Achill Island Field Report 4: Return to the Wreck of the Successful, 14 June 2006

Today’s plan is to visit the wreck of an old fishing trawler named the Successful. This vessel may have been originally built as early as the late nineteenth century, though it certainly operated through the first decades of the twentieth century. Around 1950 it was a derelict vessel in Westport, and it was bought by the Sweeny family of Achill Sound for only five pounds.

The Sweenys were involved in a variety of maritime enterprises including commercial fishing and shipwreck salvage, and the Successful was intended to support theses activities. While moored in the Sound, however, it ran aground during a storm and was abandoned after recovery efforts proved fruitless. Successful was both steam- and sail-powered, representing a short-lived hybrid vessel type during a period of rapid technological change in the British commercial fishing industry. The introduction of large steam-powered trawlers constituted the last stage of the transition from traditional subsistence fishing to commercial fishing that took place in the British and Irish isles over the nineteenth century.


This picture above is from a book titled The Deep Sea and Coast Fisheries of Ireland, with Suggestions for the Working of a Fishing Company by Wallop Brabazon, published in 1848. It depicts a schooner-rigged sailing trawler of the type recommended by Brabazon for a profitable fishing endeavor in Irish waters. The boat is depicted underway hauling its trawl or nets. The Successful was a similar type of vessel, though it had two masts and an unknown rig. It also had a propeller driven by a steam engine. While the engine is missing (likely salvaged either before the vessel was sold to the Sweenys, or after its loss in the Sound) a boiler does remain on the wreck. It is very small for a ship this size, suggesting that Successful may have been underpowered, and might have used its small engine mainly to assist in maneuvering and to supplement sail power while underway. The ship may have been originally built as a sailing vessel, and had the engine added during a refit, in order to gain some more profitable years from an otherwise obsolete vessel. When investigating this wreck we are thinking about these kinds of research questions, and Successful promises to lend insight into how technological innovations were adapted in this localized maritime setting.


The wreck is located on the foreshore, the area of the sea-bottom exposed during low tide. It is situated in the Sound, north of the bridge and the town of Achill Sound (visible in the background of this picture). This makes it readily accessible to project archaeologists. Joining me today is Leonie Roy Archambault, an archaeologist who was a student in the 2004 Achill Archaeological Field School. She has returned to Achill to assist in the Field School, and has agreed to help me today on the shipwreck site.


The wreckage is covered with a thick growth of kelp and other seaweed. Our first step is to remove this growth by picking it off by hand, in order to visibly inspect the site. We spent some time recording the wreck remains last year, and the kelp has grown back since then.


Leonie removing kelp from the wreck remains.


We have less than a six-hour window to work on the site before the tide rises again and covers the wreckage. As we continue our tedious work, objects previously obscured by kelp become recognizable, like the winch pictured below before and after clearing. It was likely used to deploy and haul in the trawl net during fishing operations.



Other recognizable features include the two-bladed propeller and a boiler which would have originally been in a vertical or upright position.



Many other objects remain unidentified, even after being cleaned of marine growth. Here archaeologists inspect a heavy molded plate or fitting of unknown function.


Leonie still can manage a smile after plucking kelp from sharp metal objects for four hours straight.


As the tide begins to rise, most of the wreckage is exposed and clear of kelp. Now it will be much easier to observe and record details of the hull and other artifacts for the ongoing process of documenting this shipwreck.


We have recorded much of this wreck last year, though we have not yet attempted to document the rudder and attached steering apparatus, a complex feature which appears to have collapsed with and upon articulated transom timbers. Making detailed scaled drawings of this area will be one of our first tasks on this shipwreck this season.

The day has turned out to be a beautiful one. Once back home, the view of Minaun Cliffs beyond the bay at Dooagh is breathtaking.


Achill Island Field Report 3: On to Achill, 09-12 June 06

Achill, wind-swept and bare, heavily peat-covered, with great gaunt brown mountains rising here and there, and a wild coast hammered by the Atlantic on all sides but the east, has a strange charm which everyone feels, but no one can fully explain.

