The Skerries Historical Society February talk came about in a way that’s familiar to all researchers – you’re chasing down one piece of information and you happen, quite by chance, on a completely different nugget of gold. When Paul Synnott was trawling through Skerries Sailing Club records getting ready to present a talk on its history, he came across a newspaper photograph of a girl called Aga Muller presenting a prize in the Sailing Club regatta of August 1950. A question popped into his mind and refused to leave: who was Aga Muller and why was she in Skerries?
The short answer – at least to the who – was that she was a girl from Berlin who wanted to get out of the ruin that was Germany in the immediate aftermath of World War 2. Aga’s father, Paul, was an experienced sailor who had sailed across the Atlantic in the late 1920s and wanted to give it another go with the goal of settling in Brazil at the end of it. He’d taught Aga to sail and she decided to go with him.
Their story is full of breath-catching moments. Germans were not allowed to travel freely and they were chased down the coast by the German police until they entered Dutch waters. The Dutch weren’t quite sure what to do with them but in the end they let them go. Paul was washed over the side of their sixteen foot boat – a converted rowing boat – three times during the trip and Aga had to haul him back aboard each time. They were referred to as the ‘mad Mullers’ but neither that nor the difficult conditions put them off.
Part of their route brought them to Ireland. Having left Berlin on 4th August 1949, they arrived in Ireland on New Year’s Day 1950. Wending their way down the coast, they made quite a name for themselves, appearing in national newspapers both in Ireland and all over the world. After Ireland they crossed the Bay of Biscay and continued down the coasts of Spain and Portugal. Several times they were reported lost but somehow kept reappearing. Back home, the German newspapers weren’t all that positive about them but readers of the Irish press were absolutely hooked.
Leaping ahead in the story, they had already left the coast of Africa behind them and begun the crossing of the Atlantic, when it became clear that Paul had contracted malaria and was extremely ill. Nineteen year old Aga had to manage the boat entirely on her own knowing that her actions might decide whether her father lived or died. She turned back towards Liberia hoping to get medical assistance but it was too late for Paul and he died on board while the boat lay at anchor off the coast.
Now Aga was on her own – but there were still people around her who wanted to help. Two Irish missionaries buried Paul though he wasn’t Catholic. Newspapers offered Aga money for her story and, remembering how warm the Irish people had been, she insisted she would only speak to the Irish Press. Liam MacGabhann, journalist with the Irish Press and Skerries resident, met Aga and brought her to Dublin. She lived in Skerries with the MacGabhanns for a while but eventually married an Irishman and moved to south County Dublin.
Aga Muller, who died only last year in her nineties, must have been an amazing woman, full of grit and determination. Maybe they were a bit mad, but sometimes the world needs a bit of madness.