Rosses Rescue in the 1830s

Skilful and courageous act of Rutland Pilot

Here history, too, finds a stirring page,

Makes a record that engrosses,

And folklore tales do full oft engage,

The well-versed minds of the Rosses


On a day in the thirties of the last century, a barque of 1800 tons (registered at Lisbon in Portugal) was driven by a violent hurricane from the south west into Boylagh Bay. When some distance off the rough rocky coast south of Croughy Head and a little west of Traigheannagh bar at a place known as “tin house” the captain gave orders to his crew to  “let go both anchors and give her every link of available chain”. The command was instantly obeyed for too well they all knew that this offered the only possible means by which they might manage to avoid disaster. For a long time, however they were feeling anxious and uneasy lest the ship would drag her anchors or, worse still that the chains might snap under the tremendous strain. Placing their trust in God and Our Blessed Lady, each member of the crew took his brown scapular, tied it to the chains at the rail and prayed that they might be saved from their imminent danger. The anchors held fast and the chains continued to withstand the awful strain while the storm tossed vessel, battered and buffeted by the tempestuous winds and waves tugged and heaved with might and main.


Signals of distress were now sent out the unhappy barque. The coast guard officer at Portnoo on seeing this sent the following urgent message to the station at Inniscoo-“ Large ship in distress of Triennagh bar, unable to go to her assistance from here. Send pilot to her, if possible, without delay.”

Inniscoo Island on the right ( Copyright National Library of Ireland)
Immediately on receiving this communication, on the prompt execution of which might depend the lives of the helpless and hapless crew, the officer in charge of the station got in touch with Captain Micheal O’Boyle (locally known as “Buckie” Boyle) of Rutland Island. In such dreadful conditions of wind and sea this experienced seaman knew well that if it was altogether impossible to round Croughy Head in the small craft at his disposal. But Buckie’s resource, like his daring and determined spirit, was equal to the needs of the desperate situation and enabled him to surmount all difficulties in his way. Taking with him a skiff of 23 feet long and a crew of four good tried men, he proceeded in the lee of the islands until he reached a point in the townland of Ranna Dubh, about three miles west of Dungloe.

Bartlett, William Henry; Stormbound on the Rosses, North West Donegal, Ireland; Reading Museum;
A similiar skiff from the painting named “Stormbound on the Rosses” by William Henry Bartlett (copyright Reading Museum)
Here he procured a horse and cart by which to transport the boat over the mountain road, a distance of five or six miles, very little of which could then have been anything better than a rough uneven track. On reaching the “Tin House”, these brave men were reluctantly forced to make a short delay, “waiting their chance” to launch the frail little craft for even one slight mistake during the attempt would most assuredly prove fatal to their hopes of success. At last a comparative “lull” afforded them the eagerly hoped for opportunity and soon they were “speeding” from the shore to the toilsome and dangerous errand of mercy.


It was indeed a struggle of superman, seemingly hopeless against the angry, unloosed forces of nature. Coolly and skilfully directed the work of his gallant crew, O’Boyle encouraged them to almost superhuman efforts till at last in the mercy and providence of God, they had won against such fearful odds.  The tiring, almost exhausted, oarsmen gradually inched nearer the wildly heaving, storm tossed vessel and how such a little cockle shell coracle survived in the mountainous cauldron of billows was, God be ever praised, a miracle of seamanship. All the time they were tensely watched by the anxious sailors, who offered many fervent prayers for the success of their exertions. The captain and the mate were standing together in the poop-deck watching the heroic struggle, surprise and admiration stamped on every line of their bronze and weather-beaten countenance.

Buckie never relaxed for a moment but continued with consummate skill and coolness to urge on and direct his men while all the time he stood firmly erect in the stern. Noticing his remarkable exhibition of seamanship and the steady stance the mate turned joyfully to the captain saying- “Thank God, there comes a pilot.” The the other’s anxious inquiry as to how he could be sure of this, the mate simply replied-“I known because in such a raging sea no man but a pilot could stand in a small boat like that with his hands in his pockets.”

Once aboard the ship O’Boyle lost no time in getting her under small canvas and though he had little room in which to manoeuvre or handle her properly he brought her to safe anchorage at Oilean Crona (Island Crone) off the mainland of Termon and near to Arranmore.

Some months later the vessel reached her home port where the captain made report of his dreadful experience and the wonderful exploit of pilot O’Boyle, the Irishman. The newspapers of Portugal, Spain, Holland and England paid the greatest tributes to O’Boyle for his daring act and his skilful handling of the ship in terrible conditions, “beating her tack for tack” through the dangerous shoals of Boylagh Bay and accomplishing that day what seemed to all to be impossible.


N.B. The narrator expressed regrets that he could not recall the name of the vessel though he “had heard it often enough from an old aunt” (Buckie’s daughter).

Written by a member of the Boyle family of Rutland Island and published in Donegal Democrat, Friday 23rd September, 1955.