Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Water Taxi of the West: Schooner Days MCLXe (1160e)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 17 Jul 1954
Full Text
Water Taxi of the West
Schooner Days MCLXe (1160e)

by C. H. J. Snider

Irish Interlude—5

Clew Bay, Eire, 1954—

WATER TAXI in this wild western coast-world to the 16 ft. canvas covered corragh. Schooner Days has been jaunting about in one or another of these seagoing hacks much of late.

Martin Duffy of Roonagh has a new one this year. She is ugly as sin, as they all are, but sweet as a saint, either under oars, sail, or an outboard motor. Martin's has two pair of oars, but he uses the handiest little outboard I have ever seen. It has a little prop like an electric fan, surrounded by a circular guard making it rock proof and weed proof. A universal joint makes the long shaft adjustable to the depth of water, no matter how rough or how shallow the water is.

In this crude craft, light as a basket though looking like a log, we crossed Clew Bay for four or five miles to the towering heights of Clare Island. There the Granuaile was fostered as a child, and there she reigned as a sea queen with her own chain of castles and fleet of armed galleys, coeval with Elizabeth of England. And there she is buried.

The last historical note on the Granuaile I have says: "In July, 1601, an English sloop-of-war cruising off the west of Ireland fell in With a large piratical sailing galley, reputed to belong to Grace O'Malley (the Granuaile) and commanded by her son. It was described as powerful for offense or defense, rowed with 30 oars and defended by 100 musketeers. The vessel was not captured until after a severe struggle."


It was not blowing hard when we crossed, but the Atlantic swell was marching in with long strides, all the way from Newfoundland, and bursting on the shore in great white sheets of spray and great white acres of foam.

"I can save ye a long mile's walk by landing ye under the ould Abbey itself, instead of going into the harbor below and coming all the way back," said Martin.

"The Abbey's where the Granuaile's bones may be lying, and that's where I want to go."

"An that's where I'll take ye first, and then to the harbor afterwards."

When the ruined abbey peered over us, 300 feet above the turmoil of breakers on the shore I yearned for the sheltered harbor and the firm solidity of the long mile's walk.

Landing here seemed quite impossible. As the undertow sucked back from the shore a hundred black boulder-heads showed up momentarily on the reefs ringing the steep, to be drowned immediately by the next Atlantic roller. The quarter-inch of pine covered with tarred canvas, which covered the corragh's sides ad bottom, would crush like an eggshell among such rocks. To find a landing here seemed like trying to force one's way up Niagara Falls.

"We'll take our time," said Martin.

He slowed down just outside the surf.

One breaker roared in and sucked back, and another, and another, biggest of all.

"They come in threes," he observed, taking the plunge on this third. Port and starboard star-port, with his flexible outboard like a sculling oar he zigzagged over an invisible channel among the white froth, watching his bearings on the bank, and bore straight for a rock as big as a house. He missed it by a shaving, and instantly we were behind it, in a pond-smooth basin of shoal and motionless water.

"It's all in knowing where to go," said Martin.

Young Father Heenan, sea-tanned and smiling, met us at the brow of the cliff. "I said an ave for you coming in," said he. He knew us both.

"Father, I have an intention," said Martin. "May I go in, now?"

"Certainly," said the priest.

I went with Martin. Heretic and church-child we knelt side by side in the little new church before the old grey ruined abbey. He was probably praying for his young wife. A baby was coming. I prayed for God's blessing on him and his petition, whatever it was.

When we rose we went together into the Abbey the Granuaile's had built for the Carmelites six hundred years ago; where her escutcheon still shows in the quarter sinister a rigged galley with splayed oars and pennon flying. In chief is the age-old emblem of the O'Malleys of Mayo, a bristling wild boar. Above the carven helmet is the O'Malley cognizance, a prancing horse. Here were the prancing horses of the sea.

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
17 Jul 1954
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Connaught, Ireland
    Latitude: 53.80472 Longitude: -9.99194
  • Connaught, Ireland
    Latitude: 53.83333 Longitude: -9.8
Richard Palmer
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Water Taxi of the West: Schooner Days MCLXe (1160e)