Two urinators in Clare

The county of Clare is, of course, renowned for its urinators. Jonathan Binns, Assistant Agricultural Commissioner on the late Irish Poor Inquiry, met one of them [Jonathan Binns The Miseries and Beauties of Ireland Longman, Orme, Brown and Co, London 1837] in Ennis:

At the inn here [Ennis] I happened to breakfast at the same table with Thomas Steele, one of Mr O’Connell’s friends, and an able writer on the liberal side. “Nothing,” said he, in reference to tithe, “nothing will now satisfy the Irish people but its total extinction, stem, root, and branch.” Poor-Laws he considered indispensable.

It seems, alas, that Mr Binns — an otherwise perceptive and intelligent observer — was unaware of Mr Steele’s eminence in urination. Steele had made his first descent in a diving bell on the wreck of the Royal George at Spithead in 1825 and patented his Communicating Diving Bell in the same year; later underwater adventures included a dive on the wreck of the Tudor warship Mary Rose.

West Clare

A little earlier in his journey, Mr Binns had met Charles Deane, one of the pioneeers of underwater work. He had been employed to try to retrieve part of the cargo of the sailing-vessel Intrinsic, which sank near Kilkee in January 1836. Mary John Knott, in her Two Months at Kilkee [Dublin, 1836; reissued by Clasp Press, Ennis 1997], described the shipwreck (although, as it occurred months after her visit, she must have relied on other people’s accounts):

On the morning of the 30th of 1st month, 1836, after a week of storms, and during a continuance of them from the north-west, the coast-guard sentinel on duty for the day, in taking his accustomed walk along the cliffs, about seven o’clock, (soon after day-light) discovered a large vessel dismasted, riding by two anchors amidst most terrific breakers, in the little bay close under the Look-out Cliff […].

Intrinsic Bay

The affecting intelligence was quickly communicated at the village by himself and a peasant. The officer, with the coast-guard, and several persons of influence and nautical experience, with numbers of the inhabitants, flocked to render any assistance in their power; but, alas! none could be given. The name on the stern could be read with a telescope, “Intrinsic of Liverpool”. They saw the supposed captain, with his speaking trumpet, calling to them in vain, but nothing could be heard from the roaring of the breakers, which, after dashing with tremendous violence upwards of 100 feet high against the perpendicular cliffs, rushed back to sea, carrying the unhappy vessel with them, until it was stopped by the anchors. The next great surge dashed her in again, as far as the cables allowed, which however still kept her from striking the rocks; but from the violence of the waves that broke most fearfully over her, it was evident that she could not long hold together, particularly as from some unknown cause, the hatches which cover the hold were off, and much water got down.

During this indescribably awful period, a lady came up from the cabin, and looking round at the towering cliffs and dreadful breakers, sunk on her knees in the attitude of prayer, but was soon obliged to go below by the waves, which washed two of the crew overboard, but who, after astonishing exertion in the water, regained their sinking vessel, which, carrying a cargo of 500 tons, was at one moment lifted so high, that the people on the cliffs over the Diamond rocks, thought she would be thrown up amongst them: the next minute she was engulphed in a valley of foam.

As all human efforts were now unavailing, whilst the tempest blew with such violence that the agonized beholders could scarcely keep their feet, the kind-hearted natives, seeing the awful termination at hand, did all that remained in their power, by kneeling down and praying for their poor fellow-creatures about to be swallowed up in the mighty deep. The crew soon after went down to the cabin, no doubt to prepare for the awful change that awaited them — after which they were seen no more.

The vessel at length disappeared in a huge wave, and after a short time her shattered frame rose once more, when the next enormous breaker (to use the words of a spectator) shattered it into a thousand pieces, and rolling it over and over, carried most of it and the light part of the cargo out to sea.

A few minutes after the Intrinsic went down, a gull hovering over the spot, was seen to descend and pick something out of the water. The bird then rose to a great height, and let go what the wind wafted ashore, and which proved to be a Lady’s glove. […]

Only one body was ever recovered; two men died in the attempt to recover it.

This vessel was reported by the agent for the underwriters, who came to take charge of the property, to be one of the best built ships belonging to Liverpool, had just arrived from Calcutta, and was in 14 days again laden for New Orleans with a valuable cargo, including a large quantity of iron, steel, block tin, copper, tin plates, wheels and axles for rail-road carriages, besides cotton goods, cut glass, &c, &c.

Mrs Knott describes the equipment and methods used by Mr Deane in his efforts to retrieve some of the cargo, but perhaps we may use Mr Binns’s description instead.

Mr Deane, the inventor of the new diving apparatus, was engaged by the Underwriters to recover part of the cargo, and had succeeded as well as the stormy weather would permit. His task was a difficult one, and if he received only half the value of what he rescued (such, I was informed, being the agreement) he would be inadequately remunerated for the risk and exertion he had undergone.

Being overtaken in a snow storm, I took shelter under the side of his small vessel, which had been cast on shore, and was undergoing repair. A pretty correct idea of its diminutive size may be formed from the fact that he and twenty men were engaged in preparing to haul it down the nearly level sand into the water.

Mr Deane favoured me with a sight of his apparatus, consisting of a helmet that rests upon the shoulders, with lenses at the front, and an opening at the back, in which is inserted a pipe that conveys the air over the head to the face. An air-pump, worked by four men, is fixed in the deck of the vessel, and supplies the air to the diver by means of a pipe. He descends by a rope or ladder (according to the situation he may be in), to the bottom of which weights are attached, and is clothed in flannel, in addition to his usual dress. He also puts on an India-rubber dress, with leaden soles to the feet; thus he is entirely invested with a covering impervious to the water. Signals are made by means of cords, and are well understood by the diver and his men. A confidential person on deck, frequently repeats signals, and, if the diver should omit to answer any of them, he is immediately drawn up.

From the great clearness of the water on this coast, he can see to a distance of fifty feet distinctly, a much greater distance than he has observed elsewhere. Mr Deane stated that he had never, in the course of his perilous vocation, been molested by any large fish, but that in one place on the coast of England the great conger-eels swam by him perfectly harmless. He always, however, adopts the precaution of taking down with him a large knife, for the purpose of defence in case of attack.

The National Maritime Museum of Ireland has a piece about Deane’s operation here with some mention of Steele.

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8 responses to “Two urinators in Clare

  1. great story,

  2. Pingback: Clare and Mary Rose | Irish waterways history

  3. Please forgive any vulgarity, but I am a second generation Irish American whose limited vocabulary reserves the name urinator to a different class of folk. An example that comes to mind is the famous statue in France called Mannikan Pis. I do appreciate the stories and learn so much as always.
    Thank you.
    Claire Demers

  4. See the first definition on this page. bjg

  5. Pingback: CLARE & MARY ROSE | FisherBelfast's Blog

  6. Well there you go. You’d think I would have known, having a last name that means ‘of the sea’ in French. Then again my ancestors were better suited to the second meaning rather than the first, for they were a wild and wooly bunch indeed. Claire DeMers

  7. The famous Manneken Pis is a small statue in Brussels, Belgium, not in France,

  8. Oh dear, there I go again. Well the good news is my French heritage did come from Belgium so Manneken Pis did have an influence on the DeMers psyche.

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