— Robert Lloyd Praeger, geologist

The drive from Westport to Achill is not an overly long one, within an hour or so I am crossing the bridge to this unique island that has become familiar to me after two summers of archaeological fieldwork. Achill is the largest and westernmost island off the coast of Ireland. It juts out towards the Atlantic, dividing Blacksod Bay to the north from Clew Bay to the south. The island is separated from Corraun Peninsula on the mainland by Achill Sound, a narrow tidal inlet known for its dangerously swift currents. The island was connected to the mainland in 1888 by a swing bridge, allowing small sailing craft to continue to use this shorter route between the two bays.


Long renowned for its friendly communities, magnificent vistas and dynamic coastline, Achill is today a relatively well-known tourist destination which sees a regular influx of visitors during the summer months, while somehow still managing to retain a sense of isolation. The island’s natural beauty can be astounding, boasting Europe’s tallest sea-cliffs and lowest glacial lake. The ever changing skies, with their mountain-shrouding mists and colorful sunsets, have long attracted and inspired artists and writers. Even when it is cold and rainy, there is always something remarkable to see in the sky, and on those cherished days when the weather is sunny, the sky clear, and the sea deep blue those who didn’t know better would swear they were on an island in the Caribbean. Another unique feature is that during June it doesn’t get dark here until after 11 pm, due to the northerly position of the island.


Cliffs along the Atlantic Drive.

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Sea-cliffs at Saddle Head, reportedly the highest in Europe.

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The lake known locally as “The Devil’s Cloak,” at Annagh on the north side of Achill. This is reportedly the lowest correy or glacial lake in Europe. The mountain in the background is Slievemore, the tallest on the island.

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Mist creeping over the mountains.


Sunset over the village of Dooagh.


The strand or beach at Keem Bay.

Archaeological evidence suggests that Achill has been continuously habited since at least the Neolithic, and its archaeological landscape features a wide range of sites including megalithic tombs, cashels, promontory forts, ogham stones, the ruins of several booleying villages, nineteenth-century manor houses, a fifteenth-century tower house, and a single crannog. An ongoing excavation and annual Field School sponsored by the Achill Folklife Centre has brought much attention to Achill’s archaeology and history, though until recently the island’s rich maritime heritage has been mostly under-appreciated.


The Deserted Village, a nineteenth and early twentieth settlement on the slopes of Slievemore whose name remains unknown to history.


The Achill Archaeological Field School has conducted excavations at the village for over a decade.

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The megalithic tomb at Annagh, a ceremonial and burial structure dating to the Neolithic period, ca. six thousand years old.


The 15th century towerhouse known as Kildavnet Castle, guarding the southern entrance to Achill Sound. This was built as one of a chain of fortifications throughout Clew Bay by the O’Malley family, whose most famous member was Grace O’Malley the infamous Pirate Queen.

For now I drive to the far end of the island, to the village of Dooagh, where I will be staying. For the two previous years I stayed in the Folklife Centre’s facilities, with Field School staff and students. These are also located in Dooagh. This year, with financial support from the Irish Heritage Council, I will be renting a house of my own in the village. This will allow for an increased number of archaeologists participating in the maritime archaeological survey. Three other divers will be joining me during the month of July, more than I have had in the two previous summers of research.


The road to Dooagh.

I am renting this house from the MacNamara family, who live next door. Like most of the islanders, their family has lived in this village for generations, and they are outgoing and very friendly. The house is perfectly suited for a research headquarters, with two bedrooms for project archaeologists and visitors, common areas that can be converted to an archaeological lab and dive locker, a fireplace for cozy turf fires, and a large kitchen. The house faces Clew Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, and the views from both the front and the back are great. Once settled in, I’m ready to greet my Achill friends, and prepare for a successful summer of research. Did I mention that the house is located one house away from Gielty’s Pub . . . ?


The headquarters of the Achill Maritime Archaeology Project in Dooagh.


