It’s funny how a little tin-roofed cottage on the shores of Donegal Bay can suddenly become one of the most talked about and photographed sights on our tour around Donegal Bay.
This unremarkable little building nestled at the waters edge has sat almost unchanged for more than 130 years. In recent years it has watched us sail by on a regular basis. Watching us return to shore may, for it, be a far more unusual sight. Unusual because it has watched far more people depart from our hallowed shores than ever returned.
This, now ramshackle, building was for many years the ticket office for The White Star Line, owners of the mighty SS Titanic which was lost 100 years ago this week.
Many thousands of passengers passed through this tiny building as they purchased their tickets for the new world of America during Ireland’s famine years. The fare to their new life was £2. Not much in today’s terms but a long time in the earning back in those dark distant days. Having to supply their own rations for the trip didn’t help as food was not exactly plentiful even for a days diet nevermind the 10 weeks of ocean wandering.
Of course many never lived to see their new nirvana across the waves, dying of hunger or disease en route. Their deaths onboard these vessels gave them their name. These were the sadly but aptly named the ‘Coffin Ships’
Unlike the Titantic with its luxury decks and comfortable first class cabins for the gentry the Coffin Ships were all 3rd Class or less in many cases. Many of these ships had been used to transport slaves from Africa to Liverpool and when transporting the starving Irish became more profitable Donegal Bay was their port of depature. From the slaves of humans to the slaves of hunger.
Docking in the deep water part of the bay known as The Hassens these ships awaited the small boats which left from outside the White Star Line Ticket office and as we pass the office and travel out to The Hassens every day on our pleasure cruise it helps you imagine in a very very minute way the start of a journey which changed our Irish history forever.
How many of our passengers had ancestors who travelled our very route many years in the past. I am sure that most aren’t aware of how many of their distant, long gone relatives sat huddled in small boats, with all they own in their arms, on the very waters that they sail on today sipping a cool drink and smiling with their children.
So as the 15th of April and the centenary approaches of the most well known maritime disaster of all time comes to pass I only hope that people especially here in Ireland remember the many, many others who left Donegal Bay and indeed the rest of Ireland and lost their lives both in the water of the icy North Atlantic and also in the waves of time.
When you travel with me on the Donegal Bay Waterbus and you see this small building by the lapping waters of Donegal Bay… pause a while..raise your glass from the upper deck and toast those who sailed before you and who never had the pleasure of seeing that small building on a return journey.