Three Remarkable Dockers
Later to become a docker, Michael Donnelly joined the Irish Citizen Army at a very young age and fought against British occupation in Ireland during the 1916 uprising as part of the Stephen’s Green Battalion. In May 1920, using his influence as a deep-sea docker to oppose British rule during the War of Independence, he initiated the embargo or 'blacking' of munitions coming into the country for the British Army. This triggered what Peter Rigney has described as the ‘biggest campaign of civil resistance against the British Empire in Ireland’.
In September 2020, the Irish postal service issued a commemorative stamp (above) in Donnelly’s honour but failed to name him. His role was finally recognised in Rigney’s volume on The Irish Munitions embargo of 1920: How Railwaymen & Dockers defied an Empire.
During the Second World War (1939-1945), trade in Dublin port evaporated, and dockers who depended on it for their employment felt that they had no choice but to join the British Army. One such docker was Patrick 'Fatser' Currie. He joined the East Surrey Regiment on the September 30th, 1940.
While fighting in Singapore, Currie was captured by Japanese soldiers on February 15th, 1942. Japanese records show his address as 13 Nixon Street, North Wall, Dublin and his previous employment as 'Dock Labourer'. What followed were three years of hell during which he was held in prisoner of war camps and worked on the infamous Burma Railway. His records also show that he endured physical injuries at the hands of the prison guards. A fellow prisoner was Ronald Searle who, on his release, became one of the world’s most famous illustrators. While together, Ronald did a drawing and gave it to Patrick. After the war, Patrick returned to the North Wall and resumed his work as a 'button' deep-sea docker.
Following in the footsteps of his father, William Deans became a coal docker. On November 12th, 1947, Deans was picked to drive a ship’s crane winch on the first coal hatch of the SS Amaso Delano. One day, not long after he took up the post, gas started to emerge from the second hatch. The Captain, Engineer and Bosun went into the hatch to investigate. It is suspected that the previous cargo was grain and that it had not been cleaned properly before it was loaded to the rim with coal. The three crew members collapsed with the poisonous fumes and the rest of crew and dockers abandoned ship to the safety of Sir John Rogerson's Quay. The exception was Deans, who stayed and risked his life. Putting a handkerchief around his mouth, he climbed down the ladder into the hatch and with some difficulty carried the remaining crew members up the ladder to safety, after which they were rushed to hospital. They each made a full recovery.
In one of life’s strange coincidences, in 1957 at roughly the same spot, a French sailor, suspected of being drunk, fell off the gangway of a ship into the river Liffey. Without hesitation, Deans jumped in and saved him. Deans, to the best of our knowledge, is the only person in Ireland to have received two Bravery Awards from the Irish State.