Remembering the Solway Harvester

The storms that have battered the coasts around Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, Isle of Man and Scotland over recent weeks have caused considerable damage. Our thoughts go out to all those affected by the atrocious conditions. It also brings into focus the perils faced by those whose livelihood depend upon fishing off our Celtic coasts.

Solway Harvester Memorial

Over the centuries many have perished during the cruel winter storms. Recent events bring to mind the sad loss of the Solway Harvester, a small fishing boat from Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland (Scottish Gaelic: Cille Chuithbeirt, Dùn Phrìs is Gall-Ghaidhealaibh, Alba). The scallop dredger sailed out into the Irish Sea from Kirkcudbright on 10th January 2000 with a crew of seven. All of the crew were from the Isle of Whithorn area, a peninsula (but once an island), in southwest Scotland. On a fine day Mannin (Isle of Man) can be seen clearly across the Irish Sea to the south west.

It was out into the scallop grounds in the Irish Sea they went on that January day in 2000. They fished until the following day 11th January and planned to set sail home. The weather was against them though and they sought refuge in the shelter of Ramsey Bay (Manx Gaelic: Vaie Rhumsaa) on the northeast coast of the Isle of Man. Facing gale force winds of Force 9 nothing further was heard of the vessel until an emergency beacon was picked up later that day. The search and rescue mission organised included Manx lifeboats from Ramsey, Port St Mary and Douglas as well as the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company ferry Ben-My-Chree (Manx Gaelic meaning Woman of my Heart). They, along with other boats and aircraft from Prestwick in Scotland and Anglesea in Wales and also a helicopter from the Irsh Air Corps (Irish: an tAerchór) searched for the Solway Harvester. The next day two unopened lifeboats from the vessel were found.

On 15th January 2000 the wreck of the Solway Harvester was found 11 miles (18 km) from the Manx coast in water 115 feet (35 m) deep. The bodies of the seven crew members two as young as 17 were on board. At the time there was controversy as the United Kingdom Government refused to fund the rescue operation and recovery of the crew. In the end and to its great credit the Manx Government (Isle of Man is not part of the United kingdom) stepped in and funded the One Million Pound salvage operation. That failure on the part of the United kingdom authorities met with strong criticism at the time. Kirkcudbright Community Council met in February 2000 and from the Scottish crews home area gave thanks to the Manx Government whilst criticising the response from the United Kingdom.

It was a sad day when the bodies of the crew of Solway Harvester were recovered on 4 February 2000. On board were Skipper Andrew Mills (known as Craig), 29, his brother Robin Mills, 33, their cousin David Mills, 18, Martin Milligan, 26, John Murphy, 22, David Lyons, 17, and Wesley Jolly, 17. Grief-stricken relatives and officials waited as the Scottish and Manx flag draped container brought the bodies ashore to the Isle of Man’s Douglas Harbour. A lone piper in full Highland dress played Amazing Grace and Flower of Scotland. The crew were later returned to their native Scotland for burial.

In July 2013 Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond laid a wreath on the granite monument marking the Solway Harvester tragedy when visiting the Isle of Man. Mr Salmond paid tribute to the crew members and went on to say:

The granite memorial here on the Isle of Man is a lasting tribute to the fishermen and it was created from a bollard used to tie up boats at Isle of Whithorn harbour. It signifies the close bond between Scotland, the Isle of Man and all the fishing communities around the Irish Sea.

So whilst we face the storms that have battered our coasts in 2014 we remember the crew of the Solway Harvester and all of those who daily face the perils of the sea surrounding our Celtic coasts and everywhere around the world.


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