In October, 1907, a tremendous hurricane drove the French vessel Leon XIII on the rocks close to the village of Quilty; there she stuck fast while the huge waves kept battering her to pieces and her famished and shivering crew climbed into the rigging. All day they were seen from the shore appealing for aid; all night their cries were heard above the roar of the wind and waves. The little village was in a state of frantic excitement. Three times the lifeboats put out to the rescue, and three times were compelled to return in despair.
Then the " Quilty heroes " took the matter in hand. The coracle, or fishing-boat, of the Clare fishermen is a frail structure of tarred canvas stretched on a light wooden frame, too frail, it would seem, to the ignorant to float in a pond. In these coracles the " Quilty heroes" braved the huge breakers of the storm-tossed Atlantic and brought the helpless crew by twos and threes from the wreck to the shore.
There is a vivid description of the rescue by the captain of the French vessel, who lay with a broken leg on the wavewashed deck while the heroic work of rescue was in progress. "There shall always live in my remembrance," Captain Lucas said, " the bravery of those Clare fishermen. How can I describe its magnificence? Ah, they are brave! They put out in their little canoes time after time, and the waves rolled over them and seemed every moment to engulf them. At one moment they rode over the white crests buoyantly and bravely, another moment they were plunged down into a great valley of water. Ah! then we on the wreck cried, ' All is over,' but on they came again, nothing daunted. How they came in the teeth of that treacherous sea was only known to their own intrepid souls."
Once, indeed, a coracle was capsized, and its crew was spilt into the boiling sea. A wail went up from their womenkind lining the shore, but the stout-hearted fishermen somehow managed to struggle to land, emptied their coracle and instantly put out again through the storm to the wreck. The "Quilty heroes," with their coracles, marched at the head of the great lifeboat procession in Dublin, and they were decorated by the Government of France.
Taken from - Recollections of an Irish Judge: Press, Bar and Parliament
By Matthias McDonnell Bodkin

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Comment by Gerry Regan on May 7, 2014 at 9:17am

Stirring story, Linda. Hadn't heard this before. Go raibh maith agat for highlighting it for us!

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