Tram and schooner collide at Ringsend –
© Edward J Bourke, prepared for the Dublin Historical Record 2009.
Few stories have been mentioned so often with so much confusion than the tale of the collision between a sailing ship and a tram at Ringsend bridge. There have been several errors repeated and one discovery has been that there were two similar incidents at the same place. Earlier researchers have not had the advantage of the computer searchable versions of the digitised newspapers and this has helped resolve mysteries and tales such as this. The story gained interest when the visitor’s centre was constructed near the site of the accident. The story defied researchers who had hoped that a photo of the incident might be available for display.
The written source of the date February 12 1928 is “The short history of the Grand Canal Docks 1796-1996” published by the by Inland Waterways Association of Ireland on the bicentenary of the opening of the docks. Ms Delaney in a personal communication says. I looked through my notes of the Minute books through the 1920s and could find no reference to it but I could have missed it at the time. The Ringsend booklet was produced by the Dublin Branch of the IWAI in 1996. I was part of an editorial team which put the information together. Some of the details were provided by George Brierly who had been the dockmaster for many years and it is possible that the information about the Cymic came from him. The date quoted in the book of 12th February 1928 is very specific but I will take your word for it that it is not correct. It is stated that the No.3 tram outward bound to Sandymount collided with the Arklow schooner Cymic on Victoria Bridge. It continues “It seems that the bridge operator decided to allow the tram to pass and signalled this intention to the schooner. She was blown forward suddenly by a gust of wind and her bowsprit penetrated the lower saloon of the tram fortunately without striking any of the passengers”. I fear that the newspapers may be your only way to get the date
Lorna Siggins in an Irishwoman’s diary published in the Irish Times on 8-5-1996 cites “the short history of the grand canal docks 1796-1996” by Ruth Delaney published by the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland. Her item repeats the date which seems so precise, Feb 12 1928. This item is easily found by computer searching which tends to support the information but the same Irish Times on line does not verify the date when contemporary papers were checked.
Jim Cooke in an item on the career of the Cymric “A seafaring tragedy” published on the internet adds to the confusion by suggesting 1927. “In 1927 when on one of those trips to Dublin she had an unusual accident when entering the Inner Basin of the Grand Canal at Ringsend. She collided with a tramcar which was crossing the drawbridge on Irishtown Road. She got too near the bridge and her bowsprit speared the tramcar, but no one was hurt.”
A more recent book Shipping in Dublin Port 1939-45 by Walter Kennedy cites a newspaper report saying that on Tues. December 21st 1943 the schooner Happy Harry colliding with a tram at Victoria Bridge Ringsend. This was an opening bridge which carried the road and the tram lines from the City centre towards Ringsend and Sandymount, and when opened for the passage of ships. It gave access from the Grand Canal outer basin to the inner basin. The opening it seems was too late this time for poor Happy Harry. Fortunately, there were no casualties reported, not did Happy Harry need to change his (or her?) name
Despite all that has been written to date there is more to the story. The Irish Independent had a short item on 29-11-1921 “Ringsend Road, Dublin, Cymric of Beaumorris ran into Victoria drawbridge and spiked a tram number 233. A window was broken but there were no injuries”.
The Irish Times confirms the Independent on Tuesday November 29 1921 when it reports “Tram and ship Collide”
“A tramcar and a schooner came into collision in Dublin yesterday. The tram was crossing Victoria drawbridge on the Ringsend line while a three masted schooner was being berthed in the Grand Canal Company’s basin, which is spanned by the bridge. The spars of the schooner overtopped the bridge and smashed the window of a passing tram. Nobody was hurt”.
Irish Times Tuesday December 21st 1943 – This story will probably afford great relief to countless Sandymount civil servants because it substantiates in toto the excuses made by them for arriving late at their respective offices yesterday. But if having read it some higher executive officer is still somewhat doubtful, just refer him to the solitary Irish Times reporter, who, with countless others workers and shop assistants sat for half an hour while the crew of a three masted Arklow sailing vessel battled to clear its bowsprit from the railings of nearby Victoria bridge. Yes it was the Happy Harry en route from Waterford to Dublin that caused the trouble. For years she had docilely glided through the open gates of the swing bridge on the main Ringsend thoroughfare to her berth in the Grand Canal basin. But yesterday, for some perverse reason she missed the opening. Rammed her bowsprit into he railings of one of the open gate wings and in matter of seconds had completely disorganised the rush hour traffic streaming citywards. The hour was 8.50 am with every bus packed to capacity.
What a stream of ear blistering language fell on the hapless happy Harry. Even the most placid bus conductor on the route used language that no gentleman should, and all the time the traffic stream grew longer. At one time it stretched for over half a mile on either side of the open gates, and, as the efforts of the crew became more frenzied, the vessel appeared to become entangled more firmly. But eventually by extremely nautical looking manipulation of hawsers, Happy Harry backed away from the railings the harassed electrician feverishly pressing the buttons to move the bridge.
Folklore is indeed confusing and can lead a researcher a merry dance. Even written sources can easily mislead and misquote. This is what separates journalism and research. The internet too can both inform and confuse. It is a powerful tool but electronic publication has augmented the quantity of unreliable material by making publication easier. The verified material is fairly simple. There were indeed two incidents at Victoria Bridge, Ringsend. They are separated by 22 years. Neither incident was considered serious at the time and to the best of my knowledge there are no photographs. One involved the Happy Harry on December 21st 1943 and delayed buses. The other involved the Cymric on November 28 1921 when she speared a tram with her bowsprit. It seems almost a pity to solve the riddle over which so much ink has been spilled fruitlessly