One hundred years ago, as the west of Ireland daylight neared its summer solstice peak, four Connemara fishermen made an extraordinary catch: a “barrel-shaped” object with “handles on each side” floating in Galway Bay.
The men tied off the object and began rowing to shore, the big black barrel bobbing behind their boat. The slap of water on the currach punctuated their excited talk (likely in Irish) about the haul, which they suspected was a barrel of oil, tallow or similar shipwreck treasure. They knew the stories of other fishermen making similar lucky finds.
They rolled the barrel on the beach and began to manipulate some screws and pulled out a piece of cord. That’s when the marine mine exploded, killing the four fishermen and five others gathered on the shore. There was “not a trace of the mine or men … only a great hole in the beach,” said a report published a few weeks later in several American newspapers.
The tragedy was quickly blamed on a German munition, “without evidence to back that up,” according to a centennial remembrance in The Irish Times. The determination kept the surviving families from making a compensation claim with the British government, then in the third year of the Great War.
Fifty years later, a plaque with the names of the nine victims was secured to the face of a boulder in the remote location. But the tragedy was mostly forgotten. Now, the plaque has been restored as part of an enhanced memorial, to be rededicated in centennial ceremonies 15-18 June, as the west of Ireland daylight nears its summer solstice peak.