Sunday, January 06, 2008


A voyage of discovery


Belfast Telegraph
January 06, 2008

Two brothers from Belfast who lost their father in a shipping disaster have embarked on an emotional quest to locate the families of the other crew members.

Patrick and Jim Slattery, who emigrated to Canada over three decades ago, are planning to hold a memorial service next summer.

They plan to honour their father, Patrick senior, and the other 11 crew members of the Ardgarry who lost their lives at sea 45 years ago.

The 1,000ft ship, carrying a cargo of coal, left Swansea and was making its way to Rouen in France on the evening of December 29, 1962 when disaster struck.

In treacherous conditions, the Ardgarry capsized off the notorious Lizard Point area of Land's End.

Despite a courageous 14-hour search undertaken by the crew of the Kilcobben Cove RNLI, none of the men on board survived and their bodies were never recovered.

Six of the crew were from Northern Ireland, one from Donegal and the remaining men hailed from Scotland.

What happened in the stormy waters of the English Channel on that fateful night 45 years ago remains a mystery.

And until last summer the families of those who perished had no real idea where the shipwreck lay.

However, in the summer of 2006 a diving team from Cornwall discovery the Ardgarry on the bottom of the seabed by accident.

A documentary on a similar shipping disaster sparked a quest undertaken by Jim (58) and his 55-year-old brother Patrick to trace families such as theirs who suffered the loss of a loved one on the Ardgarry.

But as Patrick explained during a visit back home over Christmas, he and Jim have been able to locate some relatives of those on board the Ardgarry.

And they hope to be able to locate other family members ahead of next summer's memorial at Lizard Point.

Patrick painfully recalled the evening his family was shattered by news of the tragedy.

"We didn't know the boat had gone down until the 3rd of 4th of January 1963.

"We lived in Turf Lodge and we got a knock on the door from a journalist asking to speak to my mother.

"I remember my mother coming down the stairs, and after hearing the news she cried hysterically.

"She was so shocked by the news she went temporarily blind, but thankfully she regained her vision."

Following their father's death the family was temporarily split up. Their elder sister Maureen was engaged to be married and stayed at home while Patrick and Jim went to stay with relatives in England.

Patrick said: "When Jim and I came home Sean was gone. He was 16 and had left and gone to sea to try and bring some money into the home.

"He never got over what happened to our father. He suffered from nervous breakdowns and died in Purdysburn. He was only 33."

Jim emigrated to Canada first and the rest of the family followed. Patrick and his wife Geraldine left Northern Ireland in March 1974.

Said Patrick: "Two major things happened within a short space of time which changed our lives."

Around October 2006, Jim watched a documentary about a similar shipping disaster.

The Slattery brothers discussed trying to establish contact with the families which prompted a quest to trace relatives of the men who were lost with their father on the Ardgarry.

Another was the discovery of the Ardgarry off the Cornish coast.

A local dive team had been trying to locate another vessel which had a cargo of china on board when they realised the wreck they had located had been carrying coal when it went down.

The divers contacted a marine historian who informed them they had come across the Ardgarry. They went back down a month later and recovered the ship's bell. After learning about the Ardgarry dive on the internet, the brothers flew to England to meet the diving team last year.

Patrick said: "I met the captain of the diving team and he handed me the bracket from the bell.

"When he put it in my hand it was as if my father was shaking hands with me. I will never forget that moment."

During last year's trip, Patrick also paid an emotional visit to Lizard Point.

"When I stood there on my own that day I felt so close to my father," he explained.

"Lizard Point is not the dismal place that swallowed my father, as I imagined it was as a nine-year-old boy.

"It is a beautiful place and I felt like my father had been resting there, waiting for me to come and visit, which I did."

On his return home Patrick began trying to trace the families of those on board the ill-fated Ardgarry.

Using the BT phone directory and the internet he was able to make contact with several relatives and returned to Northern Ireland last May.

Carnlough man Thomas Marcus (28) and 18-year old Ivan Robert Williams from Islandmagee were on board the Ardgarry.

The other Ulstermen who perished alongside 46-year-old Patrick Slattery were brothers Eric (34) and Morris (30) Cooper from Groomsport, 40-year old William Hunter from Greencastle, Co Donegal, and 16-year-old John McIntosh from Donaghadee. Patrick revealed: "We came home last May and went to Donegal, where I met William Hunter's sister.

"She is an elderly woman now but it was wonderful to be able to give her a hug.

"I also met Robert William's brother Noel in Ballymena, which was another wonderful experience."

Patrick's quest to find relatives of those lost on the Ardgarry took him to Groomsport. Seeking information about the Cooper brothers, he contacted councillor Alan Chambers who showed him the house where the brothers grew up.

Patrick and Jim plan to continue their quest to find other relatives.

They have made contact with relatives of three of the five Scottish crew members. The two unaccounted for are the families of William Schumacher from Greenock and Charles Gow from Airdrie.

Are you related to any of the crew members from the Ardgarry? Do you have information on the tragedy which may be beneficial to Patrick and Jim Slattery? If so, please send an email to


More information on the Ardgarry Crew Memorial Can be found here:

Thank you
Thank You stephen
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