Tag Archives: Dublin

Lost to Time and Tide

Lost to Time and Tide

Not Alexandria – The Great South Wall?

Remains of Sea Wall (53°17’16.67″N 6°06’57.42″W)

There were no constructed harbours in this part of Dublin Bay before the early 1800’s. Boats, small ones that is, landed on shale and sandy ground in front of where the wonderful little harbour of Sandycove is now situated. Similarly at Bullock, there was no constructed harbour but there had always been a natural rock harbour which serviced a fishery. Under the castle on the west side there was a quay wall, constructed in the 16th century or earlier. Opposite, behind the ‘High Rock’ at the sewage pumping station at the back of ‘Rose Cottage’-‘Castle View’, there was another sandy shale area where small boats landed, and was known as the Brandy Hole. Like many other ‘Brandy Holes’ around the British Isles, it also has a bygone reputation for smuggling activities. It appears that the sea walls and harbour construction at these two places, as we know them today, did not begin to appear until the late 1820’s. It is believed that the quay wall in front of Neptune Lodge at Sandycove Point might not have been established until later.

When Dublin Bay was considered to have little by way of safe havenage, and even after harbours were built, Scotsman’s Bay and Sandycove was, and still is, considered to be an area where a boat can safely anchor in many weathers. Bullock is also considered a safe harbour for small boats, but anchoring outside is not recommended. And unless the Revenue’s cruiser was tied up and the preventative men were absent from the high rocks along the coast in these areas, then small boats could easily have brought illicit brandy or wine ashore unseen.

Duncan’s map of 1821

Duncan's Map of 1821

Duncan’s Map of 1821

There were no harbours shown at Sandycove or Bulloch on Bligh’s Survey of Dublin Bay, 1800, nor on Duncan’s map above.

Locals not only smuggled wine and spirits but people too. When a sailing ship hove into sight off Dublin Bay, men in competing rowing boats – hobblers, would row out to the ship and offer to take off passengers who were in a hurry. The boats would come alongside the sailing vessel and charge passengers for a quick disembarkation, avoiding tide and a time consuming run up the river Liffey. In the main, the practise was legally performed, but on other occasions, unwelcome visitors, both entered and left the country by these means. It was also an area where, in 1731, some of Ireland’s ‘Wild Geese’ are said to have fled the country.

Probably assisted by their own naivety, and like many desperate travellers in strange lands, some intending sail boat passengers got done. Not so much incoming ones, although I presume they too were sometimes left at places they had no intention of landing at, but more the ‘foreigners’, seeking to leave the shores of Ireland. A hobbler, usually rowed by a number of men, would come alongside the quays in Dublin and tout amongst intending travellers seeking passage on a packet to wherever. The hobbler would promise to take them to a ship, either expected or at anchor in the Bay. To a land shark, the extent of ‘The Bay’, can be easily misunderstood, even today. Dublin Bay was, and is known today, to stretch from Howth Head to Dalkey Island. And as far out to sea as a man standing on Sandymount strand can see, is considered to be its entrance. The opportunity and certainty of securing an early passage could not be resisted, and travellers paid the hobblers for a journey, that could sometimes end between the rocks at the back of the high granite outcrops that pepper the coast, from Sandycove to Dalkey. In some instances, the unwitting travellers, might not only be charged but robbed as well, and then cast ashore to make their way back to Dublin to attempt flight once more.

The hobbler has become an almost generic term, with some confusion arising as to their original purpose. One that, they competitively rowed to meet a sailing ship in order to secure a rope to it. The symbolic gesture signifying a right to claim pilotage of the ship into port. And another, that they took off, or even put passengers with urgent requirements on to sailing ships. The piloting story would seem to have travelled quite a different route in history but I’m sure like many other ‘definites’, the waters often get muddied. The sailing boats have long gone, but re enacting the hobbling tradition remains. Surviving now in rowing clubs along the east coast, each group in turn, travel from port to port every year on regatta days, to compete with local hobblers in skiffs, as they are called now, and remain a relatively unaltered craft.

Scattered amongst the rocky shores from Sandycove to Dalkey lay numerous granite boulders, tattooed with the old quarrymen’s working marks. Suggesting quiet accurately that, rocks on the foreshore in this area were worked to build local houses, harbours and piers. Strolling these shores, too many times to recall, I had noticed what seemed to be the remains of an old harbour wall. The remains of this pier or jetty, stretches from the end of Ballygihen Avenue, Sandycove, out to sea towards Howth or Neptune Lodge on Sandycove Point. It ends at narrow sandy bottom amongst the rocks, where a stout boat or boats could have come alongside. It is undoubtedly a pier wall of some description, constructed of cut granite stones but its remains now lie largely below the water – except at low water, when it is clearly visible and can be examined.

There is another more visible wall about one hundred yards south. The wall extends out to sea from the Curragh sub aqua club premises, and alongside has been cleared of all obstructions enabling a boat to land safely. One could imagine that, if the line of both walls were extended further out, and these met, this area would have provided a valuable breakwater and quay wall for ships. It is also suggested that there was once a bathing place here.

Worked stone on foreshore at Sandycove

Worked stone on foreshore at Sandycove

Worked stone on foreshore at Sandycove

The puzzling questions regarding these structures are. Who built them? When were they built? For what reason, were they built? And why were they abandoned? The answers are elusive, as there is no memory of it, either in writings or on any maps or charts. Suggesting that it was either built so long ago and fell out of use and memory, or that it was intended to be of a purely temporary nature, and then abandoned. There is no evidence of an outfall pipe either onshore or underwater.

The cut stones that are visible in these walls and others that lay scattered around this pier or landing place, may yield a clue to their origin. It is well known that both Bulloch and Sandycove were used to offload coal but how this was done before harbour facilities were constructed is not known. In the case of Bulloch, the early quay wall might have been used. In many places around the coast, colliers lay off while they were offloaded by smaller boats or took the ground while coal was removed on a tide. But these were in areas where it was safe to do so, such as sand or shael.

