The Great Lewis
Cromwell’s Flag Ship Uncovered by Wreck Detectives
Many of you may not have heard of the ‘Great Lewis’ but it was the flagship of the Cromwellian fleet that was sank in the Waterford Estuary on the 26th of January 1645.
When civil war broke out in England the nobles of Ireland were divided. In 1642 the Confederation of Kilkenny was formed to oppose Cromwell and his Parliamentary Forces. Waterford was of course on Cromwells radar as Irelands second city and major port it was important that the city was captured. But the Waterford Estuary was heavily guarded with Duncannon Fort protecting the deep channel of the estuary.
Duncannon Fort was in control of parliamentary forces and Cromwell sent 4 ships to relieve the fort. These ships were the Great Lewis, Madeline, Mayflower and Elizabeth. The confederates who were besieging the fort attacked the ships. Three of the ships managed to get away but the Great Lewis was caught up in bad currents and tide and couldn’t move. She came under heavy fire which broke her masts. She drifted out into the main channel where she sank on the 26th of January.
The wreck was left undisturbed for over 350 years but in 1999 when the Waterford Port Authority were carrying out dredging work in the estuary they discovered ships timbers. After a number of dives the exact position of the Great Lewis could be established. She is 8 meters below the surface of the main channel of the Waterford Estuary in what is now a protected site.
According to an article written in The Scotsman , “Historians are already comparing its importance to the discovery of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship, which sank near Portsmouth exactly 100 years before”.
The County Waterford coastline holds an abundance of shipwrecks. And the shore around Hook Head in particular boasts so many that the area is known as the ‘graveyard of a thousand ships’.
Waterford Estuary and the River Suir are two very under used treasures that we have here in Waterford. There has been activity on the Estuary for the past 4,000 years. Last year a ancient cooking site was discovered to prove that there was activity here in Waterford thousands of years ago. We have to start embracing it more!