Steampship ‘ARDMORE’ of Cork

By

Frank Forde – Capt (retd) – Merchant Marine

In the World War Two section of the Soldiers and Chiefs exhibition in Collins Barrack Museum, Dublin there is a model of the SS Ardmore that was reported missing with her crew of 24 in November 1940. She had left Cork for Fishguard on 11 November with a cargo of livestock. Owned by the City of Cork Steam Packet Company she was commanded by Captain Thomas Ford of Liverpool.

Model of ‘The SS Ardmore’ on display in the Soldiers & Chiefs Exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks, Dublin. Model of ‘The SS Ardmore’ on display in the Soldiers & Chiefs Exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks, Dublin.

The news was carried in Cork newspapers on 14 November and relatives of the crew gathered at the Steam Packet office on Penrose Quay where an anxious vigil was maintained. Air and sea searches proved fruitless; on 26 November one of her lifeboats, empty, was washed ashore on the Welsh coast. The body of Captain Ford was found near Aberystwyth on 3 December and ten days later that of Seaman Frank O’Shea was recovered from another Welsh beach. His remains were returned to Cork for burial.

What caused the loss of Ardmore was not confirmed for nearly 60 years but it was feared she might have been the victim of a mine. The day before she sailed from Cork a severe southerly gale swept St.George’s Channel and possibly set adrift mines from the defensive belt that extended across the entrance to the Bristol Channel. Throughout the War mines were frequently washed ashore on the Wexford coast after southerly gales.

In February 1998 the Cork Evening Echo reported that the wreck of Ardmore had been found by divers three miles south of the Saltee Islands, off the Wexford coast, in 183 feet of water. The hull bore evidence of a massive explosion near the engine room.

Above the model in the Museum are displayed the Merchant Marine Service Medals and Citations issued to the relatives of two brothers, James and John Power of Cork lost on Ardmore. The medals remind us of the ships and men lost during the Emergency from Ireland’s tiny merchant fleet which numbered only 56 ships in 1939; 16 were sunk by 1945.

Whilst never more than 800 men were serving at any time 156 lost their lives and others received mutilating wounds that they carried to their graves. On the hate ridden, storm tossed oceans the brightly lit and painted ships were a reminder to the combatants that humanity still existed for the Irish ships saved the lives of 511 men of all nationalities.