View from the front of the house, facing south across Clew Bay and the Atlantic. The Minaun Cliffs are on the left, where the ship Neptune wrecked in 1860. On the horizon to the right is Clare Island, the final resting place of the Spanish Armada ship El Gran Grin.


Even the view from the back yard is dramatic on this island.

Achill Island Field Report: Discovery of the Westport Quay Wreck

The following evening we set out to the quay at low tide to look for the wreck that local historian John Mulloy told us was abandoned and exposed on the foreshore. My host Mr. Shanley has also seen this wreck, though like many people living on a historic waterfront he hasn’t given much thought to it until an archaeologist comes around asking questions about it. The weather has been sunny and beautiful, something that is not necessarily the norm in Ireland. At the end of the pier on Roman Island we see the mist shrouding Croghpatrick, a mountain with religious significance which has long drawn pilgrims to the area.


Ireland, unlike Florida where I am from, displays a significant tidal change. Around 8 feet of water goes out with the tide every six hours, exposing a large area of muddy ground that is known as the foreshore. This phenomenon is useful for maritime archaeologists, as it is easier to find shipwrecks and other maritime sites when large areas of the seafloor are visible. Even though the tide is beginning to come back in, it is not to hard to find the remains of this wooden vessel protruding from the mud off in the distance (in the center of this picture):


After spotting the wreckage, we meet another local who tells us that when he was a boy someone told him the wreck was a vessel that was shipwrecked offshore the island of Inishturk. Much to the islanders chagrin, the hulk was taken from them by the Coastguard or “revenue men” and towed to Westport, where they were unable to sell it and it eventually was abandoned and burned. It is not uncommon to get conflicting stories concerning the identities of old shipwrecks. Either of these two stories could be true, partially true, or inaccurate. Was this wreck a lighter or a salvaged shipwreck? Closer inspection might help solve the mystery.

The following day I return to the quay in the morning, to catch the low tide. We have secured permission for me to borrow a small boat moored at the pier to get out as close as possible to the wreckage. As the boat is stored without its fuel tank, I use its oars to row out the long waterfront, much as generations of watermen did before me. Struggling somewhat in the tidal current and winds in a boat not designed for rowing, the process is too slow despite my eagerness. Gradually the wreck comes into view.


By the time I reach it, the tide is coming in, but there is still time to take some photographs, make some observations, and record a few key measurements. The exposed wreckage represents a sizable vessel, measuring almost exactly 20 m (65.6’) in length, and it is at least 6 m (19.7’) wide.


It is listing sharply to one side, though without further inspection we cannot tell which end is which, or to which side it leans. Its substantial timbers are covered in kelp, which is common in the summer months when it grows thickly on rocks and other submerged materials. One side is more or less intact, with frames or ribs exposed well above the mud, while most of its other side and indeed most of the hull itself is buried. The buried portion of the wreck likely has been well-preserved by the muddy sediments. We are not planning on digging any of it out, as its muddy covering is the best way to protect the timbers from deterioration.


Many of the frames have survived on the exposed side of the vessel, and some extend upwards from the sediments as high as 1.85 m or about 6’. These frames provided structural strength to the ship, and their curvature defined the shape of the hull. The fact that they have survived to such a length means we will be more likely to reconstruct the original shape of the hull. A lighter would have typically been shallow-drafted or displayed a relatively flat bottom in order to negotiate shallow waters.


The longitudinal timber visible in the above picture (running along the base of the frames) might be a keelson, or central strengthening timber. It is also possible that this timber is a stringer, or timber offset from the keelson, which in this case would be buried further beneath the mud. Taking the time to clear the kelp and closely inspect the hull will make it easier to distinguish which timber is which.

The frames measure 5” across (sided dimension) and 5 to 6” deep (molded dimension). Each frame is made up of various overlapping members attached to each other side-to-side. The shipbuilders used round-shanked transverse iron bolts to attach the frame pieces (futtocks and floors) to each other. When the frames were complete, outer hull planking was attached to the outer surface of the planks with square-shanked iron spikes. Round iron bolts were also used to hold this planking in place. They were driven through the plank, frame, and an interior set of planking known as ceiling planks. The picture below shows the outer surface of one frame pair. Visible are a transverse iron bolt which would have held a now missing frame member, and two planking spikes.


