Missing in plain sight: the case of ‘Sea Lark’

The “Wreck Viewer” digital mapping tool released by Ireland’s National Monument Service is generating media attention and interest among historians, divers and others. Nearly 4,000 wrecks are featured in the interactive map, from prehistoric log boats found in inland lakes and rivers; to the RMS Lusitania torpedoed in May 1915 by a German U-boat; up to a 62-foot fishing vessel that sank in January 2017.

But sail with caution. As the Monument Service notes:

…the development of the Wreck Viewer is an ongoing project and the Viewer should not be relied upon as a definitive listing or display of all known wreck data. Records will be added to, refined, and updated on an ongoing basis and as new information becomes available.

Shipwrecks with known locations shown on the map are only about 22 percent of the total number of records contained in the agency’s database. The locations of approximately 14,000 more wrecks remain to be confirmed, though some details about them are available in a downloadable database.

National Monument Service’s “Wreck Viewer.”

The Sea Lark is a case in point. The 19 November 1846, wreck at Ballybunion, County Kerry is part of the Monument Service database, but it is not shown on the map. It is missing from the Irish Shipwrecks website, but found at IrishWrecksOnline.net, both independently produced listings.

The cargo schooner set out from Tarbert as the Great Famine settled on Ireland. Once it washed ashore near the mouth of the River Cashen, the Sea Lark was ravaged “by myriads of the country people whose first work was to lacerate her sides in order to effect the business of destruction and plunder with more ease and effect,” according to a contemporary account in the Tralee Chronicle. Moreover, “the most unscrupulous robbery was committed not by labourers or small farmers alone but by men of apparent wealth and respectability.”

Bryan MacMahon details the Sea Lark‘s plunder in The Great Famine in Tralee and North Kerry, Mercier Press, 2017Fin Dwyer wrote about the episode in Irish Central. The wreck is also referenced by Danny Houlihan in Ballybunion: An Illustrated History, The History Press Ireland, 2011.

The Monument Service database contains some details of 73 wrecks in Irish waters during 1846, but only two unnamed vessels are shown on its map: a February loss 190 miles southwest of Baltimore, County Cork; and a September sinking more than 300 miles southwest of the same coast. The Irish Shipwrecks database lists three vessels lost in 1846; two off Down and one at Wexford.

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