Account By Jim Quain
It must have been about 1900 or so when my father Jamsie Quain saw the phantom boat. One day he was tending his land in Dysert. At the end of the long field is a well, the overflow from which was used to feed the cattle runs down to the cliff. Dad had a potato garden there at the cliff edge near the stile.
It was winter time and early in the New Year. The previous night had been very stormy, and although the day was dry at sea, it was dangerously rough. As he was digging he glanced up and saw an object out deep. As it approached he realised it was a ship's lifeboat. There were about a dozen men in it rowing and another steering. He actually saw them change seats a few times.
Presuming there had been a wreck he went over to the station to call the coastguard and they both went back to the cliff. The boat was drawing near and almost below them. But the cliffs were too steep to descend. The crew looked cold, wet and hungry. The two observers called out and Jamsie Quain waved them in with his cap. The sailors took no notice but kept rowing in closer until they came around the headland into the calm water in the bay. Suddenly, to the amazement of the onlookers, they altered course and turned out to sea again. This was unbelievable as the men were overcome with fatigue and yet they were heading out from the sheltered waters and the safety of dry land, back into the danger of the open sea.
Dad and the officer hurried down to the pier, quickly got a crew together including Pat Troy and Maurice Flynn. They got the sail up, set off in pursuit and soon began to catch up on the boat. The wind was from the south and they lost the shelter of the land as they headed towards Mine Head. Dad and the officer persuaded the men to go on a bit further. They got within about 200 yards of the ship's lifeboat.
After that they just could not get any nearer although they tired everything possible. They shouted but the sailors gave no sign of hearing them. The wind was rising and gradually the lifeboat started to pull away from them. Reluctantly, they turned back to Ardmore where they arrived in the late afternoon.
The coastguard officer phoned Mine Head Lighthouse and altered the rescue services along the coast. Enquires up and down the coast, were in vain, the sailors were not picked up anywhere and the boat was never seen again.
At cow-time that evening in Dysert the officer met Jamsie Quain and asked "what did you think of that business today?" Dad said he didn't know. The officer continued. "If you were in that boat all night or maybe a few nights and suffering wet, cold and hunger, would you jump ashore and take your chances with the natives if you saw them waving to you as you approached or would you turn out to sea again?" Dad said he'd go ashore. Finally the officer asked "Quain have you ever heard of a Phantom Boat?" Dad hadn't but after further discussion they concluded it must have been a phantom boat. Some days later they heard a large vessel had been lost out at sea about a week previously.
Account By Jimmy Rooney
I heard the story of the phantom boat from Jamsie Quain the Clift and Maurice Flynn of Chapel Row. The weather was bad with a S.E. wind, when a ship's lifeboat was seen coming in with a crowd of shipwrecked sailors in her. A local crew and a coastguard went out in a whaleboat to give assistance and guide her in. To the amazement of the locals however, the ship's lifeboat turned tail and headed down towards the Miner. No human being would come inside Ardmore head and put out to sea again in the weather that was there. The locals set off in pursuit. They had the lifeboat within hailing distance but couldn't catch up. They lost the shelter of the headland and were about half way down the bay when Maurice Flynn said "Turn back Quain, or we'll all be lost. You're following dead men." Quain reluctantly did so. They were only just in off the corner of the head when a sea broke on top of 'Seán Spán'. A big wave that would drown a liner headed across the bay and if it caught them they were all lost. Seán Spán is a sunken rock off Ardmore Head where a Spanish ship was wrecked one time. We often got nets caught there at low tide. Afterwards the coastguards maintained she was a phantom boat and they had risked their lives following her.