Observing and recording these kinds of details will lead to a better understanding of how this vessel was originally constructed, and will provide clues into its age, function, and identity. But for now my time is up—the waters are rising quickly, ending this preliminary inspection. As I row back to the pier, the timbers of the mystery wreck behind me are slowly submerged.


It has now been almost a full week in Westport. While I am planning on returning to the Westport Quay Wreck again during the two-month project, it is time to get to Achill. I have spent two previous summers there, and there is something about that island that leaves visitors thinking about returning. As the sun sets over Achill I cannot help but anticipate returning to this island, with its rich history, friendly community, and spectacular views.

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Achill Island Field Report: Arrival in Westport and Clew Bay

This is the first of a series of regular updates I am writing so that those interested in the Achill Island Maritime Archaeology Project can follow our activities and share in our discoveries as we make them. My name is Chuck Meide, I am the project director, a graduate student at the College of William and Mary, and the Director of LAMP (the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, based out of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum). I am also an archaeologist with the Institute of Maritime History, the institute which, along with those mentioned above and the Achill Folklife Centre, is sponsoring this project. Welcome to the first update for the project!

This is the first of a series of regular updates I am writing so that those interested in the Achill Island Maritime Archaeology Project can follow our activities and share in our discoveries as we make them. My name is Chuck Meide, I am the project director, a graduate student at the College of William and Mary, and the Director of LAMP (the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, based out of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum). I am also an archaeologist with the Institute of Maritime History, the institute which, along with those mentioned above and the Achill Folklife Centre, is sponsoring this project. Welcome to the first update for the project!


Achill Island is situated between Blacksod Bay to the north and Clew Bay to the south. Clew Bay presents a beautiful vista, and allegedly has 365 islands, one for each day of the year. Situated on the mainland at the eastern margin of Clew Bay is the town of Westport. This became one of the most important commercial centers in the West of Ireland during the nineteenth century, especially after the close of the Napoleonic Wars. The trade at Westport was vital to the islanders on Achill. Achill boats provided fuel for Westport in the form of turf (stripped from the bogs), in exchange for limestone (which was burned to produce lime for fertilizer) and manufactured goods. Many of the ships wrecked in the treacherous waters around Achill were bound to or from Westport. Because of its proximity Achill islanders, who took every opportunity to salvage timbers and cargo from wrecked ships, had access to goods from around the world

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I have decided to spend a few days in Westport, getting organized for the fieldwork ahead and conducting some background research on the maritime history of the town, which was historically interconnected with the surrounding islands. I will be staying at the home of a local family, the Shanleys, who for the last century have owned one of Westport’s oldest businesses, Shanleys Drapers. Like all the retail shops that once lined the town’s main street, this family-owned clothing shop would have been dependant on ships to bring in the materials and goods available to local townspeople.

Wandering around the town, the importance of its historical relationship with the sea is evident everywhere. This is the quay or waterfront where ships would have unloaded their cargos. Today the Clew Bay Heritage Centre can be found here, which is worth a visit for anyone traveling to the area.

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Goods were stored in these stone warehouses, which front the quay and have been converted to modern shops.


These are the same warehouses seen in this old photograph of the quay, taken sometime between 1890 and 1905 (image courtesy of John O’Shea).

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By the waterfront an old anchor is on display. It dates to the nineteenth century, and likely came from one of the ships entering the harbor from Clew Bay.


On Monday I paid a visit to the home of John and Sheila Mulloy. They are both local historians; John is the President of the Westport Historical Society and Sheila is the editor for their journal, Cathair Na Mart. John has agreed to spend the afternoon talking with me about the history of maritime trade on the Bay. His family ran a shipping business out of Westport and nearby Newport for the last two centuries, so he is uniquely knowledgeable about this topic.


