Tag Archives: Wexford

Wreck of the ‘Alfred D. Snow’ near Wexford, 1888

Sometimes discovering a pearl that you are not looking for can be as exciting as finding the diamond you were searching out; regardless if others have touched it earlier.

I’ve been reviewing U.S. consulate in Ireland records for my ongoing research on the murder of John Foran and other “agrarian outrages” of the late 19th century Land War period. Both paper and microfilm records from consulate offices in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Belfast are stored at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

During a recent review, I read letters and other documents related to the 4 January 1888 wreck of the “Alfred D. Snow” in the Irish Channel near County Wexford. The three-masted wooden ship was sailing with a cargo of wheat to Liverpool, England, from San Francisco on the U.S. west coast. The grain originally came from Australia.

The ship had just turned northward in St. George’s Channel when it encountered a gale, ran aground and broke apart near the entrance of Wexford Harbor. Capt. William J. Willey and his crew of 28 men scrambled to their lifeboats but were drowned in the churning sea.

A registry of the dead sent to the consul office at Cork shows the crew were from Russia, Norway, Germany and one Irishman, Thomas Lloyd. The Waterford Harbour Tides and Tales Blog, which offers a fine account of the wreck (with images), identifies the Irishman as Michael O’Sullivan. Other crew were from New York, Delaware, Illinois and Maine, including Capt. Willey.

His body was shipped home to Thomaston, Maine, in a brandy-filled lead casket, while other bodies that eventually washed ashore were buried locally. The New Ross Poor Law Union contacted the consul office for reimbursement, including whiskey for those involved in washing and “coffining” the corpses. The U.S. State Department approved the expenditures, as reported by Bernadette Whelan in her excellent book, “American Government in Ireland, 1790-1913: A History of the U.S. Consular Service.”

Here’s another blog post about the wreck.

A traditional Irish folk air was written in 1890 to memorialize the “Alfred D. Snow.”  The song begins:

Of shipwrecks and disasters we’ve read and seen a deal
But now the coast of Wexford must tell a dreadful tale
On the 4th day of January the wind in a gale did blow
And four and twenty hands were lost of the Alfred D. Snow

From the port of San Francisco she sailed across the main
Bound for the port of Liverpool her cargo it was grain
On a happy day she sailed away to cross the stormy foam
There’s not a soul alive today to bring the tidings home

The Wexford Song Project blog has the full lyrics. According to the website, timber from the wreck was auctioned off for other uses, including the bar counter and shelving of the Strand Tavern in Duncannon.

Irish-American president and streetcar workers

The 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s June 1963 trip to Ireland is getting a lot of attention. Part of the commemoration has included bringing a flame lit from the eternal flame at Kennedy’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C. to New Ross in County Wexford.


Image from ABC

Kennedy’s trip was a triumph for Ireland, for Irish-Americans and for Roman Catholics. Thirty-two years before his 1960 election, Irish-Catholic Democrat Al Smith was crushed by Herbert Hoover in his bid for the presidency. The nation was still too mired in its prejudice against Smith’s ethnicity and faith. (As it turned out, missing the 1929 stock market crash and start of the Great Depression might have saved Irish-American Catholics further hatred in the long run. It sure helped the Democrats.)

As Kennedy made his historic visit to Ireland in June 1963, a small group of Pittsburgh-area politicians and volunteers established the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum. They realized that street railways in Pittsburgh and other parts of the nation were fading from regular use as buses became the preferred public transit to serve far-flung, rapidly growing suburbs.

What does that have to with Kennedy?

Irish immigrants dominated the labor force of street railways in urban America from the time the systems were created in the late 19th century. They joined the Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Railway Employees, formed in 1892, to push for higher wages and better working conditions.

“The streetcar workforce and the union were composed entirely of men, many of whom were Irish,” says the National Streetcar Museum in Lowell, Mass.

The same was true in other Irish immigrant hubs such as nearby Boston (where Kennedy’s ancestors settled), New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh. My Kerry-born grandfather, his brother-in-law and three cousins were among many Irish immigrants employed by Pittsburgh Railways Co. as motormen and conductors.

Like cops, the Irish had a big advantage over other immigrants in obtaining these big city jobs, which required frequent public contact. They spoke the language. In both professions, these unionized, uniform-wearing jobs helped first-generation Irish immigrants build middle-class lives that provided even better opportunities for their children and grandchildren.

And that’s another important part of what JFK’s trip to Ireland symbolized in June 1963.


Early 20th century Pittsburgh Railways Co. streetcar workers.

DISCLOSURE: I am a member of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.