Article by Bill Quinn
On 17 May 1918 the Kilkeel fleet left the
harbour to drift net for herring. As one of the boats was sailing to the
ground, a member of the crew noticed the compass was spinning. He drew
the rest of the crew's attention to this, but nobody knew the cause of this
strange phenomenon. The boats continued to the fishing ground.
morning, on 18th May, a German submarine surfaced in the middle of the
fleet, ordered the crews into the punts and told them to come along the side
They were then ordered on to the deck. One of the
German officers then proceeded to place a bomb on each boat. The subsequent
the five boats.
The names of the boats were: Never
Can Tell, Jane
Gordon, Cypress, St
Mary, and Lloyd.
Some of the boats had no punt and the captain ordered
them on to another fishing boat, the Moss Rose,
and let them row for home. The mystery of the spinning compass was
revealed. The owners received no compensation for the loss of their
their local MP fought hard for them.
Joseph was not fishing
in the same area, and so she wasn't seen by the submarine,
but the folk at home thought she had been sunk also,
as she did not return to harbour until the end of
the week, to great rejoicing.
Many years later,
in 1952, a reporter came to write an article on the
lost boats. She went to Tommy
Donnan as she'd heard he was a crew member of
Can Tell. The
conversation went something like this:
"Are you Mr Tommy Donnan?" Tommy answered: "Yes". "Are
you the Tommy Donnan who was a crew member of the Never
Can Tell when
she was sunk?" Tommy answered: "No". The reporter said: "I
was led to believe you were the last surviving
member of the Never
Can Tell." To which
Tommy replied: "I was not aboard the Never
Can Tell when
she sank - but I was aboard about 15 minutes before
This article appears by kind courtesy
It is also featured in its 2005 year
a former Kilkeel boatbuilder
who takes a keen interest in all things
relating to the history of Kilkeel.