Captain Blannie Thomas and his friendship, 1960

    By Charlie McCarthy

Greenore, previously a fishing station, opened as a passenger and cross channel port to Holyhead by the London and North Western Railway on 30th April, 1873. Sadly this venture was not a success and struggled on until the SS Slieve League, under the command of Captain Meade, sailed out on the 29th December 1951, to Holyhead for the last time. The last train ran two days later.

Apart from the occasional arrival of herring boats from Scotland, this fine port lay idle until purchased by Mr Aodhgan O'Rahilly, eight years later. His acquisition of Greenore Port coincided with a radical change in the methods of shipping general cargo. This was the use of containers as units of cargo rather than loose items handled individually by Dockers.

Seizing this opportunity, Mr O'Rahilly formed Greenore Ferry Services, utilising containers carried to and from Preston by ships, and appointed a local man, Captain Jack Martin, as manager. Onto the scene came Captain Patrick Blandford Thomas and his fine little ship the MV Friendship. In January 1960, she inaugurated the service and sailed to and from Greenore for the next few years.

A kindly gentleman, Captain Blannie, as he was known by all, was to become a father figure to many children in the Greenore area. Affectionate and friendly as his ship's name, he would organise children's parties at the drop of a hat, supplying all the goodies etc. Everyone was welcome on his ship. Many forty-year-olds in the area have fond memories of him, and, I'm sure, will be sad to learn that he passed away to his eternal reward last August 1995.

His death occurred while he was on holiday in his native Rosses Point, County Sligo, from Wallasey on Merseyside where he lived. His funeral took place to Saint Allan's Church, Wallasey. Ivor, his father, a South African of Welsh extraction, came to Sligo as a 2nd Engineer on a grain ship in 1914 and settled at Rosses Point having gained employment as an engineer on the Sligo Steam Navigation Company Vessels. He married Mary Agnes McGowan of Island View. She was of a great seafaring family, many of whom were lost at sea, and was related through her mother to another seagoing family, the Bruens of Rosses Point.

They had three sons, Blannie, Willie and Vivian. Blannie first served on the Ferman of Guernsey, a coaster owned by Onesimus Dorey and Sons, Guernsey, whose master was Captain John McLynn, a native of Rosses Point. He was later a crew member of the Finnish ship SS Brita, which arrived in Sligo in September 1940, with grain from the River Plate, the last such ship to enter the port and the last vessel to use the old moorings at Rosses Point. Blannie had a lucky escape when in 1941 he joined the SS Stanleigh of London at Workington, with Frank Devaney and Tommy Joe Gillen, all from Rosses Point. In March of that year the Stanleigh was sunk off the coast of Wales by aerial bombardment from a German plane. Blannie and Frank with four others survived, but T.J. Gillen was one of twenty men lost. His brother, Willie, a fine seaman, survived the sinking of the SS New York City of Bristol, which had to be abandoned after catching fire. He died in Dublin in the 1960's. Younger brother, Vivian, served in the Royal Navy and later as Master on several coastal vessels, and is now a pilot in the United Kingdom.

The crew of the MV Friendship in 1960 were: Master - Blannie Thomas, Liverpool, ex Rosses Point. Mate - John McCann, Liverpool, ex Moville. Chief Engineer - Tommy Graham, Liverpool. Second Engineer - Jimmy Brown, Omeath. Bosun - Willie Thomas - Liverpool, ex Rosses Point. Cook - John Bruen, Omeath. Seaman - Joe Kilgallen, Mayo. John McCann, of course, became equally well known and liked in later years when as Master of the MV Owenro of Greenore Ferry Services, he became one of the best-known ship's Masters of Greenore. He was appointed Master of the MV Torwood of Liverpool, 264 tonnes, at the age of 22! After his service with Greenore Ferry Services, he joined P&O Pandoro in 1975 and is still Master of large cross channel car ferries. It was a Greencastle, County Donegal, pilot named McCann who smuggled Darcy McGee out of Ireland, an ancestor of Captain John McCann, I believe.

Carlingford Lough and Greenore have had many associations with the Rosses Point Sea Captains, Seamen and Lighthouse Keepers. The Devaneys, Frank, John and Tom of the B&I's MV Dundalk etc., Patrick, a Master with Greenore Ferry Services. as was Edmund Bruen, now retired and living in Sligo. His brother, George, visited Greenore as Master of coastal vessels, and of course the Bruen family of Omeath, May in particular, who worked for Greenore Ferry Services for many years. Also Patrick McGowan who sadly died on his ship while in Newry, and the Kilgallens, Seamen and Lightkeepers, Captain David Gillen who took the famous Limerick Steam ship the Lanahrone into Greenore on the 18th December, 1937, to load Cooley hay. And even still today, the Lough is visited by a Rosses Point Seaman when the ILT Granuile calls to service the Haulbowline Lighthouse, for one of her officers is Andy Gillen of Rosses Point.

Having sailed with and met many of these Sligo men, I can assure readers that they all have two things in common, fine seamen, and like Blannie Thomas, kind and friendly men. Long may they continue to sail up the Lough.