The Great South Wall, that is the entrance to the port of Dublin, took almost the whole of the 18th century to complete during which it underwent many changes in design and construction techniques. Dublin’s civic and commercial buildings which followed, and some of those that already lined the banks of the river Liffey, received quarried stone from as far away as Wicklow, and also from Sandycove and Bullock. Both places been collectively referred to by the Dublin Ballast Board as, Dalkey. When the Royal Harbour at Dun Laoghaire commenced in 1815, it too was built of local granite, predominantly from Dalkey quarry. Rock for the Royal Harbour was transported directly from Dalkey Quarry in bogies on rails to the construction site of this new harbour. And the rock for Dublin, was transported by boats from Sandycove and Bulloch. Granite was also transported around Ireland and to Britain from this area.

Abandoned sea wall with steps near shore.

As well as from quarries in Dalkey and Bulloch, granite was also hewn from the foreshore for various building projects. The harbours we see today at Sandycove and Bulloch were established on small sandy inlets in these places but not until the early 19th century. So, how was the granite that was quarried and hewn from the foreshore, transported, before these harbours were established? In other words, how were these enormous granite stones got off the shore, and into a carrying vessel which was not only stout enough to carry such a heavy load, but also managed to get in amongst the rocky outcrops to complete the task?

A possibility is suggested by the Brocas sketch of the two collier brigs, Fame & Larch that were reported to have stranded there at Christmas, 1836. The two brigs missed the entrance to Kingstown in a NE gale, and unusually, both ended up in the same place in Sandycove – in the same area as these walls. One can make out the two vessels being lightened in order that they could be refloated, which they might have succeeded in doing, as there was no subsequent report of their loss.

Colliers Fame and Larch, ashore in Sandycove, December, 1836.

Colliers Fame and Larch, ashore in Sandycove, December, 1836.

Colliers Fame and Larch, ashore in Sandycove, December, 1836.

It is reported that Dublin port had extensive foreshore leases in this area and carried granite from there in ‘lighters’. Once more, a term can sometimes mislead. Lighters were used in the river Liffey in order to lighten ships of their cargo for one reason or another, and move it on up or down the river. These varied widely in type and construction. Some ships took on and were lightened of their stone ballast by boats known as gabbards. These were specially constructed sailing barges designed to take on large quantities of stone and were often depicted mastless, being punted around the Liffey. The stone was passed between the ship and gabbard in kishes. Some of the gabbards were owned and run by the port of Dublin, and others were contracted. Some gabbards used in the Liffey, were interesting, as they were somewhat similar to the sailing barges of the Thames. In that, they not only carried sails but lifting keels fitted to the sides of the boat. These were almost ‘flat bottom’ boats and could dry out on an ‘even keel’ in order that they could be loaded correctly.

Slightly larger, ‘stone boats’ or hacks, had better sailing qualities and used to transport stone around the coast. The Dublin Ballast Board maintained an unknown number of these hacks, and sailed them from Dalkey with stone for the construction of the Great South Wall.

A rather more simple design of ‘vessel’, if one might describe it so, was the ‘float’. Quite a number of these were owned and operated by the Ballast Board. As you might imagine, this was essentially a raft, but could apparently ‘sink’, and like sailing vessels, they were constructed in different sizes. They had many uses, but in this case, they were used to receive stone from the gabbards and provided a platform on which men could work over the wall. Some were fitted with cranes for lifting heavy balks of timber and stone, and even ‘piling engines’. These floats could bottom out on suitable ground during low water.


In this print by Petrie 1820, the mast of a sizeable vessel can be seen behind a pier at Sandycove. The pier would seem to be emanating from the west shore.

In this print by Petrie 1820, the mast of a sizeable vessel can be seen behind a pier at Sandycove. The pier would seem to be emanating from the west shore.

The foregoing offers no conclusions or answers, and is only designed to record some unusual archaeological features within a beautiful bay, which seem to have been forgotten and their use gone unrecorded. One wonders, just how old they are? Suggestions please.

Many thanks to Google Earth for images.

Roy Stokes.


The copyright of any articles published here remain with the author in all cases

Dublin Shipyards


Irish Shipbuilding

Miscellaneous Dublin yards

While the main shipbuilding in Dublin Involved the Liffey yard,  later Vickers, and Ross & Walpole several early years have disappeared without trace.

Viking shipbuilding

During construction work a Viking shipbuilding area was discovered on Dublin quays near the civic offices at Wood Quay.  The site is marked by a bronze representation of a Viking shipThere is speculation based on ring analysis and carbon dating that one of the Roskilde (Denmark) boats was built at Dublin.

Yards in 1761

Lloyds register for 1761 lists ships built at Dublin from Murphy’s Cardiffs Kehoes, Kinchs. At the time there were two yards at Georges quay and another two at Sir J Rogersons Quay

North Strand The brigantine Thompson burthen 65 tons will be sold to the highest bidder on 19 February next. The inventory may be seen at the secretary’s office at the shipbuildings on the North Strand.  Faulkners Dublin journal 24-1-1740.

Ferry point A reference in Faulkners Dublin Journal describes a location on17-6-1740 as  Flanagan’s public house at the ferryboat at the shipbuilding

Archibold & Howard Moore -Tthe1753  Wilson’s directory Archibiold & Howard lists Moore Shipwrights at Georges Quay


Slipway at Blackhall Place Before the Liffey was enclosed by walls about 1820 a considerable slipway is mapped at Blackhall place.


Ringsend foundry In 1829 the Ringsend Foundry built engines for the Marchioness of Welesley


Maritime trades in Dublin 1761

Almanack Registry Dublin – In Gilbert Library, Pearse Street

Name Trade Address
Luke Burke Sailmaker City Quay
Richard Brien Sailmaker Smithfield
Burgess Anchormaker Georges Quay
Clement Clinton Ropemaker Rogersons quay
Coughlan Jane Ropemaker New row Thomas st
Wm Cormick Anchormaker Georges quay
Wm Dudley Sailmaker Smithfield
Thomas Finegan Sailmaker Smithfield
Thomas Fleming Sailmaker Smithfield
Grace John Sailmaker Smithfield
Heron Anthony Sailmaker City Quay
Kinch Sobieski Shipwright & Grocer City Quay
Mc Nally Sailmaker Smithfield
John Robison Ship Broker Temple bar
JamesReilly Sailmaker Chanel row


