Recollections from Sligo,
The following materials were provided by Ms. Heather Browne, originally from
Sligo, Ireland, who first heard about
the Walnut visit while helping her mother sort her possessions after moving to a
nursing home. Her mother showed her an album with various cuttings and
letters, including two letters from Estonian refugees. This prompted her to
tell her daughter, Heather, about the Walnut visit and to find her husband's
accounting of it. In 1948, Mrs. Browne and her husband, Pastor C.C.W. Browne,
were newlyweds and residents of Sligo when the Walnut ship pulled into town to
escape a winter storm and to pick up provisions.
With the hope of learning more about the visit of the ship so long ago,
Ms. Browne took to the web to see if anything was written about such a ship and
to see what she could find. To our great
delight, she found this website, contacted us and has decided to share with us
her mother's saved news clipping, father's writing and letters. We thank
Ms. Browne most sincerely for contributing to the memory of this
Right: Heather Browne and
her mother Joan
Courtesy: Heather Browne ©
The Garavogue River and Rockwood Parade in Sligo - 2007.
2010 - Photo by Fergal Claddagh Source:
1948 - Refugees"
The first of the memorabilia is a
summary of the Walnut visit to Sligo written by Ms. Browne's father, Pastor
C.C.W. Browne simply entitled "November 1948 - Refugees". Written on an old typewriter with a faded ribbon, Ms. Browne's mother
cannot recall the exact occasion for which her husband wrote the summary. Pastor
Browne was a chaplain to the Church of Ireland
"Missions to Seamen" and it is quite possible that he wrote the accounting
for a newsletter or special church service.
Born in Dublin, Pastor Browne (1916-1991) was a Church of Ireland curate in
Northern Ireland and Dublin before becoming Rector of St.
John's Church, Sligo in 1947. He was first made Canon and then
Diocesan Dean when St. John's status changed to that of cathedral.
Pastor Cecil Browne
Courtesy: Heather Browne ©
last August the Rev Elfan Rees, Director of the Refugee Division of the World
Council of Churches, declared that there are today no less than 14,000,000
refugees on the Continent. “These
refugees”, Mr Rees said, “are neither the dregs of
nor the elite. They range from an
Archbishop to a drover, from a medical doctor to a tubercular artisan.
I make no special claim to their qualities”, he said, “they are just
like you and me”.
The truth of these statements has been translated into flesh and blood
for the people of
. We have seen with our own eyes
what the refugee problem really means, so that when in future we read the cold
statistics of homeless millions, we will be able to understand something of the
suffering and the tragedy which they represent.
Sligo in 2010 - Photo by Damian Entwistle
The Cathedral of St. Mary the Virgin and St. John the Baptist on
John Street, is
the oldest building still in continuous use in Sligo Town.
of Aine Chambers
It was all brought home to us quite unexpectedly when, on one Wednesday
afternoon recently, a small ship of only about 450 tons sailed in from the
and tied up at the Sligo Quay. On
board were about 365 refugees from the Baltic, mostly Estonians but also some
Latvians, Danes and Poles, one Austrian and one German.
They had left their own homes in 1944 to avoid the Russian invasion and
had settled temporarily in
Sweden. There they had worked for the past
four years, saving up to continue their flight to
where they felt they would be at a safer distance.
had not been easy getting away from the Russians.
Many of their friends had failed in the attempt.
Some were drowned in the
Gulf of Finland
, others were still on the far side of the “Iron Curtain”.
One woman told how she had not seen her husband for ten years.
He is in a Russian slave-camp and she has little hope of ever seeing him
again. With her was her son, a
delicate little boy, all she has left in the world apart from a few belongings
in a suitcase, lying at the bottom of a pile of similar cases, almost blocking
one of the narrow passageways.
half of the passengers were men, the other half women and children.
They were from all walks of life and all classes of society, including
farmers, textile workers, medical students and a doctor.
The oldest was an old woman of 80, almost blind, and the youngest an
eight months old baby. All seemed
quite warmly clad. The women wore
slacks and many of the men had heavy overcoats with large fur collars.
