Month: February 2016

Martin Rushe – A Claddagh Sailor



Martin Rushe, my grandfather’s eldest brother, was born in 1882 at Claddagh, Galway. His parents were Stephen Rushe and Mary O’Donnell. When the Census was carried out in March 1901, eighteen years old Martin was living with his parents. He and his father were working as fisherman in order to support the eight Rushe children. This was a difficult time for fishing families in the Claddagh. Their traditional style of fishing using Galway hookers was becoming outmoded because refused to abandon their traditional fishing methods and were unable to compete with trawlers. By 1897, there were thirty-three trawlers operating in Galway Bay. Many of the young fishermen became disillusioned and sought work as deckhands on the trawlers or joined the Royal Navy.

The Royal Navy Reserve (RNR), was founded in 1859 as a standby force of seamen who could be called up to assist or join the Navy in time of war. Training ships were located at various ports around Britain and Ireland so that seamen and fishermen could undertake gunnery and other training.

The records for Merchant Seamen, including the Royal Navy Reserve, are quite poor and fragmented but they show that, on 27th January 1902, Martin received basic naval training resulting in a “TM” rating. This indicated that he was regarded as a “trained man”, having successfully completed the course. The “HM Ship or Depot” where the training took place is listed as “Renmore”. I cannot establish whether there was a training ship named “Renmore”. It is more likely that the training may have been carried out in the vicinity of Renmore, Galway, possibly in or near the army barracks.



 HMS Melampus 1890 – 1910

Martin next received eight weeks training on board the “HMS Melampus” commencing on 5th April 1904. The “Melampus” was a coastguard vessel which was normally based at Kingstown, Dublin. On 1st July 1904, immediately following this training, Martin was formally enrolled in the Royal Navy Reserve.

The records show that a retainer payment of £30 was made to Martin on 13th November 1909 at Galway. (According to the British National Archive, this would be worth about £1500 in today’s money). He must have travelled to Liverpool immediately after he received the payment because he sailed from Liverpool to Boston aboard the “Slovenia” on 13th December 1909. The ship returned to Liverpool on 15th January 1910 and, two days later, Martin collected another payment of £30. His address during this period was Burton Street in the docks area of Liverpool. His seafaring career was on its way.

From 1910 until the outbreak of war in August 1914, Martin’s sailing schedule is reasonably well documented. Available records show that he made multiple voyages on board various ships to places such as Quebec, Montreal, Halifax, Genoa, Constantinople, Alexandria, South Africa and Argentina during this period.

In August 1911, Martin was sent to Falmouth for one months training. He received a “VG” (very good) rating on ability and conduct. He was paid £3 expenses for kit and for travel back to Liverpool.

In 1912, Martin was living at 59 Waterloo Road, Liverpool. According to the 1911 Census, this was a lodging house run by Josephine Dean, originally from Ireland. Nine Irish working men were lodgers in the house on the Census date.

At first, Martin would take a break of three or four days between voyages. However, these intervals began to stretch so that by 1914, the time gaps between his voyages tended to be three or four weeks. This change may have been due to Martin’s drinking habit, which he inherited from his father.

In March 1915, Martin was living at 34 Regent Street, Liverpool. He signed up for a voyage on the “Bosnian” from Liverpool to Glasgow on 10th March 1915. He was to be paid £5 on completion of the voyage and obtained an advance of £2. Martin did not show up for the sailing and was listed as “deserted”. A perusal of crew lists reveals that such desertions were a common occurrence among sailors at that time. For example, 36 men signed up for this voyage and almost all obtained a cash advance. Three of the men absconded before the ship sailed.

A few weeks later, on 16th April, Martin signed on for a voyage to Glasgow on the “Holbein”. This time the agreed payment was to be six shillings per day. Martin obtained an advance of one days payment and again failed to join the ship the following morning for departure.

On 1st June, Martin signed for a voyage aboard the “Sythian”. The tariff was agreed at £6 per month and Martin obtained an advance of £3. This time, he joined the ship as agreed. Ironically, on 6th June, he was promoted to 2nd mate because a fellow Irishman, J.W. Fitzgerald from Limerick, failed to show up for the sailing. When the voyage ended on 12th August, Martin was paid £11.12s.7p.


