The Irish Hazel

The fourth vessel purchased by Irish Shipping Limited never actually served the company or the country during the war years and only came under the company's control on 5th September, 1945.The Panamanian flag vessel, Noemijulia, with a deadweight of 3,750 tons, was about to be sold to the Hammond Lane Foundry in Dublin for scrapping when she was bought by the company in June, 1941.The price paid for the ship was £67,500 and inevitably the amount of repairs required to put her into serviceable condition was considerable. She was built at Stockton in 1895 for R. Ropner & Co and named Barlby. She operated for that company until 1926 when she was sold to Greek owners who in turn sold her to the Noemijulia Steamship Co. Ltd. of London. She was renamed Noemijulia and retained that name when she was sold to Cia Maritima de Panama Ultramar Ltd. and it was from this company that Irish Shipping Limited bought the ship in June, 1941.

She was renamed Irish Hazel, (Pictured left),in July, 1941. As the ship was being considered for scrapping prior to her purchase, it was obvious that major repairs would have to be carried out on the vessel and extensive efforts were made to have the repair work carried out at an Irish dockyard but without success.

Eventually she sailed from Dublin to Baileys Commercial Drydock, Newport, Monmouthshire in April, 1942, under the command of Capt. Matthew O'Neill of Wexford who was to lose his life so tragically in the sinking of the Irish Pine in the following November. James S. Kerr was Chief Officer on that trip and he subsequently attended the vessel during her extended lay-up in drydock.

She was almost re-built and repairs were not completed until November, 1943. The ship was then requisitioned by the British Ministry of War Transport in return for the issue of a navicert for the Irish Cedar. Effectively, the Irish Hazel was chartered to the Ministry from November, 1943, until September, 1945, when she was handed back to Irish Shipping Limited.

While the ship was in the service of the Ministry of War Transport she was named the Empire Don and was heavily armed with machine guns, anti-aircraft guns and other weapons. Her naval role was something of a repeat performance as she had previously served as a blockade runner during the Spanish civil war. The gun mountings and other naval fittings were removed before the ship was re-delivered to Irish Shipping Limited at Sunderland on 5th September, 1945, and she then made her first voyage for the company to Montreal to load wheat and general cargo for Dublin. Capt. J. P. Kelly who was Master on that initial voyage of the Irish Hazel recalled. many years later that the vessel was most unstable on that Atlantic crossing and it was with great difficulty that such items as cups, plates, etc. were kept from crashing to the floor with the violent movement of the ship. However, the ship continued to trade in the immediate post-war years between Canada and the United States and Irish ports. She also operated for some time on the phosphate trade from Bône, in Algeria, to Ireland. Bône was subsequently renamed Annaba.

On passage from New York to Limerick in October, 1948, her Master, Capt. James Clarke from Belfast, became seriously ill some five hundred miles west of the Irish coast. In a dramatic bid to save the Captain's life, the corvette Cliona set out from Galway with a doctor on board and, despite the mountainous seas, the Master was transferred to the corvette and brought to Foynes where he was brought ashore and rushed to Barrington's Hospital in Limerick for immediate surgery. Sadly, the very popular Belfast man died following the operation.

I have very pleasant memories of Capt. Clarke and one very vivid memory of being entertained by him on board the old Irish Hazel during my early years in Irish Shipping. In particular I recall being handed a mug of the strongest tea I had ever seen and the difficulty I experienced in trying to consume the viscous liquid so as not to give offence either to the Captain or to the Cook who had created it. The latter was a familiar figure in the company in those days, a kindly gentleman known as Chef Daly, who was obviously accustomed to catering for constitutions far more robust than mine.

Capt. Padraig O Seaghdha, another very well-known personality in Irish Shipping, was Chief Officer on the Irish Hazel from April to December, 1948, and was Master of the vessel from January, 1949, until the ship was sold in May of that year. He used the Irish language as much as possible in the course of his work and in the kindliest way he was referred to by some colleagues as "Tá Sé"

The old ship was sold to Turk Silepcilik Ltd. of Istanbul in May, 1949, and renamed Uman. She continued to trade for her new Turkish owners until 6th January, 1960, when she ran aground at Kefken Point, Turkey on passage from Zonguldak to Istanbul and became a total loss.