John Macaulay's fate

John Macaulay was not saved from the sinking of the Kenmare. Although the one working lifeboat remained on the scene as long as possible, the shouting of the floundering seamen ceased after some 10 minutes. It is a matter of conjecture what happened during the next fourteen days.


Coast Watchman John Doherty and Constable Masterson found the body of John Macaulay on a beach at King’s Point (shown left) north of Balbriggan Co. Dublin on Saturday 16th March 1918. Two other bodies of sailors were found on the same day washed up on nearby beaches at Skerries Co. Dublin and Gormanston Co. Meath, but only John Macaulay’s body could be identified. He carried a letter which is said to have identified him as George [sic] Mcauley of Stornaway. He is described as a fine young sailor of about 25 – however, at the time of his death, John Macaulay was actually aged thirty-five. All three were dressed in semi-naval uniform.

Inquests into the deaths of the three sailors were held by Coroners Friery and Corry, and the evidence disclosed nothing further than that two of the men carried beads and scapulars, while a disc showed that McAuley was a Presbyterian. The bodies, which were only a few days in the water, bore no sign of violence, and the medical testimony was that death was due to drowning. A verdict of “found drowned” was duly returned by the Jury under foreman Mr George Mongey.

News found its way to John’s native Isle of Lewis, and was relayed by local weekly newspaper Stornoway Gazette, on 15 March 1918.

“It is with deep regret we have to record the death by drowning of Seaman John Macaulay (Iain Dhomhnaill an Taillear) [John the son of Donald the Tailor] Islivig on Saturday 2nd inst. His boat the “Kenmore” [sic] was torpedoed, and only six out of a crew of thirty-five were saved. John was one of the finest young men that could be met in a day’s march. To his young and sorrowing widow, and to his other near relatives and friends, the heartfelt sympathy of the whole community is extended in their very sad and sore bereavement.”

John’s family had endeavoured to have the body transferred home, but the authorities would not sanction this. An account of the funeral was forwarded to his family by the Acting Divisional Officer of Coastguard at Rush, and the Stornoway Gazette copies this; I insert additional information as supplied by the Drogheda Independent and Drogheda Advertiser in their editions of March 23rd, 1918.


The funeral started from the Coastguard Station, Balbriggan (shown left, about 1920). The military supplied four horses and the coffin was place on the limber, and we marched through the town of Balbriggan. The military firing party, with a piper at its head, led the procession; a military funeral party and a body of police followed behind the coffin with as many of the Coastguard as could be obtained; and a large crowd of the inhabitants followed to the churchyard. the piper played a lament and other Scottish airs suitable for the occasion. (Pipers’ Band of the Royal Engineers playing the Dead March) The military also took photographs of the funeral and if they turn out successful you will be sent copies. Your son is buried at Balrothery Churchyard, and the funeral service was carried out by the Protestant minister (Rev. H. B. Good, Rector, Rev. C. Benson L.L.D. and Rev. R. Scriven). Your son was given the grandest funeral that was ever seen in Balbriggan and I think it is particularly gratifying to know that full honours were paid to his remains. Three volleys were fired over the grave and the piper played between each volley.”

It would stand to reason that such a grand occasion would be remembered for many years to come in a small town like Balbriggan. Not in this instance. British armed forces burned and looted the centre of the town on 9 September 1920 in reprisal for the alleged killing of an R.I.C officer by the I.R.A. earlier in the evening, as the unfortunate policeman left a local pub. This would have eclipsed if not erased the burial in the collective and popular memory of the inhabitants of the town. 

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