An Irish resting place
In recent months, the project Ancient Connections, shared on social media the image of a headstone of a Fishguard mariner found in an Irish graveyard.
So what happened to William Griffiths? How did he come to be buried in Prospect Cemetery, near Ballymoney, County Wexford. A little research has revealed the following.
William Griffiths was a mariner born in Fishguard around 1792. Searching parish and chapel records reveal only one William Griffiths born around this time (father James, a mariner) who was baptised at the little Chapel at the top of the Wallis – however the name was quite a common one for the period so it is not possible to know for sure if this was indeed his baptism. Growing up in Fishguard he would have been very familiar with the events of the French Invasion in 1797 even though he was probably too young to recall it first hand. He would likely have gone to sea from the age of 12/14 – probably on the small boats which served the local communities up and down the coast. Through experience he would have become mate and then eventually master of his own vessel although not one that he himself owned – plying the coastal trade. Amazingly the circumstances of his final voyage in 1827 were reported in the Cambrian News only days after the tragedy in which he and his crew lost their lives and tell of the events which led to him being buried in an Irish churchyard.
Cambrian News 3rd November 1827 “A letter from the Agent to Lloyds at Arklow to the Collector and Comptroller at Milford dated 28th October gives the following melancholy account:- GENTLEMEN -I take the liberty of informing you that about 12 o clock this day, a small boat was seen drifting through this Bay with four men and one boy in her; a very short time after she was observed, about a quarter of a mile to the north of Arklow Rock, coming ashore, was capsized and I am sorry to say, all hands perished. The small boat came ashore and was marked “the Elizabeth of Milford” being the name of the vessel, I suppose she belonged to and the letters inside her stern were “WG” which I suppose were the initials of the Captain’s name. As no large vessel has been seen as yet by any person here, it is not known what size vessel she was or where she has been lost; but is is supposed she foundered as the hands in the boat had no oars when seen at sea. It is expected that the bodies will be washed ashore as it was but a short distance from it that they were lost”
The Cambrian News reported that the Elizabeth of Milford whose master was William Griffiths, was a schooner of 72 tons with several of the owners living in, at, or around Fishguard. Approximately a month later, a further report appeared in the Cambrian News. Cambrian News 1st December 1827 “SHIPWRECKS – from a Magistrate, dated Courtown in Ireland 20th inst., it is stated, that a body had been washed on shore on Sunday 18th, at Arklow on whose person, a silver watch and bills to the amount 31ls 10s were found. The body was dressed in a blue jacket and waistcoat, brown trousers and blue stockings, supposed to be that of Wm Griffiths of Fishguard ,Master of the schooner Elizabeth of Milford lately wrecked on that coast and the crew drowned in endeavouring to reach the shore.(as noticed in our paper about 3 weeks ago) Two other bodies had been previously washed on shore supposed to be part of the crew of the said vessel and it will be a satisfaction to their friends to hear that they have all been decently buried by the Churchwardens of the parishes of Kitteneal and Prospect. Nothing was found to identify their persons or anything in their pockets of the two latter.”