William Deans: Unsung Hero on the Dublin Docks

William Deans was a Dublin deep-sea docker. While talking with someone who knew him, he told me he had an 'independent streak.' Originally from Sir John Rogerson's Quay, he and his family moved to Foley Street. He liked working coal boats because it gave him a better chance of earning a regular wage. Because of his skill, he was often given the job as winch driver, positioned on the deck he manoeuvred the winch to lift the heavy steel tubs of coal. As winch man, he earned an extra few 'bob.'

William was jobbed on the 12th November 1947 to an American coal-boat -- the S.S. Amaso Delano, berthed at Sir John Rogerson's Quay (near where the Samuel Beckett Bridge is now). He was delighted to be told by the foreman that he was manning the winch. This kept him away from some of the dirt and grime involved in the unloading of loose coal. At least he could breath some fresh air compared to the dockers working in groups of four shoveling coal into enormous steel buckets. 

At approximately 4:00 p.m., word came from No. 1 Hatch that gas was escaping from the ballast tank. The Captain, John Munro, went into the hatch to investigate. He removed the lid from the tank and was immediately overcome by gas. The Engineers, Andrew Smart and Bosun Antonio Lima, went down into the hatch to rescue the Captain; but they also collapsed due to being overcome by gas. The Mate, Francis DeRosa, raised the alarm. It would appear that all the crewmen and all the dockers took to the safety of the quay wall, with the exception of William Deans. He tied his hanky around his mouth and descended the ladder into the hatch. He found a rope and tied it around the first seaman. He climbed the ships ladder to the deck and hauled the man to the deck. He put his life at risk twice more to repeat this for the other two men. Thanks to his outstanding bravery, the three lives were saved. He received a bronze medal and a certificate.

But the story does not end there, because on the 19th May 1958 he was passing roughly the same spot when he saw a man fall into the Liffey. Without hesitation, Deans jumped in and saved the man's life. Again he received a bronze medal and a certificate for “saving human life at City Quay, Dublin.” From reports in the Irish Press, it seems he made a habit of his heroics. In 1939, he jumped off Ballybough Bridge-- fully clothed --  into the Tolka River to save a boy from drowning.

Unluckily, the medals and certificates were lost; but thanks to the hard work and persistence of his family, they have now been given duplicate certificates. The Dublin Dock Workers Preservation Society (Facebook -- Dublin Dockers and www.bluemelon.com/alanmartin) was set up in 2011 to honour the memory of all those who worked in Dublin Docks and in the surrounding Dockland industries. To us, William Deans is an 'unsung hero,' and he deserves to be honoured.

Anyone interested in helping us should ring 00353 86 8138618. We believe that if William Deans had come from a priviliged background his bravery would have been celebrated before now; but we intend putting matters right. Any help or support would be greatly appreciated.

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Tags: Dublin, Seafaring

Comment by william deans on February 3, 2014 at 5:26pm

William Deans is my grandfather .i remember hearing something about this when i was only a kid.but it makes me so proud when i hear the full story of how courageous he was.to lay down his life on so many occasions without a thought for his own safety.this man makes me proud to say my name is Deans.the family are so grateful to the people who are taking the time and effort to have our grandfather's bravery recognized as i do not think there is another civilian who laid down his own life on this many occasions.


William Deans

Comment by Gerry Regan on February 3, 2014 at 9:45pm
William, we are proud to have the Deans family represented in our community. Failte!
Comment by Ryan O'Rourke on February 4, 2014 at 3:10am

How great to have the grandson of this heroic man among us!  Welcome, William.

Comment by william deans on February 4, 2014 at 1:49pm

thank you all very much.



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