The Congested Districts Board was set up in the 1890s to develop industries such as textiles and sea fishing on the western seaboard. The board developed a redundant herring fishery around north and west Donegal providing seasonal employment to alleviate poverty. Boats averaging fifty foot in length capable of sailing up to ten miles from shore were introduced by the CDB from 1895. In 1910 with the development of vessels driven by paraffin engines, the Board provided thirteen of these motor boats to the fishermen of the Gweedore and Rosses parishes and their offshore islands,  west Donegal. These boats had an average length of 70 feet manned by a crew of eight. They could now follow the herring shoals to the Irish Sea, the Western Isles and the North Sea as far south as Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. After the local fishing season it was customary to fish herring in the Irish Sea landing in Ardglass, Howth and other ports.

Orient Star
Motorboat “Orient Star” at Bunbeg harbour

In 1913, while fishing out of Ardglass Co. Down a fisherman named Patrick McGinley from Gola Island off the west Donegal coast made an acquaintance with a Belfast solicitor Francis Joseph Biggar.  Biggar who was of Anglo Irish stock, a leading nationalist and antiquarian collector invited Patrick to sail with him in his yacht on his next visit to Ardglass.

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Gola Island from the Rosses Hills

Patrick McGinley could not return to fish the Irish Sea the following year due to the outbreak of war. It would be most dangerous to travel the coastline from Tory Island all the way to the Irish Sea as it was mined. That year he got a berth with his fellow islanders to fish for salmon. During this fishing season, in the summer of 1914, Patrick received a telegram from Mr Biggar asking him to go to Belfast. When he got to Belfast he was given a letter directing him to go to Bangor in Wales, where he would contact a naval lieutenant by the name of Erskine Childers. When he arrived in Bangor, Mr Childers took him to the quay where a sailing boat called the Asgard was moored. When the boat was loaded with provisions, it was moored out in the bay. Mr Childers asked Patrick if he could get another seafaring man to help with their sail. Patrick wired to his neighbour Charles Doogan to come and join him in the expedition. His journey from Gola Island took one week. When Charles joined the crew along with others, Erskine Childers told the Gola men for the first time that the intended purpose of the cruise was to collect a cargo of rifles that Erskine bought earlier in the year from the Germans. McGinley and Doogan accepted their role and the Asgard hoisted her sails and set off on the morning of July 3rd. They rendezvoused with a tug boat called the Gladiator, off the German coast on July 12th and loaded 900 rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition into their yacht.  Going undetected they stopped at Milford Haven in Wales. Continuing their journey they proceeded to Howth harbour just north of Dublin city. After a rough crossing, the experienced Donegal men with grit and determination insured that their cargo was safely dispatched. A cargo that would change the course of the history of Ireland and indeed the Empire!

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