The copyright of any articles published here remain with the author in all cases

G2, the Coastwatching Service and the Battle of the Atlantic: 1939-41

guarding neutral irelandG2, the Coastwatching Service and the Battle of the Atlantic: 1939-41

Michael Kennedy (difp at iol.ie)

[This paper is an early version of the introduction to the Guarding Neutral Ireland:
the coastwatching service and military intelligence 1939-45
(Four Courts Press, 2008)]

A PDF version of this article is available: click here

On the evening of 14 June 1940 volunteers McFadden and Greer of the Marine and Coast Watching Service (M&CWS) were on duty at Horn Head Look Out Post (LOP), 700 foot over the Atlantic on the north Donegal coast. At 9.15 they sighted an armed cruiser of unknown nationality four miles to the north-east. It was steaming west towards a stationary vessel of the Irish marine service. The volunteers recorded that the cruiser ‘came along side [the] Eire patrol vessel and brought 5 men on board and proceeded west.’(1)  The Irish patrol craft was the ageing fisheries protection vessel, the Muirchú, or the deep-sea trawler the Fort Rannoch, hastily converted for military use in the winter of 1939. The cruiser was British and  the five men were British merchant seamen.
The Horn Head logbook shows that earlier on 14 June the Irish patrol vessel had sailed from Port na Blagh and patrolled north through Sheep Haven, around Horn Head and west towards Errarooey Strand where a British cargo ship, the Eros, had beached. The Eros, en-route from Montreal to Liverpool without an escort, had been torpedoed by U-48 one hundred miles off the Donegal coast. She was met by a tug, and escorted by two battleships towards neutral Irish territory, where, at Errarooey the damaged ship was beached.(2)  From this point the Horn Head logbook shows continuous military activity in the vicinity of Errarooey.  Irish soldiers dug in on the beach guarding the Eros while the two British battleships kept watch just outside Ireland’s three-mile territorial water limit.(3)  Aircraft from the Irish army air corps patrolled over these vessels.
The cargo carried by the Eros reveals why the ship received such attention. She carried vital raw materials for the war effort, but also a potentially more lethal cargo; one neither the British nor the Irish authorities wanted to fall into the wrong hands: 200 tons of small arms. The weapons were now all the more valuable given British losses at Dunkirk.
Following the IRA raid on the Phoenix Park Magazine Fort, the Irish authorities could not afford to leave a cargo of arms unguarded. For neutral and belligerent alike it was essential that the Eros be guarded.
The treatment afforded the Eros has a number of intriguing aspects to it. With the Eros beached at Errarooey, a belligerent was using neutral Irish territory and the Irish troops beside the ship were a sign of support to Britain. However this was an act of mercy by the Irish and Irish authorities could say they did not know that the Eros carried arms. The rendezvous to transfer the five men took place on the limits of Irish territorial waters. The Irish should have interned the five stranded merchant seamen from the Eros, not to mention the 62-strong crew of the ship, which was, after all carrying weapons of war. The operation surrounding the Eros fell into a grey area in the operation of neutrality. The Irish could turn a blind eye to the ship’s cargo: they were simply helping a stranded merchant ship in an act of mercy.
The events following the beaching of the Eros reveal Irish attitudes towards Britain and the Allies during the Second World War. Rather than being seized by the Irish state, the vessel was guarded, repaired and re-floated. This was a partisan action in favour of Britain.
At 3.00pm on 15 June accompanied by three vessels, one of which was an Irish patrol vessel, the Eros, with its cargo of war materiel, steamed east around Horn Head and out of sight of the LOP on the headland. This sighting is the last mention of the Eros in the LOP logbook.

The Coastwatching Service

Horn Head was one of 83 LOPs placed from September 1939 at ten to twenty mile intervals along the Irish coastline from Ballagan Head in Louth to Inishowen Head in Donegal. Their locations ensured that no stretch of the Irish coastline was left unguarded during the second world war. The volunteers kept a six-year watch on the skies and the seas around Ireland to June 1945 using their eyes and ears, augmented by telescopes, binoculars and, most importantly, local knowledge. Through the Coastwatchers, G2 could find out at a moment’s notice by telephone the situation along all sections of the Irish coast on land, sea and in the air. They were a primitive early warning system.
In the episode at Errarooey Strand and with the transfer of the five men on the limits of Irish territory, we see, through the reports of the M&CWS at first hand the manner of Ireland’s non-belligerent support for the Allies during the Second World War. In recent years historians have revealed the secret high level contacts that brought this non-belligerent support into being. An analysis of the M&CWS, a force almost forgotten in the history of the Emergency, illustrates the practicalities of Irish ‘non-belligerence’.
As the example of the Eros shows, the reports of the Coast Watching Service recount the Second World War from a day-to-day level as it occurred in Irish coastal waters and skies.  Historians have undervalued these highly useful and detailed reports. The logbooks of the
Coastwatching Service are a five-year war diary of Ireland’s involvement in the Second World War. They provide a contemporary account of the conflict that took place in Irish skies and on the margins of Irish territorial waters during the Second World War. G2 knew just how important a chain of coastal listening posts would be to building up a picture of enemy operations in the vicinity of Irish coastal waters and skies. Without regular reports from LOPs, G2 would have been blind to events around the Irish coastline.
The Army Reorganisation Scheme of January 1939 approved the establishment of the Coastwatching Service. In late April 1939 Minister for Defence Frank Aiken approved posters calling for 800 volunteers to join the new service. Volunteers were to be aged between 17 and 50 years, residing in ‘Maritime Districts’ and ‘willing to serve in this arm of the National Defences’, a suitably neutral term given the difficult position of naming the armed forces in Ireland.(4)  It was hoped that volunteers would be fishermen, boatmen, those with farms by the seashore, in short, any suitable candidates who as part of their day-to-day business were involved in seafaring.

