Updated: May 8
On the 16th of August, 1960 three young men from County Wexford decided to set sail for Wales. Instead of taking the usual passenger ship from Rosslare to Fishguard, they undertook a more daredevil and dangerous expedition. Seamus Organ (aged 21) Peter Donegan (aged 19) and Peter Sinnott (aged 18) visited a friend who had a homemade two seat canoe and asked to borrow it for the trip. The friend agreed but was sworn to secrecy because the boys knew that their parents would not be in favour of such a foolhardy trip.
The three young lads set sail on the plywood canoe at 11pm from Ardamine beach, Courtown, County Wexford. To help them make the 85 mile /140km crossing, the boys brought supplies with them which consisted of three bottles of lemonade, nine bottles of water and four packets of biscuits! They also brought a radio and compass but the wake of a passing ship swamped their canoe shortly after leaving the beach and destroyed their radio, so they had no contact with land and could not receive the weather forecast. The journey across the Irish Sea took over 24 hours. Throughout that time the stern of the boat was submerged because it was only a 2 seater canoe, one person had to sit astride it, swapping seats every hour. The three hardy sailors even found a leak in the canoe shortly after leaving Ireland, but refused to turn back.
The danger didn’t end there, as they got closer to the Pembrokeshire shore, they encountered strong currents, rocks and swells that threatened to overturn the boat and resulted in the men spending six hours paddling the last two miles to shore. Once they had landed in a small cove near Stumble Head, they spent a further three hours trying to scale a 150ft cliff in darkness. When they finally reached the top of the cliff they made their way to the nearby coastguard’s house. He had been looking out for the three men because their disappearance caused a huge air and sea search on both sides of the Irish Sea. The police were called and the boys were promptly arrested because they had entered the country illegally. They were told that the last time someone had unexpectedly landed in that cove was the French, about to invade!
The three adventurers were taken to the large port town of Fishguard where they reported their story to journalists. The story later appeared on the BBC six o’clock news for all to see. As if that wasn’t enough, the Lord Mayor of Fishguard gave the boys the freedom of the town before they were sent back home (along with their friends canoe) on a Fishguard to Rosslare mailboat!
As they got closer to landing in Wexford the boys saw their parents waiting for them in Rosslare. Anxious to avoid their parents wrath, they asked the skipper of the boat to lower their canoe into the water with a fishing net. He agreed and the boys paddled up the coast to Courtown avoiding their parents. Back in their home town the boys were met by the Gorey Piper band and received a heroes welcome. When they did meet their parents, all was well and they never tried anything like that again, warning others that ‘no one would do it except mad dogs and a few Courtown men’ (Peter Sinnott, Gorey Guardian, 2005).
In 2005, forty-five years after that impressive journey celebrations were held in Fishguard for the young Wexford men. The three young men were the first people to cross the channel in a two-man canoe in recorded history. There have been attempts to break their record but with no success.