John also shared his collection of 19th century nautical charts and historical documents, which I can make a quick record of with a digital camera. Among many other things, I learn from John that Achill Islanders were very involved with the trade in and out of Westport. The following document is an 1855 record from the Westport court house listing the owners, ships, and tonnages of vessels involved in the local trade. Many of these names are of well-known Achill families, including Kilbane, Gallagher, and Patten.

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Mr. Mulloy tells me that many Achill men operated their hookers (a local type of sailing vessel) as lighters. A lighter was a smaller or shallow-drafted vessel used to shuttle cargo back and forth for large ships that were too large to enter the harbor. Deep-drafted vessels, such as the Confidence shown below, would wait further out in the harbor for lighters to carry their cargo to the quay at Westport. The Confidence was a ship used by Mr. Mulloy’s family until it was confiscated by Germans in the First World War.


Tools and other manufactured goods brought on these ships were thereby available to local townspeople and others in the countryside at family-owned establishments such as the ironmonger and grocer’s shop owned by the Mulloys (image courtesy of the Clew Bay Heritage Centre).


Ships navigating the Bay needed the help of local seamen who were familiar with these waters. This was especially important considering the large areas of shallow water, often completely exposed at low tides, and the strong tidal currents throughout the area. Achill Islanders typically served as pilots for the outer Bay. An Achill pilot would row out in a traditional boats such as a curragh or yawl to meet incoming ships. Often a pilot would compete with another pilot in a different boat, and the first one to reach the incoming merchant ship would get paid to guide it into the inner area of Clew Bay. From there the ship would meet a pilot for the inner Bay. According to Mr. Mulloy these pilots did not compete with each other but followed a system where they took turns leading ships the rest of the way into Westport Bay. From here an incoming ship would either dock at the quay or, if it was too large, moor at an anchorage and wait for lighters to offload its cargo.

Mr. Mulloy noted that one of the last lighters to be used in the Westport trade was abandoned in the harbor, where its remains can be seen at low tides. He says it has been abandoned for a very long time, longer than his lifetime, which means it may have been used in the very early 20th century or the late 19th century. These kinds of vessels, probably locally built and operated, were a vital link in the trade that connected Westport and Achill to the rest of the world. The designs of vernacular or locally-built working watercraft have for the most part been lost to history, even though they were once so widespread they were an everyday sight. I am interested in finding this abandoned vessel if it still exists. Before heading to Achill, we will try to locate this wreck.

New Castle DE, July 06

This reconnaissance is scheduled for 16-22 July. For a copy of the research design please email

SHIP Field Schedule

SHIP field schedule, 2006 (always subject to weather):

29 – 30 Apr U-1105: rig buoy, inspect
06 – 07 May scan and map, Potomac River
13 – 14 May scan and map, Potomac River
20 May – 11 Jun Roper: haul, repair, paint
17 – 18 Jun scan and map, Potomac River
24 – 25 Jun scan and map, Potomac River
08 – 09 Jul scan and map, Potomac River
15 – 16 Jul Roper to Delaware Bay
16 – 22 Jul scan and map, Delaware River
22 – 23 Jul Roper to Tall Timbers
05 – 06 Aug inspect U-1105
19 – 20 Aug scan and map, Potomac River
02 – 04 Sep scan and map, Potomac River
09 – 10 Sep inspect U-1105
23 – 24 Sep scan and map, Potomac River
30 Sep – 03 Oct scan and map, Potomac River
04 – 8 Oct scan and map, Potomac River
21 – 22 Oct scan and map, Potomac River
11 – 12 Nov U-1105: pull buoy for the winter
25 – 26 Nov scan and map, Potomac River
02 – 03 Dec scan and map, Potomac River
16 – 17 Dec scan and map, Potomac River

Contact Dave Howe for underway times and locations.

U-1105 et al.

24 April. No joy yet in placing the mooring buoy on the U-1105 for the summer season. We were blown out last weekend by high winds and heavy seas.