Training the Coastwatchers

The basic training of coastwatchers is seen in the notes of Volunteer 208352 John Burns of Ballina. Burns was drilled on the importance of the post logbook. It provided the raw intelligence material analysed by Command Intelligence Officers. Of course these are only as reliable as the accuracy of those who kept them and there are considerable variations in skills of record keeping between posts. The logbooks have become the most important historical legacy of the M&CWS.
During basic training first aid, signalling, maritime practices and the identification of types of ships were taught, as was basic meteorology and hydrography. Volunteer Burns served at LOP No. 63 on Benwee Head above Portacloy and his notes show that he had consulted Admiralty charts to work out depths in the vicinity of his post. The water in Portacloy Bay, to the right of the LOP was 4 fathoms, beneath the LOP, which was sited 200 foot above sea level, the sea was 12 fathoms. The trade route out to sea was 30 fathoms.
The most intricate drawings and notes in Burns’ notebooks concern mines. As numerous accidents during the war were to show, mines would prove the most dangerous hazard along the Irish coastline to military and civilians. Burns noted the exterior and variations in type due to nationality. He was drilled in how mines were detonated, how some floated free and others were anchored in a fixed position. Mines broke free and drifted away from their intended position and a daily task of LOPS was to report the presence of mines on their stretch of the coastline to command ordnance officers.  Coastwatchers were initially poorly drilled in recognition of aircraft. Training made up for this deficiency in other ways as generic aircraft identification techniques were discussed. Burns noted how an ‘aircraft flies at 5 miles a minute’ and a ‘bomber at 4 miles a minute’; in addition ‘bombers [had a] heavy volume tone [and] fighters [a] sharp tone.’ He was to note four physical characteristics of any aircraft passing his post, which he summarised as ‘WEFT’, or Wings, Engines, Fuselage and Tail.
If an aircraft crashed in the vicinity of the LOP the Coastwatchers were instructed to first ‘call [a] priest or other such clergyman [and] treat survivors kindly.’(5)  They were to ‘inform survivors that they are in Eire.’(6)  This hearts and minds approach had its tougher side.
The senior officer who searched the plane was to ensure that ‘all maps and documents are to be collected [and] also pay books[,] identity disks etc’,(7)  ensuring, if it had not been destroyed by the crew, a useful supply of raw intelligence material. This important role of the Coastwatcher in intelligence gathering was taught detail. They were guarding the extremities of Ireland’s territory in the land, on the sea and in the air. As a non-combatant force they were to gather information about the enemy, record it and ‘distribute it to the formation on the right, left and rear.’ They would ‘know where the enemy is both strong and weak’ and to ‘assist in preventing [the] enemy from gaining information.’

Taking up positions: August-September 1939

On 29 August 1939, anticipating that a European war about to break out, teams from the Volunteer Force took up positions along Ireland’s south-eastern and southern coastline. By 1 September posts had been established between Cahore Point in Wexford and Dursey Head in west Cork. This gave extended coverage to the Waterford–Dungarvan coastline, the area most likely for a sea-borne invasion of Ireland and the landfall point for any bomber force seeking to attack Dublin. These posts also covered the zone in which submarine and anti-submarine warfare was expected. It was little, but it showed that Ireland was serious about its neutrality. The Irish High Commissioner in London emphasised to the Dominions Office that de Valera had informed the German Minister in Dublin that ‘he must not think that [the] Irish shore could be used for any German purposes – propaganda – espionage – etc.’(8)  The coast would be under 24-hour observation.  Thus began a 24-hour watch along the entire Irish coastline lasting until June 1945.
Willie Whelan, based at the western end of the likely invasion zone at LOP 20 at Ram Head, Ardmore, County Waterford recalled that ‘The war started on Sunday and … We went on, at 12pm on Monday night. We had no real orders at the time, only to walk along the coast and watch it.’(9)  Corporal Ted Sweeney who commanded LOP 60 at Termon Hill overlooking Blacksod Bay recalled that ‘we started from scratch. We had no barracks, no hut or anything.
We worked an old British outpost that had been burned down, just a water tank left there, a cement water tank, no shelter at all.’(10)  Eventually the Army distributed tents. The construction of new accommodation became a matter of ‘extreme urgency’(11)  and, aware of
‘the approach of colder weather’, the OPW and the Department of Defence arranged for fifty-five huts to be built immediately, with abandoned coastguard stations, Napoleonic Signal Towers and in one case a disused lighthouse, being reconditioned for coastwatching purposes.(12)

The Battle of the Atlantic Begins

In the Atlantic Ocean the second world war began 250 miles north-west of Malin Head on the evening of 3 September 1939. The Athenia, bound for Montreal with 1,418 passengers and crew, was torpedoed without warning by U-30. One hundred and twelve of the Athenia’s passengers and crew were killed in the attack. The survivors were rescued by British destroyers and landed at Galway. An emergency plan for the city was put into operation and over 100 of the survivors were offered refuge at Coláiste Éinde in the city.(13)

At the Admiralty Winston Churchill decided that ‘in this first phase … the prime attack appears to fall on the approaches to Great Britain from the Atlantic.’ In the middle of ‘the approaches to Great Britain from the Atlantic’, at the point where convoys to and from Britain converged, lay neutral and defenceless Ireland.(14)

‘They went up like mushrooms’: Building the Coastwatching Network

LOP huts were built to an identical OPW design from 137 pre-cast blocks and assembled on site. This was a considerable logistical task. While Defence Forces lorries could transport the blocks to the vicinity of the post, local labour with horses and carts and in some cases, such as Erris Head in County Mayo or Carrigan Point in County Donegal, donkeys carrying single blocks, were required to slowly move the blocks over difficult ground to the construction area. These were not unique occurrences; posts were often ‘located in places peculiarly difficult of access.’(15)
Though the posts were small in size, thirteen foot by nine foot, the operation to build seventy-six posts and recondition eight posts around the coastline of Ireland was one of the most widely spread engineering exercises undertaken by the Defence Forces during the Second World War. It involved planning and constructing posts at strategic locations at ten to fifteen mile intervals along the 1970 mile-long Irish coast.
A photograph of Aughris Head LOP (No. 54) from March 1940 shows the newly build hut set on a barren landscape under a flat spring sky with a drystone wall running behind the site. The prefabricated structure of the LOP is clearly visible as the exterior walls have not been cemented over. A lone soldier standing to the left of the post, cigarette in hand and grinning, his greatcoat fully buttoned up with collar raised against the cold, is testimony to the wretched conditions along the Irish coast in which the LOPs were constructed.
A series of photographs from February 1945 of the LOP at Dunbrattin Head (No. 18) in County Waterford shows the impact of wartime construction and five years of constant occupation. The single chimneystack has cracked its entire length, it has been repaired with
tar and the cowl is missing. The heavy tarring on the roof to keep out the rain is evident, as are the repeated cracks along the join between the roof and the walls. The windowsills of the LOP are marked by the steady dripping of water from the roof overhang and the window
hinges show heavy rust.
Viewed from Dublin, Ireland’s frontline forces perched in their cliff-top and headland posts were able to provide an almost immediate and eventually highly detailed picture of events on the sea and in the air off the coasts of Ireland. On a good day the Coastwatchers on Erris head could see over twelve nautical miles to the horizon, while their colleagues 700 foot up on Moyteoge Head on Achill Island at LOP 59 could see almost 30 nautical miles. Faced with such vast expanses of the grey North Atlantic to monitor, Coastwatchers were warned to

