ANALYSIS: From U-Boats to Human Sharks – Why we should remember the tragedy of the SS Hare
By Padraig Yeates
In the early hours of 14 December 1917, U-62 under Commander Ernst Hashagen saw the lights of a small ship astern off the Kish Bank. It was the Hare carrying a general cargo to Manchester, which had brought the first consignment of urgently needed food supplies to Dublin for workers and their families during the 1913 Lockout.
Winter was an ideal time for submarines to operate, weather permitting. Darkness protected them from Royal Navy vessels and airship bases such as the one at Malahide Castle. A torpedo quickly despatched the Hare bow first to the seabed, where it rests at 22 kilometres east of Howth Head, 53 24 1N. 005 42 55.80W.
Captain Carmichael was below deck in the washroom when the explosion occurred and he was struck on the face by a wash basin. Able seaman Christopher Tallant from Dun Laoghaire was on watch on the bridge and alerted the chief officer Joseph Swords, from Dalkey, but before either man could respond they were stunned by the force of the explosion. When he came to, Tallant saw that the starboard lifeboat ‘was smashed to smithereens and the port boat had capsized’. Empty crates from Jacob’s Biscuit factory littered the water. Ironically, Jacob’s had been one of the first employers to lock out members of Jim Larkin’s Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union and the Irish Women Workers’ Union, including Rosie Hackett, in 1913.
Meanwhile Carmichael had reached the deck. Finding the remaining lifeboat was full and five crew members clinging to the upturned port boat, he lowered a small craft aft and took four remaining members of the crew on board, including Tallant. The other crew members with them, according to Tallant, were William McGowan, an able seaman, Edward Lyons, a greaser, both from Dublin, and John Smith, the second engineer, who was from Glasgow.
The men clinging to the upturned port lifeboat were Richard Daly, a greaser, Joe Hunt a Donkeyman, Tom Brown, a fireman, John Conlon and Patrick Kirwan, both able seamen. All were from Dublin except for Kirwan, who came from Drogheda. The sea was too rough for the two groups to keep together and, although there was little room in Carmichael’s craft, they pulled the ‘bullock man’ John Ford, from Mayo, out of the water.
Carmichael’s group were picked up at 5.40 am, about three hours after the attack but the men clinging to the other boat were not rescued until about 10.45 am in a state of ‘extreme exhaustion’. It was a miracle that anyone survived. Brown, who was working in the engine room when the torpedo hit, suffered serious injuries to his legs and body, yet survived eight hours in the Irish Sea.
At least one passing steamer kept going, refusing to stop and pick up survivors for fear of becoming a target itself.
Several of the Hare’s crew had been on the ship in 1913, including Captain Carmichael and three of those who died, Joseph Swords from Dun Laoghaire, Donald Gilchrist from Islay and James Wilson from Midcalder. The only woman on board, Sarah Jane Arnott, the stewardess, had not been on the Hare in 1913. She was a widow with four children.
Today also marks the publication of a Joint Oireachtas Committee report on the fishing industry which is expected to show conditions of non-EEA (European Economic Area) fishers from countries such as Egypt, the Philippines and Indonesia are much worse than those of the unionised crew of the SS Hare 100 years ago. These fishers are as vital to Ireland’s fishing industry today as the crew of the Hare and vessels like it were for the survival of these islands a hundred years ago. They may not be at risk from U-Boats, but nor should they be left to the mercy of sharks, of the human variety.