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Sligo shipwreck mystery solved - 250 years after it sank

Scientific analysis and archival research helped to tell the tragic story of the sinking of the Greyhound in 1770.

Butter Boat Source: Dept of Heritage

NEW RESEARCH HAS helped to solve the mystery of a shipwreck on Streedagh Strand in Sligo on the 250th anniversary of when it sank.

Known locally as the Butter Boat, the skeletal remains of the wooden wreck are regularly revealed when the sands shift and it is a well-known landmark in the area for visitors. 

It had been guessed it may have been a wreck from the Spanish Armada of the 16th century but new research by the National Monuments Service has helped to shed light on its origin.

Scientific analysis of the wood timber helped to point towards it coming from the English midlands, or possibly Yorkshire.

Further research of historical 18th century accounts in the Freeman’s Journal have helped to identify the vessel – which was called the Greyhound. 

The coastal trading ship from Whitby in Yorkshire was owned by a Mrs Allely. It was built in 1747 and plied its trade in Britain and Ireland. 

In December 1770, under the command of a Captain Douhard, the ship was forced to seek refuge from a winter storm in Broadhaven Bay in Mayo.

Windy conditions prevented the Greyhound from entering the safety of the harbour and it had to anchor beneath the cliffs off Erris Head. 

Earlier that year, all on board perished when the Rain, enroute from New York to Galway, had found itself in the same position. 

Aware of what had happened to those on the Rain, the crew on the Greyhound abandoned ship.

But, in a tragic oversight, a cabin boy was left behind. 

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Upon learning of the plight of the boy, local volunteers from Broadhaven Bay along with the crew of a passing ship from Galway and some of the original Greyhound crew attempted to reach the ship and rescue the boy. 

While they managed to board the Greyhound and move the vessel away from the cliffs, the ship was driven further out to sea by the force of the storm with some of the volunteers aboard, including the cabin boy. 

Later that night, the ship was wrecked at Streedagh Strand, 100km to the east. 20 people died.

On Saturday 12 December, the 250th anniversary of the event, locals and members of the National Monuments team who uncovered the story attended a ceremony on Streedagh Strand to remember the dead. 

Minister for Heritage Malcolm Noonan said: “I know there is a huge amount of local interest in this wreck and that its identity has been a topic of debate for many years, with many calling it the Butter Boat and others thinking it part of the Armada.

I am very pleased that through archaeological investigation, scientific analysis and historical archival research our National Monuments Service has been able to finally confirm the wrecks identity and the events of 12 December, 250 years ago.
It was appropriate to commemorate the event and to remember all those lives lost so selflessly at Christmas 1770. We were honoured to join with the local community in commemorating the tragedy of the Greyhound

About the author:

Sean Murray

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