We are looking into the acquisition of a houseboat as a “barracks barge” and floating work platform. to support a larger crew than Roper can sleep. Several cheap or free boats have been proposed. Stay tuned!

A new bacterium found in RMS Titanic

An interesting news article was published today in The Chronicle Herald. Researchers at Dalhousie University discovered a novel bacterium, BH1, isolated from rusticle specimens taken from the RMS Titanic, and have deposited the culture with the ATCC in Manassas, Virginia.

While it is not available for distribution to the community yet, an analysis of its known gene sequence data indicates that it belongs to a category of bacteria called Halomonas. Because Halomonas species are typically halophiles, they are usually found in water sources with high salinity levels, such as the Dead Sea and even within the frigid waters of Antarctica. Halomonas can also inhabit deep-sea sediment, deep-sea waters affected by hydrothermal plumes, and hydrothermal vent fluids.

BH1’s exact ”biocorrosive ability” is not clear yet. However, discovery of BH1 provides a tool for comparison and aids in identifying the potential microbes within the communities that contribute to the overall biocorrosion process(es).

The full article can be found at

To the U-buoy … and beyond!

Two days, 12 dives, and no joy — the river mud still has hold of the buoy chain despite our efforts on 15 and 16 April. There is no joy in Mudville.

But we WILL wrest the chain from the belly of the beast and deploy the buoy next weekend.

If we finish that on Saturday, 22 April, we will spend Sunday taking sidescan images of ten suspected sites down the Potomac, and physical measurements of two of them.

Stalking the Wild FeOB

March 11, 2006. It was a dark and stormy night. No, that’s a lie. It was a sunny morning, calm, and unusually warm for mid-March.

Six of us met at Tall Timbers Marina, loaded dive gear into the IMH research boat Roper, and set forth upon the mighty and beautiful Potomac River to hunt the elusive iron-oxidizing bacteria (FeOB) on a steel shipwreck near the Piney Point oil terminal.

The FeOB is a nasty little beast. It eats shipwrecks — but we were ready for it, armed with sample tubes and collectors.

Our fearless team included Dr. Susan Langley, the Maryland state underwater archaeologist; Project Chief Scientist Todd Plaia, a microbiologist from American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), a non-profit biological research institution in Manassas, Virginia; Brian McMillan and Ted White, volunteer divers from Adventure Scuba in Chantilly, Virginia; and Dr. Richard V. Ducey and David Howe, IMH volunteers.

The wreck may be part of the tank barge STC 410 which exploded at the terminal on December 20, 1986, while discharging a cargo of JP-4 jet fuel for Naval Air Station Patuxent River. Nicknamed “the Puzzle Pile,” the wreck stands 19 feet tall in 60 feet of water. It was found in 2002 by the NOAA survey vessel Bay Hydrographer, and consists of a confused jumble of heavy steel plates and pipes.

We “live-boated” the dives. Susan and Dave stayed dry to handle the boat and marker buoys and to tend the divers as they cheated death for science.


The first two sets of dives were made in moderate current on a flood tide. We missed the wreck both times, probably because the marker buoy dragged despite two 10-pound mushroom anchors.

The third set of dives was successful. Brian and Ted made the first dive of that set. They reconnoitered the site, tied and blew a small lift bag on the wreck as a second marker, and collected samples of ambient water and existing rust on the structure. After they surfaced, Todd and Rick made the second dive and placed six FeOB collectors on the site. Each collector carries three small plates of a known alloy of new iron. They will be recovered and analyzed after a measured period of immersion — whenever Todd says and the weather allows.

The water salinity was determined by a refractometer to be 15 parts per thousand, about half the typical salinity of seawater. The water temperature was 46° F (7.8° C) on the surface. Visibility was typical for the Potomac: several feet on the surface, and several inches near the bottom.

Analysis of the samples will take some time. We will post the results. Still, it was an excellent start to the 2006 diving season. Six hours on the water, Todd got what he wanted, and everyone who wanted to get wet got wet.