be alert and attentive and [to] guard against the feeling that nothing is likely to
happen. Bear in mind always that you are the outpost of the Country’s defences and
on your alertness, powers of observation and quickness in sending information to the
proper message centre depends the success of the defensive measures taken to defeat
enemy activities.(16)

Reports from LOPs, now the nerve endings of Ireland’s front line defence, were channelled to a central command in Dublin and as plots were built up a picture emerged of Allied and Axis strategy in the Battle of the Atlantic. The intelligence picture built up indicated that the routes of certain craft could be regarded as routine, where infringements were most likely to take place and the impact of weather and the changing seasons on traffic. A state of alert that could be regarded as normal was also developed. The human eye assisted by basic optics and paper charts provided the Irish Defence Forces with their range and direction finding system and with a low-tech early warning network that when its raw data were assessed achieved highly reliable results.

The first ten months of the M&CWS: September 1939 to June 1940

The primary duty of the Coast Watching Service was passive defence. It was to keep a constant watch along the coastline for naval activity, enemy forces poised to invade Ireland and potential fifth columnists, who could be ‘any unusual assembly of men, lorries or cars in the vicinity of the coast’, who sought to assist invaders.(17)  The early-warning reports from the Coast Watchers would give the ill-equipped Irish Army valuable extra time to ensure that ‘suitable defensive action may be taken.’(18)  When in operation the eight man team at each LOP was equipped with a telescope, binoculars, silhouettes of aircraft and ships, a logbook, signal flags and lamps and a bicycle. A fixed point compass card was added in the autumn of 1940 as the Battle of the Atlantic intensified to allow accurate bearings to be taken by posts of ‘attacks on vessels in the vicinity of our shores.’(19)


The Phoney War was a godsend for the Coastwatching Service as it allowed it to properly organise itself and train its personnel. Early reports to G2 show that the waters and skies around Ireland were relatively quiet. The main theatre of operations in was of the Atlantic coasts of Ireland where U-boats sank roughly 200 allied vessels between September 1939 and March 1940.
The coastwatchers were willing, as Second Lieutenant Wren noted when he inspected Brandon Point LOP the ‘four men on duty [were] keeping a good watch’ however, their ‘knowledge of orders and instructions [was] poor.’(20)  In addition to difficulties with equipment, the Coastwatchers at Brandon Point, in common with many others along the coast, simply lacked training. This had led to a virtual rebellion at Dunany Point LOP (No. 2) in County Louth in late September 1939 which was averted only by the men being given a severe lecturing from their District Officer, Sergeant Thornton, who reported with evident pride after the incident that ‘I have definitely cleaned up Dunany now and I am sure that whoever comes after me will have no further trouble.’(21)  Lieutenant Wren also sorted out the difficulties at Brandon Point, noting that at a later inspection ‘everything in order. Men alert and acquainted with their orders.’(22)  Though this situation was not achieved until one unsuitable volunteer had been removed from his post.
Nevertheless the Coastwatchers, some of whom had by October 1939 been to special training courses at Collins Barracks in Dublin, were forwarding to G2 an accurate picture of local shipping and signalling between ships. To Colonel Liam Archer ‘the collation and scrutiny of these reports [was] yielding valuable information.’(23)  The east coast north of Dublin was generally quiet, coastal trade continued unmolested, but there was a feeling that submarine activity existed on the Dún Laoghaire–Holyhead Mail Boat route and south towards Bray and Wicklow. However there was greater activity in the three remaining command areas.
The Curragh Command, which was responsible for the strategically significant area from Wexford to Waterford, reported few significant infringements of neutrality, though the activities of the crew of a trawler who landed at Dunmore East on 14 October and made inquiries about the number of troops in the area and the sympathies of the locals were referred to the Gardaí.(24)  Otherwise they could only report occasional infringements of Irish airspace by seaplanes from RAF Coastal Command, solitary cruisers and warships on patrol and the dark silhouettes of escorted convoys hugging the distant horizon. By the beginning of 1940 a new trend was evident in the Wexford-Rosslare-Kilmore Quay region. The post at Greenore was becoming one of the most important for the observation of convoys entering the Irish Sea from George’s Channel bound for Liverpool. The Corporal in command of Greenore LOP, Ibar Murphy emigrated to Britain after the war and in discussions with men who served on coastal defence in England and Scotland formed the opinion that ‘we saw more aerial and naval action at Greenore Point No. 13 off Rosslare Harbour and at Carnsore No. 14 … than many of those chaps did.’(25)  British aircraft were using this easily identifiable peninsula as a rendezvous point for their patrols into George’s Channel. Further violations of sovereignty were expected in this area, which was already high in minds of Irish defence planners as the probable location for a sea borne invasion of Ireland. Though the suggestion, following the example of the United States Naval Air Service during World War One, of constructing an air corps base in the Wexford area was not followed up, the pier at Rosslare Harbour was laid with explosives. Pillboxes, machine gun nests and anti-aircraft positions were constructed in the cliffs overlooking the harbour.
There was greater activity along the south west coast with weekly sightings of  submarines along the coast from Cork to the Blasket Islands, in particular of partially surfaced submarines passing through the Blasket Sound. In one isolated case a submarine was spotted one mile south of the Blasket Islands and External Affairs urgently phoned its presence to the British Representative’s Office. The news came through to London so quickly that the Dominions Office had to ‘reassure [the Admiralty] three times that it was true.’(26)  Regular flights of reconnaissance flights by British Coastal Command seaplanes were also noted.
Most of the activity was outside territorial waters, convoys estimated at ten to twelve miles off the coast, and so not of immediate concern to the Coast Watching Service.
Following the opening of the French Atlantic bases to Admiral Dönitz’s U-Boat force after the fall of France in June 1940 the nature of the war around the Irish coasts changed dramatically. Germany now commanded the entire European Atlantic coastline. Britain was isolated on all sides except the west. By a decisive U-boat campaign in the western approaches Germany aimed to close Britain’s remaining flank. Ireland’s neutrality counted for little as, through the summer and autumn of 1940, the British Admiralty prepared to retake Berehaven and the RAF drew up sites for fighter command to operate from captured Irish airbases.(27)  Britain would use Irish bases to extend her reach out into the Atlantic and to deny Ireland to the Germans.
From June 1940 to October 1941 the Battle of the Atlantic was waged at longitudes of 10 to 15 degrees west of Greenwich, directly off the western coast of Ireland. Convoys were re-routed away from the southern portion of the western approaches off the Cork and Kerry coast and a minefield was laid from Milford Haven up to Irish territorial waters of the Waterford and Wexford coast. Shipping crowded around Bloody Foreland and Malin Head.
The area became a hunting ground for U-Boats during what, due to the mounting successes, their crews dubbed ‘the Happy Time.’ Churchill was extremely frightened by the successes of Dönitz’s U-Boats, and the Defence Committee of the Cabinet considered re-occupying the Irish ports on 21 and 31 October. For the second half of 1940 Ireland was on the front line of the Battle of the Atlantic. From 1941 on the conflict moved further beyond 20 degrees and even 30 degrees west, making it more remote from the Irish coast watchers.
The ‘Happy Time’ lasted to October 1940. Convoy battles and losses of up to two ships a day in the operational area of the U-Boats and their aerial reconnaissance partners in the Luftwaffe with its FW 200 Condors made the roughly 250 square miles off Bloody Foreland a killing ground matching the cemetery of shipping off the south west of Ireland during the first world war. On 24 April 1940 Ballagan Point LOP sighted a Focke-Wulf 200 Condor flying over Carlingford Lough, two miles north of the post, flying north-east along the Northern Ireland coastline at an altitude of 500 foot. The previous day the medium anti-aircraft guns at Blackrock and the heavy anti-aircraft guns at Ringsend in Dublin fired on a Condor which had first been spotted thirty minutes previously over Carlow heading towards Dublin. At between ten and fifteen thousand feet the Condor flew in a north-easterly direction over Dublin in patchy cloud and poor visibility and ‘it was noted that height and speed’ of the aircraft ‘was increased as a result of [the] action taken by [the] defences.’(28)  The ten rounds fired did not hit the aircraft, but the change of speed and height indicated that the crew knew that they were being fired on. Four of the rounds were ‘reliably reported as bursting close to the aircraft’, a suggestion that this was not simply a warning to the intruder to leave Irish territory. It was only the limited visibility that prevented the guns from opening greater fire.(29)


