In the weeks following the National Museum’s public request last March for objects and memories of the MV Naomh Éanna, I was delighted to receive many phone calls and emails from people registering their interest in the ferry that serviced Oileáin Árann (Aran Islands) from the Galway mainland from 1958 to the late 1980s. While objects are difficult to come by, and I still hold out hope that some may surface, stories of the Naomh Éanna are rich testimony of how important the ferry was to its passengers and the people of Oileáin Árann.
One of the phone calls I received was from John Reck in Galway city. John not only worked on the Naomh Éanna but he had also served on its predecessor, the SS Dún Aengus. This was an opportunity not to be missed so with John’s approval, I travelled to Galway last month to interview him. An edited version of the interview will form part of the National Museum’s traditional Irish boat gallery and a short sample from it I share with you now.
John Reck was born on Mainguard Street in the centre of Galway city in 1937, one of six children. When he was 14 years old and working in a guest house for the summer, a Córas Iompair Éireann (Irish Transport Company) employee based at the railway station in Galway asked John if he would like a permanent job with CIÉ. John’s parents gave their permission for him to accept the offer of employment and he began his long employment in CIÉ in 1952. His initial role was as an office messenger but he eventually got a job on the Oileáin Árann service boat the SS Dún Aengus, which had been transferred from the Galway Bay Steamboat Company to the CIÉ in 1951.¹
For the young teenager, working on the Dún Aengus was a departure from what he had known to date. John especially recalls the sickness he experienced on the rocky journeys out to the islands. What people may not realise, John explained, is that the Clare hills to the south of Galway Bay provided shelter from the weather but once you left the bay, you were unprotected from the often rough waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Difficulties in accessing Árainn (Inishmore), then the only island with a pier, meant sailings were often cancelled.
John’s position on the Dún Aengus was known as the Captain’s Tiger, an origin for which he does not have. His responsibilities included ticketing and taking charge of the ship’s manifest (the listing of cargo, passengers and crew). Some cargo could be troublesome to deal with.
As soon as the horse’s fours would hit the deck you better be out of the way because you’d get a kick.
On fair days, animals would be brought out by currachs from the island beaches to be transported to the fairs on the mainland. The islanders prepared the animals by fitting a rope around the animal’s belly to assist with it being hoisted onto the ship. The ship’s most important passengers were the mothers returning to their island homes with their newborn babies. John nursed the mothers on those unsteady trips that left some violently sick.
In 1958, the newly built MV Naomh Éanna took over from the Dún Aengus and John moved to the new ferry.
While the Naomh Éanna was very comfortable and the public were very happy to have it, John remarked that because of its height, it could be ‘giddy’ on the sea. His memories of the Naomh Éanna responding to the tragic crash of KLM Flight 607-E in August 1958 are as vivid today as they have ever been.
Shortly after the KLM crash, John reluctantly had to leave his position on the Naomh Éanna when he reached the age of twenty-one as he would have been due increased wages after that age. He was sad to part with the ship, the route and the people of Oileáin Árann, whom through conversations in English and Irish, he had come to be familiar with.
My sincere thanks to Amy and John Reck for welcoming me into their home and giving their time to speak with me.