Local History by Seán Beattie


Tobacco smuggling and the Minnehaha clipper.

Two of the captains of the Minnehaha – the renowned  “green yacht from Derry”- were Pat McGonigle and Willie McLaughlin, who married Sarah McCann of Carrowmena in 1887. Tobacco was becoming very popular and the Minnehaha was involved in smuggling it. Some was smoked but more often than not it was chewed.  It was heavily taxed and consequently a smuggling trade opened up in illegal tobacco. Most of the bales were normally off loaded at Inishtrahull for later shipment to Derry but in 1878, Capt McGonigle decided to try his luck and bring the tobacco into the Foyle. Unfortunately, customs officers boarded the clipper and found 1,438 pounds of tobacco valued at £1,012. He was taken to court and fined, the fine being three times the value of the tobacco. He appears to have been jailed also. Capt Hart of Muff appeared for the customs.

Word got out that not all the tobacco had been found on board and  a second prosecution was brought against Capt McGonigle some weeks later. One of the crew informed on him. In his second appearance in court, it was argued that it was unjust to prosecute a man for the same offence twice and on the second outing, McGonigle got off.

The publicity surrounding the case was good news for Inishtrahull fishermen. After the court case, future bales of tobacco were dumped overboard in the Sound and picked up by islanders. They knew the hiding places on the island – turf stacks, dry gullies and attics and had a good working relationship with the clippers. The bales would be ferried to Derry at a later stage after the clipper had berthed. They also knew when the customs men were on their way to search the island and the fishermen gave them a hearty welcome- lots of free poteen. Little wonder that the customs officers ran out of luck and usually returned empty handed.

It is an ill wind that does not do somebody good and during this period, life on the island improved greatly. Houses were refurbished and new fishing gear was available, all based on the illicit tobacco leaf. But the good life came to an abrupt end when the island was vacated in 1928 and smuggling fell to other hands.


  1. bettypatch@aol.com

    Sean, I was surprised with this subject as my great grandfather was on the Minnehaha sailing ship. In our sitting room there was a replica of the ship in a glass case. I heard stories all of my childhood about the Minnehaha.

    If you have more news I would love to hear details of the history of this sailing ship.

    Thank you,


    Sent from emy iPad


    • Comment by post author

      Owen McGonigle has written a new book about the ship. His great great grandfather was on the crew.

    • Comment by post author

      Please upload a picture to Facebook

    • Craig Dougherty

      Please let me know how to get this new book. My GGGrandfather came from Ireland to the USA on 23 May 1873 on a Minnehaha Clipper ship. Pat McGonigle is the Captain on my passenger list for James. Researching this I find a few ships with this name. I have read that Joseph Joshua Sempill painted two pictures of it. One alone and one with a barque named Village Belle. I may be wrong but I thought that I read that this particular ship was sold in 1873 to a Baltimore, USA company. This 1878 date is confusing me. I would love to get a copy of a picture of this ship to hang in my Genealogy research room. Would love to get my hands on a model of it also. Thirsty for any information on the Minnehaha. Cheers, Craig Dougherty irishkungfu1@yahoo.com

      • Comment by post author

        May be on amazon;
        Look out for THE MAIDEN CITY AND THE WESTERN OCEAN which is i libraries or perhaps second hand as it contains a lot of info about shipping from Derry.

Leave a Reply