The children, in woolen caps and furs, appeared to be quite happy.
The ship “Walnut” had been built in
and was used as a minesweeper during the war.
Afterwards she was sold to
as scrap, where she was purchased by about fifty of those on board.
Later, the others joined in the venture and agreed to share the cost.
After leaving the Swedish
they ran into bad weather and decided to make for
in order to replenish their stocks of food and fuel.
For three days they stayed with us and won the sympathy and affection of
the whole town. We all felt sorry
for them when we learnt something of the tragedy of their lives and saw the
conditions under which they were trying to exist on board.
Every available room and cabin had been fitted up with row upon row of
bunks, so that there was scarcely room to move and little or no privacy.
On deck, coal had been piled up in every available space that could be
spared, held in by hastily erected wooden barriers, but sending a black dust
over everything. But that coal was
important. On it their lives
depended. They wanted all they could
carry, for they could not be sure how long they might have to be at sea.
It was impossible to keep themselves clean under such conditions and so
they readily accepted the hot baths offered to them by many of the townspeople.
They were most grateful too for the gifts of food and clothing, which
were generously provided.
For the most part they were Lutherans, and on Friday nearly 200 of them,
including the Captain and his family, accepted an invitation to join in the
Service of Evensong at the Parish Church of St John the Baptist.
An unforgettable sight it was to see so many nationalities crowded into
the ancient Irish church. Only a few
could understand English, yet many were able to join in the singing and some in
the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed. As
they left the Church afterwards the Rector shook hands with them one by one. Some
curtsied, some bowed, some clicked their heels sharply to attention.
Many had tears in their eyes and one old man, taking the Rector’s hand
in his, stooped down and kissed it.
The next morning a few of them came again for Morning Prayer.
But the most moving Service of all was held that afternoon on the
quayside just before they sailed. Standing
a few yards from the side of the ship, and surrounded by a large crowd, two
Priests of the Church of Ireland, a Presbyterian and a Methodist Minister, each
wearing his robes, joined together in a short Service of Prayer and blessing.
It touched the heart to see that great crowd on the deck and on shore
standing in silence for the prayers and then to hear them singing in different
tongues “Now thank we all our God”. It
was a solemn occasion, so moving that many of the men wept openly.
Indeed, even Nature seemed to be weeping, for just then a cold gray mist
began to fall.
was nearly time to cast off. The
tide for which they had been waiting was almost full.
The Captain went about busily checking everything over while those on
deck began singing again, this time one of their own lovely hymns.
As the ship’s siren blew farewell, three rousing cheers rang out and
then someone on board started singing, “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”.
One more blast from the siren and they were moving off, their voices
growing fainter as they moved away down the river, heading for the Ocean and the
beyond the horizon.
Some of us who had cars hurried to Rosses Point, five miles away, where standing
on a rock we waved a last farewell as the ship went past.
We could see hundreds of handkerchiefs waving back to us and we could
still hear across the water the lovely singing of a hymn.
Gradually they vanished into the grayness of a misty November afternoon.
The last we could see of them was a small light flashing in response to
signals from the headlamps of one of the cars.
We turned towards home feeling sad as we thought of those brave pilgrims
setting out on their hazardous venture in the hope of rebuilding something of
what they had lost.
right: Landscape from Rosses Point, Sligo Photo by Giuseppe Peronato
They have left us a memory, which will not easily fade.
During the coming days we will be thinking of them, particularly of the
children, and we will be remembering them all in our prayers.
They have taught us a lesson, so that next time we read of millions of
refugees we will think in terms of human beings and not just of figures on
paper. We have seen for ourselves
they are indeed “just like you and me”.
Courtesy: Heather Browne ©
Note: Photos have been added by the webmaster.
The Walnut first arrived at Raghly - it was then taken to the Sligo quays.