Examining the reports from the MCWS to G2 in the seven months from June to December 1940 is a good operational test of the efficiency of the chain of LOPs and also of the level of knowledge they provided G2 with of the conflict to the west of Ireland. The changing nature of the war off the Irish coasts was immediately reflected in the observations of the Coastwatchers. Firstly the increase of incidents was noted. The Western Command intelligence report for July 1940 noted that the 1479 reports received was a ‘huge increase on the June total which was in itself much in excess of any previous month.’(30)  August saw ‘more or less continuous aerial reconnaissance in this area, but greatly more activity is noticeable where convoys are about to pass’.(31)


Between sixty and eighty percent of the reports sent to the Western Command between June and December 1940 were from the posts situated between Horn Head and Inishowen Head; these were the most north-westerly points in Ireland. These posts noted large convoys escorted by surface craft. Posts further down the coast as far as Achill observed and heard both German and British reconnaissance aircraft passing overhead. The aircraft were also observed by the LOPs in the Southern Command area, Colonel M.J. Costello reporting to Liam Archer that during September 1940 ‘much of the activity … reported indicates the passage of aircraft apparently going to and from definite objectives to the North East and North West of the command area.’(32)  The sighting of ‘a four engined German bomber’ on 4 September and regular reports of ‘large and heavy’ types or ‘bomber or bomber type’(33)  of aircraft passing over Ireland at night proved that Condors were taking short cuts over Ireland on their way to the North Atlantic convoy routes. At first these aircraft operated almost to timetable on routine reconnaissance patrols and on hunts for shipping, but later they appeared ‘to be losing the semblance of timetable regularity … this may indicate that German aircraft activity is now being operated at least to some extent, on information concerning traffic on the North Atlantic shipping routes.’(34)
The Condors, in addition to the ambling reconnaissance fights of RAF Coastal Command which made regular tours of the southern Irish coast, were a sign that from September 1940 ‘the infringement of our neutrality … has become much more prevalent, and appears to be deliberate rather than accidental.’(35)  There was now, Costello wrote, ‘a progressively increasing disregard for our neutrality by both belligerents.’(36)  However the frequency of overflights violating neutrality declined in November 1940, indicating that the conflict 200 miles off the Irish coast was decreasing. Not all flights went unchallenged. In December 1940 anti-aircraft defences at Fort Lenan and Buncrana opened fire on a patrolling British Hudson as it passed for the second time over Irish territory. The Officer Commanding ‘stated that the fire was effective as the plane appeared to be in difficulties’, though it continued out to sea.(37)  On 12 July 1941 the ground defences at Finner Camp opened fire on ‘a British Bomber which was flying east over the Camp.’ The defences hit their target as it was reported that ‘the plane appeared to be hit as it shook in mid-air, and altered its course.’(38) Unconfirmed reports from a separate source suggested that this aircraft crash-landed in Northern Ireland and the pilot was killed.
The human cost of war at sea was also becoming evident. In August twelve ships were torpedoed off the Irish coast and 41 lifeboats and 13 rafts put ashore on Irish territory with 132 survivors being rescued. Slowly too the less fortunate arrived. Silently 43 bodies arrived on Irish beaches to be found by the Coast Watchers, the LDF and local inhabitants.
From the end of July to the end of December 1940, 220 bodies were washed up along the Irish coast, hauled into currachs by local fishermen and on occasion recovered from the base of cliff faces by Gardái and Coastwatchers descending on ropes to retrieve bodies. Corporal Ted Sweeney of Blacksod recalled how ‘eventually we started to have rafts washed ashore and there were some dead bodies, there were rafts and old lifeboats coming, and, not many came ashore here, but there were quite a lot of bodies.’(39)


