The Boyne Water

This article was written by Brian Cusack for a booklet commemorating the Irish Sub-aqua Club's twenty-fifth anniversary.

It was on the 19th May 1969 I believe when a non diving friend of mine arrived at the door of my house with the cry - "Jaysus, Cusack! it's a wonder that you are not diving for the whisky."

Now the prospect of "Get rich (drunk) quick" is strong in most of us, and I am no exception. It was about 1 p.m. and after some hasty telephone calls to Sean Sheridan, Joe Murray and Fergus McKenna in Dublin and Sean Donohoe in Navan the motley crew agreed to assemble at (what now can be revealed was the location of the LOOT namely) the bridge over the Boyne River at Slane, Co. Meath.

On the previous evening a lorry laden with Bushmills and Cream of Barley Whisky was travelling from Antrim to Dublin with its precious load when its brakes failed coming down the hill from the village and it rolled over the bridge wall into the river some 20 feet or so below.

Legend has it that most of the town of Slane was quick on the scene, vans and lorries were seen spiriting away from the wreck of the lorry in the dead of night. Indeed, several prosecutions followed, so there must have been some truth in the stories. The actual quantity of whisky taken away is still a closely guarded secret known only, I suspect, to the management of Bushmills and perhaps to the Insurance Company. But if our collection is anything to go by - a mere 408 bottles - I strongly suspect that the actual haul must have been in thousands. The local butcher in Slane is known to me and to my certain knowledge he was drinking Bushmills whisky some 4 years later.

When we arrived on the scene, there was the usual bedlam what with traffic jams and general onlookers, it took us about 10 minutes to cross the bridge, we were quickly kitted up and on our way to the river bank. The local Insurance Company official had declared a free for all. Sean Sheridan descended the bank before me and was greeted with howls of protest from the assembled mob protesting that we had an unfair advantage, however this was quickly dispelled when Sean rescued a fully clothed grown man who was immersed up to his neck in water, and subsequently swept downstream.

Now you may well ask what he was doing there in the first place? Well, about 5 or 6 fully clothed lunatics were walking out on the partially submerged wreck feeling for the familiar square shape of the Bushmills bottle with their bare feet! The same fellow returned to the wreck 2 minutes later, lost his balance again and was saved yet again by Sean. At this stage I had arrived and was in the water complete with sack, Sean told the fellow that we were now submerging and if he tried to drown himself again we would not see him.

While on the bottom we filled the sack with 38 bottles, some of Bushmills and most of Cream of the Barley, the latter because of the type of cork was partially diluted with Boyne water, but the remainder because they had the familiar metal top were perfectly O.K. On returning to the surface Sean stood on a bottle and very badly cut his foot, I also had cut my knee quite badly. At the water's edge, some of the crowd got nasty as we emerged and I had to go downstream to hand the swag up to Joe Murray who uncharactistically was not diving as he had a plaster of paris splint on his leg, having previously damaged it. Sean meanwhile had reached dry land and was seen to be pumping blood from his foot. Joe who had earlier put the goodies in the boot of my car decided to take Sean to the Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.

Now Joe's car was blocked in, so they took mine, I tidied up around the place leaving Sean Donohoe and Fergus McKenna on site. I found Joe's car and finally got it out, then I realised that both my clothes and more importantly my glasses - I am blind as a bat without them - were in my own car, by now well on it's way to Drogheda. So I had no alternative but to drive the car in my wet suit and mask to the Hospital, en route I had to stop the car to let a cattle drover drive his cattle past, he took one look at me, removed his hat and announced to all and sundry that "Be Jaysus, I have seen it all now". On arrival at the hospital I was taken into the accident department, there to be greeted by Sean and Joe, also a tiny nun/doctor - she could not have been more than 4'6" tall - who wanted to hear from ME just how we had all cut ourselves - we all know the spoofer Sheridan is - I told her that she would not believe a word of it, but that we, in fact, cut ourselves whilst diving for whisky, and that she could see for herself in the boot of my car. This she and some of the nurses did, having fixed us up in the meantime. On being proffered a bottle in appreciation for the work well done, they politely declined and returned to the hospital expressing astonishment at what a man can achieve and the depths to which he could sink!

On the following day, we returned to the site and set about systematically searching the river bed. Since both Sean and I were out of action, Joe and Fergus decided that they would do the donkey work. Joe covered his leg with a plastic bag and somehow managed to get a wet suit on. In the Salmon hole, well known to local anglers, Joe found what was to be the "piece de resistance" of the whole expedition about 200 bottles in all. I neglected to mention earlier that the stench nf whiskey on the bank of the River was enough in itself to make you drunk - well almost. Joe, in his enthusiasm, attempted to fill the very large Post Office bag provided by Mick Kemp (unknowingly) with 30 or 40 bottles and while trying to return them to the bank broke enough to leave a Scotsman crying for weeks.

Fergus meanwhile discovered another hoard underneath the wreck of the truck after it had been removed, with our assistance I need hardly mention. I seated myself on the wall of the bridge half way along with a rope attached to my car at one end and Fergus on the other end holding on against the current and searching with his spare hand. Every so often he would fill the bag and I would haul it up. On one occasion while waiting for the bag to be filled, the Gardai arrived and parked alongside my car, thereby holding up the traffic flow in both directions. On being told that we were not diving for a body, but whisky the cop became irritated believing that the mickey was being taken out of him. I explained that I had a diver on the end of the rope and that his very life depended upon my existance, and I could not move my car. So he got out of his and as he did so, I got a tug from Fergus and promptly pulled up 10 bottles, I gave one to each of the cops who promptly drove off leaving the traffic to sort itself out. It took the express bus to Derry 30 minutes to cross the bridge that day.

I suppose that in the 800 or so dives that I have had, that was the most rewarding and amusing 2 week period. Incidently my share of the loot amounted to some 120 bottles, 60 of which I sold (to my father and mother), the rest was consumed over a not too long period. I had an excellent holiday in the Club Med - Cadaques on the proceeds. There are many other incidents which I am sure the others will recall, but which have escaped my memory now.

Brian Cusack, 1981