Courtesy: Heather Browne ©
Pastor Browne's wife had also kept
a newspaper clipping from the Sligo
Champion newspaper supposedly dated November 25th,
1948. The headlines read:
Unique Visitors in Sligo
Alleged to be Afraid of the Russians
Displaced Persons on way to American Continent
There was a rare occurrence at Sligo Port on Wednesday morning, when a
Swedish steamer sailed in from the North Atlantic with about 365 refugees on
board, and tied up at the Deep Water berths.
News of the ship's arrival spread rapidly, and before very long a continuous
stream of local sightseers were wending their way to the quays.
The displaced persons aboard were for the most part, Estonians, some being
from Estland, a number of Latvians, a few Danish, one Austrian, and one German.
They had left their own countries in 1944 to avoid the Russian invasion of
Estonia and had settled in Sweden. About half of the passengers are men,
the other half women and children, and they come from all walks of life.
There were several medical students and many were farmers. The oldest
person amongst them was an 80-years-old woman, and the youngest, an eight
months' old boy. They all appeared to be well nourished and well
dressed. The women wore slacks and the men military overcoats, while the
children were dressed in furs and appear quite happy.
The ship, "Walnut", which is registered in Panama, was built in
England, and there used as a minesweeper or convoy ship during the war. As
she is an old vessel, she was sold to Sweden as scrap, and was purchased by
about fifty of those on board. She left the Swedish Port of Gothenburg
last week to cross the Atlantic in the hope that these refugees would be able to
secure employment and rebuild their lives on the far-away American
continent. There are 120 families represented on board.
They took on coal and provisions in Sweden before they left, but due to
running into rough weather off the North of Scotland, they had to come into
Sligo port to shelter from the storm, as well as to restock their
provisions. They were well supplied with Canadian dollars, which the Sligo
banks changed into Irish money to enable them to make their purchases.
They took on board about 100 tons of coal at
Sligo, and expect to proceed
across the Atlantic at the weekend.
The skipper of the vessel, Captain A. Linde, speaks English, but not very
fluently. The health of all on board is looked after by Dr. Valter Kask,
both of whom are Esthonians [Estonians].
When the vessel arrived at
Raughley [Raghly], they were met by Dr. T. J. Murphy and a
number of Red Cross personnel, who supplied the ship with much needed bandages,
as well as vitamins and glucose, which had run short on board. Through the
initiative of the Red Cross and Dr. Murphy, arrangements were made to have the
passengers, particularly the children, provided with hot baths in private houses
in the town.
On Thursday evening a deputation from the firm and staff of Messrs.
Macarthur's, bakers and confectioners, O'Connell St., Sligo, made a presentation
to the Captain of the 'Walnut' a gift of 250 loaves and several dozen
barm-bracks, which was very much appreciated by those on board.
This (Friday) afternoon a service is being held in St. John's Church for
those on the ship.
Courtesy: Heather Browne ©
you letters to Pastor Browne:
Finally, Mrs. Browne kept two thank
you letters sent to her husband:
To Rev. C.C.W. Browne,
From Walnut passenger -
From Rockhead Hospital, Halifax - December 26th, 1948
With our best
Christmas wishes from our new homeland. And
once more we want to give our best thanks to the people of Sligo and Ireland
for the kindness and treatments and all the help we received from there on our
long and heavy journey. And as God
blessed us to arrive here safely. We’ll
Ireland. Your wish and pray for us.
The way over
we passed without larger trouble. On
had one day and night storm and heavy front wind, which caused us to travel
sideways off from the rate. Most of
the way front wind bothered us and slowed our traveling very much.
Our first stop
was at Sydney,
Canada. Was planned of having about half
day’s stop and get a little more fuel. But
in a very short time came up a heavy snow storm, which caused us to anchor up
for couple of days in the port, as we had a way of about 240m to travel to Halifax
and here we arrived on the 13th of December.
All the people feeling very good. Most
of the people had suffered with sea sickness, and weakness in cause of poor
appetite on the ocean.
