The Calf Rock Disaster
The torrential rain began to seep down through the tower and started to flood the room. As the water level rose up to their armpits Fortune made a decision that it was time to move to the kitchen of the main dwelling. The men inched their way from the tower holding on for dear life to the rocks as the raging and turbulent sea howled below them. The path was too dangerous as the gigantic seas swept over it. To the men's amazement when they finally entered the main dwelling they couldn't believe their eyes that Young was already in the kitchen.
The room was to become their home for the next several days. It only measured 10 x 14 feet. The conditions of the room were terrible and their clothes were soaked. Although it was the kitchen there was very little food and they had to ration it between them. Meanwhile people on Dursey Island and Crow Head were searching in vain for any sign of survival on Calf Rock. They were very anxious and were getting worried but just as they were about to abandon all thoughts of survival, several days after the light went out they saw a flag being raised six times. To their delight they knew that all six men were alive.
The Government sent a steamship called Sea Horse from Castletownbere to try and rescue the men but this was to no avail as the ship was too big and could not get close to the rock. A brave man called Michael O'Shea launched a small boat with a crew of five men from Dursey Island. Conditions were very bad and remembering the 1869 storm when the sea claimed the lives of six brave men did not attempt a rescue, but was able to land fresh food and blankets to the stranded men. The next day when the storm abated a little Michael O'Shea returned to the lighthouse with two other boats and this time they managed to throw a rope ashore to the six men. They tied the rope securely on the rock and one by one they risked their lives by jumping into the raging surf and hand over hand clawing their way to the rescue boats. The last man to be rescued from the rock was Principal Keeper Fortune.
Miraculously all six men survived their terrible twelve day ordeal. Six weeks later Michael O'Shea was awarded a medal for his bravery. He travelled to London for the ceremony receiving his medal and £25 as well. The other boatmen got £5 each. Eight years later the brave man got a heavy cold that caught on his chest and he died from the illness.
Gavin Holland is a son of Donie Holland, Supervisor at Berehaven Lights and Castletownbere Shore Helibase.
Gavin is 10 years old and attends Schol an Chroi ro Naofa in Castletownbere