Pilots Memorial and Kilbaha Bay
The Heritage Council
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Kilbaha, the very last village on the Loop Head peninsula, is tucked into a small, sheltered bay at the western edge of the Shannon Estuary. Looking south across the river, the village enjoys arresting views of Kerry Head and the Brandon Mountain Range. Kilbaha’s small, picturesque pier was built in the early 19th century to cater for the large numbers of people making their living from fishing, seaweed gathering and piloting the large ships going up the Shannon to Limerick docks. It was also used by cargo vessels bringing supplies to Loop Head lighthouse, four miles west of the village. Fishing is still very popular in Kilbaha. Deep sea fishing can be explored by taking an angling trip from Kilbaha pier. Fishing for conger on the rough ground on the outer side of the pier is very productive at night.
Many local men worked on the sea, piloting Limerick bound cargo vessels up and down the estuary, navigating the Atlantic on one side and the shipping lanes of the estuary on the other side. On 8th May 1873, five of these pilots died when their canoe capsized in high seas, when they were piloting an Austrian brig. There is a memorial to them in Kilbaha and also a ballad written to commemorate their lives. Under an Act of Parliament of 1823 the Limerick Bridge Commissioners (Later Harbour Commissioners) were given authority for the administration of pilotage on the River Shannon. For operational reasons the pilotage body was divided into two divisions, Western and Eastern. The Western Pilots were based in the Kilbaha and Carrigaholt areas and serviced the ships using canoes until a two masted sailing ketch was purchased in 1875 after the five pilots were drowned in Kilbaha.
In March 1843, pilots from Kilbaha boarded a deserted ghost ship, The Windsor Castle of Liverpool, which had left Bombay in June 1842. The pilots succeeded in bringing the vessel to Kilbaha using their canoes and a pilot hooker. They brought the boat to Scattery Roads and guarded her around the clock to prevent plunder. The pilots were offered compensation for their efforts, which they refused. After many months the High Court of Admiralty in Ireland awarded the pilots £5,000 plus their costs and expenses, the award being divided amongst 18 pilots and 16 assistants. In the 1840s Scattery was part of the estate of the Marquis of Conyngham whose son-in-law, Marcus Keane, acted as land agent. Keane approached the compensated families and offered to sell them land on Scattery, an offer which many families took up, increasing the population of the island considerably.
In 1906, the Morven ship, a four masted ship of 2000 tons was shipwrecked at Horse Island, near Kilbaha. The vessel had an eventful voyage from Portland, USA having taken 160 days to reach the mouth of the Shannon and provisions were almost exhausted. When making a tack in the direction of Horse Island the wind suddenly shifted and stiffened and when the order to ‘put about’ was given the vessel refused to answer her helm and in a short space of time reached the rocks at the base of the cliff. Her bow came very close to the cliff front and her bottom must have been crushed in, for by morning, the whole of the stern portion was underwater and her cargo swept out to sea. Amazingly, not a single life had been lost. The Morven’s giant anchor is on display in Kilbaha village.
There is an exhibition commemorating Henry Blake from Kilbaha, the last native Irish speaker, at the Kilbaha Gallery and Crafts. Henry Blake died in 1974 and was a famous seanchaí (a traditional Irish storyteller) and craftsman. Henry also made sugan chairs, which are traditional Irish chairs made without nails and with a weave bottom. His achievements are all the most inspiring because Henry was blind from his teenage years.
Site Recommendations and Observations
It is recommended that adequate road signage be provided for this site in both directions.
This site is again ideally placed to take advantage of the spectacular scenery overlooking Kilbaha Bay. However during peak times parking is difficult to find adjacent to the site. It is recommended to provide additional parking spaces in the area to cater for demand.
There is a considerable amount of existing interpretation at the site itself.
The number of interpretation locations in Kilbaha lends itself to some confusion if you are trying to find a particular heritage site. Therefore it is recommend that tastefully designed signs or plaques similar in nature to those described as ‘arrival signs’ for the above sites be considered to identify and distinguish between each heritage or memorial site in Kilbaha.
It is recommended that repair and improvement measures be implemented at all Kilbahas heritage sites which were damaged in the 2014 storms.
The following three statements apply to all site recommendations:
- ‘All proposals must comply with all planning, local authority and other statutory requirements.’
- ‘All proposals for development within, adjacent to or with the potential to affect a Natura 2000 site will be subject to an Appropriate Assessment Screening. To ensure that a Habitat Directive Assessment is carried out to assess the likely impacts on Natura 2000 sites in order to comply with Article 6(3) of the Habitat Directive and in accordance with the requirements of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011.’
- ‘All projects must be undertaken in accordance with the Wild Atlantic Way Discovery Points Remedial Works Guidelines, including the Ecological Method Statement.’
Sources of Information
1) Interview with Ailish Connolly
2) Review of OSi Discovery and Historical Maps
3) Online Research
Other Research and Facts
'A village, in the parish of Kilballyhone, barony of Moyarta, county of Clare, and province of Munster, 151/2 miles (S. W.) from Kilrush, on the northern shore of the estuary of the Shannon ; containing 77 houses and 460 inhabitants. It is situated on the small bay of the same name, which is the first on entering the Shannon, and forms an asylum harbour for fishing vessels and other small craft coming in from Loop Head. The pier, constructed by the late Fishery Board, affords accommodation for landing sea manure, of which a considerable quantity is used in the neighbourhood, and has proved of great benefit to the farmers. Turf of a superior quality is cut in the vicinity, and sent hence to Limerick ; and the fisheries afford exclusive employment to upwards of 100 persons'. Ballad of the Five Pilots 1. The wind sang high on our rocky coast To the dance of the restless tide When a vessel strayed on her inward way No pilot hand to guide But from the shore on her stormy track Soon kindly eyes were bent And fortwith to the stranger’s aid Five dauntless pilots went. 2. There was one who had thrown his spade away As he ran to the water’s side And another but three short months before Had welcomed a youthful bride But the spade may lie on the garden ridge And the young wife wait in vain. For my God’s decree from that chilly sea They will never come back again. 3. No wistful farewells those doomed men made As they pushed from their native shore They were summoned away from their bright firesides Full many a time before That watery track they had travelled oft And the waves like old friends now And well they knew that staunch canoe As they leaped round her gallant prow. 4. They are gone and away – away to death They pull with a hearty will While the watchers move – a steady group – To the top of Dun Daillinn hill And they see as the pilots near the ship That she gives one fatal roll And they cry to the Great Lord God above To pity each victims soul. 5. Oh! now is the moment of bitter need And that moment will soon be past It is vain to struggle in death’s embrace Its cold hand has gripped them fast Oh! the light is sweet to the darkening eye And the sea makes a lonely grave But no human power in that awful hour E’en one precious life could save. 6. There are three gone now but the other two Are struggling right bravely yet With many brows (var. breasts) to the heavens laid bare And their teeth in agony set Each meets the wave with its warm breast And strikes through the blinding foam For the love of life – for the love of wife For the love of his cherished home. 7. There is one left now and his dwelling lies Low down on the rugged shore And he knows that 3 little lads are there At play round his cabin door, With the strength of noble manhood’s prime With the hopes of the future high With the land in sight and life so bright He will not – he cannot die. 8. All is o‘er – the struggle was dire but brief The last of the five is gone Those gallant men who for others’ lives Were ready to risk their own We do not bid them a last farewell We will meet on a future day For the crimson flood our Our Saviours blood Takes the sins of this world away.