By now all of
us are feeling very fine, and now we just had our first Christmas in
Canada, we can be thankful in our new homeland for the good care of us, and our hope
is by and by we all can start to work and build our new homes.
Mine and all
the others remembrance of
are the same. And hope God Bless
And wishing a
Happy New Year,
Mrs. H Long
Courtesy: Heather Browne ©
Read original letter here.
Dear Rev C.C.W. Browne,
Just a few lines to let you know and thank you and all other people of
Sligo for the good deed you did for us at
Sligo. We and our children will
remember your people for ever. We
met a gale two days after we left
which lasted for two days, and met another gale 700 ml off
. First land we sighted was
From Sligo to Cape Race 10 ½ days and from
to Sydney N.S. 12 ½ days. With
God’s blessings we arrived all safely.
God bless you.
And all good wishes for
A Happy New Year
From all the
refugees of the S/S “Walnut”
Courtesy: Heather Browne © Browne Family
~ In an effort to find more information, Ms. Browne has recently written to The
Sligo Champion newspaper asking if anyone recalled the Walnut visit.
This prompted the paper to run an article on the visit and an article appeared
in the paper on October 26th, 2011 - "Remembering
the Boat People".
Subsequent to the appearance of the
news article, Ms. Browne received an email from a Sligo resident whose
brother-in-law remembered the Walnut. He recalled the two life rafts being
sold. Apparently one of the life rafts was purchased by the local swimming
club and used as a diving stage. The raft eventually drifted onto the Mar
Dyke on the Rosses Point Road where it fell into disuse and was eventually
turned into scrap. The second raft was charitably purchased by Sligo
locals to help the refugees. This raft resided on the Custom House Quay
wall where it rusted away. Years later, it too, was turned into scrap.
~ I was also thrilled to recently receive an e-mail from Mr. Noel Guinane from
Omeath, Co. Louth, Ireland. He was a child of five when the Walnut arrived
in Sligo. I thank him for sharing his recollections with us. These
are his childhood memories of the event:
November 1948, I was not quite 5 years old and living with my parents in Sligo.
On a dark winter night, that I now know to have been in November, there was a
knock on our door and these three or four men (speaking a strange language) were
brought in and given a meal by my mother...I think that she also gave them some
old baby clothes of mine when they were leaving. I think it must have been
raining that night because the men's clothes were wet as I recall my mother
drying some clothes in front of our fire.
My next recollection is of my father taking me down to Sligo docks and showing
me the steel cylinders on the quayside...I think there were two. I
remember him lifting me up onto the cylinders and looking inside a hatch and
wondering how people could fit inside. My dad had explained that the poor
people who had been in our house had come across the sea from another country in
those big metal cans. I cannot remember any ship being mentioned and until
recently I had assumed that the Estonians had arrived in Sligo in these iron
canisters. I was unaware of their onward voyage to Canada and often
wondered what had happened to them. The "lifeboats" were on Sligo
quayside for quite some time - perhaps some years, because I recall a few visits
to see them.
Years later I recall my father showing me Estonia on a map and, when the Irish
soccer team were playing Estonia recently, I decided to see if there was
anything on the internet to confirm my memories, and found your site. Delighted
to see that everybody survived that hazardous and frightful journey to freedom.
In 1948, we lived off Pearse Road in Sligo...quite some distance from Sligo
docks....and I could never understand until last week how these people had found
our house that night. I think I may have made the connection now. My
dad, Jim Guinane, was at that time teaching in Sligo Grammar School and would
therefore have known and possibly worked with Pastor Browne who probably brought
the refugees to our house for food and shelter.
I hope this little memory is helpful.
Kind regards to all survivors,
Noel Guinane, Omeath, Co. Louth, Ireland.
Located in the northwest of Ireland
approximately 135 miles from Dublin, Sligo was once a major port city located at
the mouth of the Garavogue River. The name Sligo means "Shelly
River" in Gaelic. The following websites may be of interest to you in
learning more about the town of Sligo:
Ireland - Gateway to the Northwest
A Refugee Ship in Sligo Port
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