HMS Scythian

There are interesting notes on Martin’s records during this period. On 6th of July, 1916, the Merchant Navy received a letter from Mary Kelly, Martin’s married sister in Claddagh. She was seeking information on the whereabouts of her brother. A reply was sent to her on 12th July but, unfortunately, the contents of the letter are not recorded. However, there is a faint note (probably in pencil) on his record sheet that he sailed on the “Craftsman” from Liverpool on 15th February. Is it possible that this information was given to Mary or perhaps she was merely informed that, at last sighting, he was safe and well.

Despite the scarcity of details about his wartime voyages, we know that Martin served during WW1 because on 3rd of September 1919, he was awarded two ribbons. The Mercantile Marine Medal and the War Medal recognised voyages with the Merchant Navy in a danger zone during the war years. In accordance with the usual procedure, he was first awarded ribbons which entitled him to apply for the medals. The medals were issued to him on 31st January 1923 and sent to his then address at 61 Session Road, Kirkdale, Liverpool.

Details of voyages are sketchier for the post-war years. In 1918, it was decided that merchant seamen would have to carry identity certificates known as CR10 cards. A duplicate of the card was held by the Navy. Martin’s card has survived and it was the source of his photograph below. The card also reveals that Martin sailed on a variety of ships between 1918 and 1932. There is a further gap in the available records until 1939. On 22nd December 1939, Martin sailed from Liverpool on the “Port Alma”. This ship was used almost exclusively on voyages to River Plate to bring cargos of Argentinian beef back to the UK in wartime.


Some information about Martin emerges from the merchant navy documents. He is described as 5 foot 10 inches tall with blue eyes, dark hair and a dark complexion with a chest measurement of 38 inches. He had tattoos, in keeping with the tradition among sailors, and these are described on his file. There was an anchor, a symbol traditionally associated with the merchant navy, on the back of his left hand and a cross on his middle finger. A tattoo on the back of his righthand is described as “heart and clasped hands”. While this symbol obviously didn’t mean anything to the person making the note, it is immediately recognisable to most of us as a representation of a Claddagh ring. Clearly, Martin liked to be reminded of his origins and family back in Galway.

Martin’s contact with the family was quite limited in later years. However, he arranged to meet his brother John at a railway station in Liverpool in the 1920s. John has gone to England in 1921. He lived in St. Helens in Lancashire and worked in the mines for five years. According to John, Martin had just returned from a voyage to the west coast of South America. John, who had not been born when Martin left home, waited on the platform until the crowd cleared but failed to see anybody who looked remotely like any of the Rushes whom John had met previously. Eventually, the only person left was a tall, large man who, to John’s surprise, was the elusive Martin. John later told me that Martin weighed 17 stone 12 pounds, was a boatswain in the navy and was “fond of drink”.

John, who was the youngest surviving child of Stephen and Mary and who was quite a small man, was surprised about Martin’s physique but Martin had also been expecting to meet somebody of similar girth to himself. “Where did they get you?” Martin enquired.

Martin promised to visit Galway to see the family and later did so. According to the family members in Galway, Martin drank heavily while on his visit. The only anecdote recorded about his visit involved a fall which resulted in the destruction of a bottle of whiskey which was in his pocket.

He also visited Dublin where he stayed with his sister Ellen McGrath. While there, he also met Reddy Kelly, the husband of his other sister, Mary, who had made enquiries about him during the war.

Martin’s final contact with his family happened when he needed a birth certificate. He wrote to Galway from a home for old sailors in England. It is also thought that he may have worked in a school as a caretaker in his later years.


On 14th January 1958, a Martin Rush died at 13 Parliament Street, Liverpool. His age was given as 75 which means that he was born in the same year as our Martin Rushe. His occupation was unknown. Probably because he was found dead, he was examined by the coroner who carried out a post mortem. The cause of death was heart failure due to chronic bronchitis and emphysema and hypertension. As the death was attributed to natural causes, an inquest was not necessary. The remains were released for burial to R.C. Jenkinson of 48 Melling Avenue, Liverpool. In the absence of family, the body would normally be released to an undertaker or to an acquaintance who offered to deal with the burial. I can find no record of an undertaker named Jenkinson in Liverpool. Perhaps Mr. Jenkinson was an acquaintance of Martin’s who discovered his body.

I can find no other record of a death in the Liverpool area of a Martin Rush or Rushe who would have been born in the 1880s. It seems reasonable and logical to conclude that Martin Rushe, a Claddagh sailor, died alone in Liverpool in 1958. May he rest in peace.