wignall, a diver and historian from England. During that expedition an extensive area of the Basket Sound had been explored by divers using the Swimline Search method. This had been developed by a member of the team, Royal Naval Commander John Grattan, during mine clearance work in Malta. This system was taught to the AID project group and used by them in Kiloughter. The method involves marking off areas of the seabed which are then searched by divers spread out on a rope, using a prearranged set of signals if anything is observed. The team practised the technique in Killiney Bay before moving to Kiloughter.
The site chosen seemed the most likely place that corresponded to the description in contemporary sources of where the wreck had come ashore. This was at the end of a lane which led to the shore and ended at the railway line which runs close to the beach. Over the next week the remains of a wooden vessel were found a short distance offshore which had two metal capstans. Various metal fittings from the rigging, pieces of coal and some white marble – like rocks were all that were found, despite extensive searching and probing in the sand and shingle which overlaid the site. A limited survey was carried out to record what been observed but this was rendered extremely difficult by the currents and the amount of seaweed which became attached to the survey ropes on every tide.
The conclusions reached were, that although there was nothing to positively identify the wreck with the AID, the timber, capstans and iron artefacts were consistent with a vessel of that period.
A further expedition was organised in 1987 by Dublin University Sub Aqua Club, again in cooperation with Professor Dillon. Funding and sponsorship were provided by Sotheby’s through their chairman, Lord Gowrie. Various other firms and organisations also donated funds and equipment and an archaeologist named Margeret Gowan was brought into the group. Despite an extensive search and the use of a water dredge, the timber remains, which had been noted on the previous expedition, were not rediscovered. Various metal and wooden artifacts were plotted and brought ashore and as before, no traces of statuary or other antiquities were found.
A preservation order was placed on the site by the Commissioners Of Public Works on May 1st. 1987 under the National Monuments Acts of 1930 and 1954. This delineated an area of 1300 metres by 900 metres from the high water mark as a national monument site. This was one of the first of such orders applied to underwater sites under the old legislation before the enactment of the National Monuments (Amendment) act of 1987. A similar order, which had been placed on the Spanish Armada wrecks at Streedagh Strand, was quashed by the president of the High Court in June 1987 following a judicial review which had been sought by the group of British divers who had discovered the wrecks.
The efforts of the amateur diver archaeologists on these two expeditions and those of the group which surveyed the wreck of the Paddle steamer QUEEN VICTORIA off Howth Head in 1986 marked a new beginning in Irish underwater archaeology. Many sport divers began to realise the importance of the underwater archaeological heritage and became actively involved in projects through groups such as The Irish Underwater Archaeological Research Team (I.U.A.R.T.) which came into being around this time. The National Monuments (Amendment) Act of 1987 decrees that all wrecks over one hundred years old are regarded as National Monument sites and ensures that licenses must be obtained to dive on such wrecks or to carry out surveys or excavations. Many courses were organised to train amateur divers in underwater archaeology to the standards of the Nautical Archaeology Society. Ms. Nessa O’Conner of the National Museum who is an archaeologist and a diver was most active in this area. Much valuable work was done in educating divers as to the necessity for conservation of what is a very finite resource.
It could be argued that all of this was “too little, too late” as a great deal of plundering of underwater sites had taken place since the introduction of the Aqualung decades previously, an activity which still continues despite the legislation. It seems to be an unfortunate fact of life in the present time that the participation of amateur sport divers in underwater archaeological projects is on the wane due to the fact that a new generation of professional underwater archaeologists has emerged in the intervening years.
Poor Lord Cloncurry, not only did he lose part of his valuable collection of antiquities which he had painstakingly assembled but shortly after he arrived home in 1805 he was to lose his beautiful young wife whom he had met and married in Italy. Eliza Georgina Morgan was the daughter of a Major General who had commanded in the East Indies. She was just sixteen when they were wed and when they returned to Castle Lyons in County Kildare she succumbed to the charms of a friend of Lord Cloncurry’s who was a frequent visitor to Lyons House, Sir John Pigot Piers. Sir John and Lady Cloncurry were caught in flagrante delicto which resulted in acrimonious litigation and a divorce in 1810. It is almost certain, that in addition to whatever prurient interest Piers may have had, that he had made a bet with some colleague that he could totally seduce Lady Cloncurry. Lord Cloncurry had engaged the Italian Artist Gaspar Gabrielli to paint some murals in Lyons House and while Piers and Lady Cloncurry were engaged in their carnal activities on the sofa they did so in full view of Gabrielli who was on a scaffold above their heads painting a mural.
Gabrielli drew a hasty sketch of their activities and informed Lord Cloncurry. Piers was sued for the quaintly euphemistic offence of “criminal Conversation” by Cloncurry who was represented in court by John Philpot Curran. Damages in the amount of £20,000 plus costs were awarded and Piers fled the country to the Isle of Man. After lengthy proceedings he eventually paid Lord Cloncurry his damages but was financially ruined in the process. The Poet John Betejman was inspired to write a poem on the subject entitled “Sir John Piers” which contains the following lines.
Lord Cloncurry later remarried and he lived to a great age. Throughout his long life he was a man of great energy and vision. He advocated Catholic emancipation and was greatly interested in developments in agriculture. He was far ahead of his time in providing educational facilities for the children of his tenants and was noted as a very benign and caring landlord. He was a member of the Grand Canal Company and throughout the famine years in Ireland he strove to provide relief to the starving. His house, Castle Lyons, still stands in a good state of preservation.
In “Beauties of Ireland” Vol. 2, by J.N. Brewer published in 1826 the following appeared,
Lord Cloncurry would perhaps have approved of the activities of the divers when he wrote from Rome in April, 1804.
Cormac F. Lowth cormaclowth [at] utvinterenet [dot] com