The first recorded body to be washed up on the Irish coast, was, according to Department of External Affairs files, that of 28 year old Hans Moller. Moller was a German citizen who had been interned in Britain and who was one of the 743 Italian and German internees, guards and ships crew who lost their lives when the Blue Star line’s Arandora Star, sailing without an escort, was torpedoed 75 miles west of Bloody Foreland at 7.05 on the morning of 2 July 1940 by U-47. It was not until the end of August that last of the dead from the Arandora Star were washed up on Irish beaches.
How well did the coastwatching service perform in this first important stage of the Battle of the Atlantic? Do their reports suggest that G2 had a reliable and indeed correct, so far as the later historical record shows, picture of events in the North Atlantic off Ireland’s coast? Liam Archer and Dan Bryan were interested in broad brush strokes ‘pointing out tendencies’ to provide ‘a general picture of the situation rather than a record of all happenings.’(40)  The Coast Watchers were proud of their abilities; Michael Brick, one of the team who manned the LOP on Brandon Point, recalled that ‘we would be right above any craft that entered our vicinity. A gannet could not land on the water unknown to us.’(41)


In considering this point some caveats are necessary. The duties of the CWS related to matters within the three-mile limit of Irish seas and overflights through Irish airspace.
Secondly, since coastwatchers were physically limited by day-to-day visibility and by the limit of the horizon, the course of events more than thirty miles off the Irish coast had to be extrapolated from the data reported to G2. Finally, information from coast watching reports was augmented by other sources such as details of shipping sunk transmitted by Lloyds, radio messages picked up by Fort Dunree on Lough Swilly, information from survivors from lifeboats, Garda reports and reports from lighthouse keepers.
As shown above, the M&CWS had little difficulty providing information that showed to G2 that the Battle of the Atlantic had intensified following the fall of France. The Coastwatchers also had little difficulty indicating that the conflict had moved from the southern to the northern cones of approach to the Western Approaches in the autumn of 1940.
They identified the killing ground of the German U-Boats extending 500 miles off the Donegal coast and the ‘ceaseless patrol on the Northern shipping routes’ kept up by RAF Coastal Command.(42)  Though the action had moved north, ships were also being torpedoed in
the winter of 1940 in the area off the Fastnet Rock and by September 1941 convoys were again operating off the south coast of Ireland. G2 was also aware that the east coast from Carlingford Lough in Louth to Greenore Point in Wexford was relatively quiet on the seas, but was the location of a considerable aerial presence, details of which were passed on to Air Defence Command in Dublin Castle.
Also clear is that reliable reports of submarines in Irish territorial water were rare.
On investigation reports received were fantasy, porpoises or bull seals. The legend of German submarines operating in Irish coastal waters grew, overshadowing the actual attacks off the coast outside territorial waters which involved the machine gunning of ships by aircraft and the torpedoing of ships by submarines. It is possible to see suggest and origin for this myth. Two days after the outbreak of the war, based on an extrapolation from the IRA bombings in London in 1938 rather than on concrete evidence, Churchill asked ‘what does Intelligence say about possible succouring of U-boats by Irish malcontents in west of Ireland inlets? If they throw bombs in London, why should they not supply petrol to U-boats.’(43)  He asked Admiral John Godfrey, the Director of Naval Intelligence to find out from Sir Hugh Sinclair, the Head of the Intelligence Services, otherwise known as ‘C’, whether there were ‘any signs of succouring U-boats in Irish creeks or inlets?’(44)  In a move that would be immediately noticed in the close knit communities of the west of Ireland seaboard, Churchill continued in his Boy’s Own manner to suggest that ‘money should be spent to secure a trustworthy body of Irish agents to keep [a] most vigilant watch.’(45)  When prisoners from a German submarine said that they had been ashore in Ireland and were found to have in their possession Irish cigarettes, Churchill’s beliefs were confirmed, at least to himself.(46)  There were verified sightings of submarines but they were more usually British submarines operating in and out of Derry than German craft.
Through the reports of the Coastwatching service the weekly disposition of British and German forces around the Irish coasts and their activities as regards violations of Irish neutrality could be estimated with some degree of accuracy. Convoy routes, strengths and marine and air escorts were known to G2. For example in his report for December 1940 the IO of the Western Command put the sighting of only six convoys in the Inishowen area through the month down to the fact that ‘convoys are taking a course farther North in an effort to elude the numerous submarines of whose presence around our coast the list of shipping attacks … affords ample confirmation.’(47)  Also known were the intentions of the aircraft of RAF Coastal Command and the Condors of the Luftwaffe. The information gathered following the fall of France did give a relatively accurate, if geographically limited, view of the general trends of the progress of the Battle of the Atlantic.
As 1941 began G2 could see the growing importance of Derry as a naval base to the British with the arrival of destroyers given to the British by the United States. The use of the Derry base and the seas around the north-west coasts as training areas for anti-submarine operations was also apparent. The increased use of Limavady aerodrome as an RAF coastal command air base was apparent, its aircraft mounting daytime reconnaissance flights into the North Atlantic as weather permitted. Large amounts of aerial activity were now taken as a sign that convoys, now observed to be much larger and more heavily escorted than previously, were expected along the Northern trade routes. Co-ordinated attacks on German submarines by Coastal Command aircraft working with destroyers and armed trawlers were also noted as were daily occurrences of gunfire and explosions apparently directed at U-Boats. Regular patterns had been established by G2 and though Irish neutrality was being violated, in no case had aircraft and ships been doing anything other than crossing through undefended Irish airspace and waters.
G2 would at times see new patterns emerge and draw what can now be shown to be incorrect deductions. When Inishowen Head noticed aircraft carrying large searchlights, the so-called ‘Leigh Light’, they concluded that this was ‘an attempt to solve the problem of the night bomber.’(48)  In fact the Leigh Light was to be used for fixing on enemy submarines. At other times the presence of ships connected with wider events were noted. An example being that in late April 1941, following the sinking of the Bismarck, nine British destroyers and two battleships one of which was thought to be either HMS Nelson or HMS Rodney, were observed heading north along the Donegal coast. An emerging pattern was observed with regard to ferry flights, it being noted that ‘a much greater number fly East than West. This would lead one to believe that a large number of planes are being flown across the Atlantic and landing in Northern Ireland.’(49)  What began as a one-off incident would, following repeated occurrences, be put into a pattern and finally be identified. G2 could extrapolate from these command area reports what was expected to be the normal state of events off the Irish coast and so unusual activity became all the more obvious. Flights from Castle Archdale and Limavady were normal and the use of the Erne Corridor was unremarkable by the autumn of 1941. British aircraft were ‘observed almost daily off the coast of Mayo, Sligo and Donegal and crossing our territory between Ballyshannon and Finner when moving to and from their base in Lough Erne.’(50)
From the individual log-books of the network of LOPs and the detailed reports submitted to G2 we can gauge in detail how the second world war, in particular the Battle of the Atlantic, raged around Ireland’s coasts. Such an analysis helps integrate Ireland’s wartime position with the wider conflict in the seas Northern Europe. In addition by comparing the reports to the history of the wider battles in the Atlantic Ocean we can see that for the portion of the battle fought around the coasts of Ireland the volunteers of the Coastwatch provided accurate information from which correct inferences on the wider state of the conflict were generally drawn by G2.
Regular forces maligned the Coastwatchers as an unarmed, poor quality, semi-civilian volunteer force not subject to the life of the regular soldier. The Coastwatchers underwent considerable hardship to keep their watch on the coast. Watchers from Benwee Head told stories ‘of the hardships endured there. Climbing hand over hand along a rail with howling gales bashing their faces with rain or sleet as well, climbing up to their post.’(51)  In the winter LOPs were cold and wet, with the fires in their tiny grates providing little warmth.
The truth was, that by selecting local mariners, fishermen, beachcombers and those with farms along the coast, the military acquired a specialist group with a pre-existing ‘detailed knowledge of a given section of the coastline.’(52)  This was the sort of knowledge that only a lifetime of sea faring could give and which barrack training could not easily provide. G2 appreciated the skills of their volunteers along the coast, as one memorandum put it, these men combined ‘an extensive knowledge of the peculiarities of the coast in the vicinity of their posts with a reasonably good appreciation of the different types of seagoing craft.’(53)  Living locally, the men of the Coast Watch knew what craft were expected to operate in the vicinity of their posts and once in operation the Coast Watching Service ensured that ‘under normal conditions of visibility no surface craft can approach our coast unobserved at any intermediate point between LOPs.’(54)  By the end of the Second World War the opinion in the Department of Defence was that the Coast-Watching service, formed ‘an integral part of
the defences of the State.’(55)


What made Coastwatch work was its very simplicity, it was a local information gathering network where each link in the chain covered a small specific area and had a limited number of tasks to perform. Thus a standard format of information could be logged and relayed to Dublin. A routine everyday information flow, even of relatively low-grade data, to G2 and Air Defence HQ enabled them to build up an elaborate picture of the conflict around and over Ireland during the Second World War. Liam Archer made a point of telling Colonel A.T. Lawlor the Marine Service that he attached ‘the greatest importance to this information from this end.’(56)


Here is one great significance of Coastwatch to the historian. A grave flaw in Irish historiography is the tendency to assume Irish exceptionalism to the course of world history.
This is magnified in the case of the Second World War. The term ‘The Emergency’, Seán O Faolain’s ‘green curtain’ and F.S.L. Lyons’ ‘Plato’s Cave’ analogies have led us to forget what contemporaries knew and feared, that the global conflict, neutrality notwithstanding, was going on around and over Ireland and Ireland could be drawn in by a move from either side. Ireland might not be a belligerent, but neutrality was a state of involvement in the conflict at hand and the records of the Coastwatch log books show just how close that conflict was.

© Michael Kennedy 2010

Please do not quote or reproduce sections of this paper without the author’s permission.


  • (1): ^^ Military Archives, Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin (hereafter MA), Horn Head Logbook, report serial number 443, 14 June 1940.
  • (2): ^^ MA, Horn Head Logbook, report serial numbers 363-5, 8 June 1940.
  • 3): ^^ MA, Horn Head Logbook, report serial numbers 377, 379, 9 June 1940 and 425, 13 June 1940.
  • (4): ^^ MA 2/55390, draft recruiting notice ‘approved by Minister’, no date.
  • (5): ^^ MA Owen Quinn Papers, training notes of Volunteer J.P. Burns.
  • (6): ^^ MA Owen Quinn Papers, training notes of Volunteer J.P. Burns.
  • (7): ^^ MA Owen Quinn Papers, training notes of Volunteer J.P. Burns.
  • (8): ^^ TNA PRO DO 35/1107/9 WX1/78, minute by Eden, 1 September 1939.
  • (9): ^^ Siobhan Lincoln, T. Mooney, Fritz Hirsch & Erwin Strunz, ‘Ardmore memory and story: troubled times’ Published online 3 February 2003 at http://www.dungarvanmuseum.org/exhibit/web/Display/article/124/ . Accessed 19 February 2004.
  • (10): ^^ MA, Owen Quinn papers, typescript ‘Interview with Ted Sweeney’.
  • (11): ^^ NAI OPW A115/7/3/1939, Hyland (for MacMahon) to Secretary, OPW, undated.
  • (12): ^^ NAI DF S7/2/40, MacMahon to McElligett, 8 September 1939.
  • (13): ^^ ‘75 years of Coláiste Éinde’s history, Galway Advertiser, 6 November 2003. Available at www.galwayadvertiser.ie/homepage/fdownloads/06_November_OldGalway.pdf accessed 10 August 2004.
  • (14): ^^ Martin Gilbert, The Churchill War Papers, Volume I: At the Admiralty September 1939-May 1940 (London, 1993), ‘Winston S. Churchill: Notes of a Meeting’, 4 September 1939, p. 24.
  • (15): ^^ MA 2/55390, memorandum entitled ‘Coast Watching Service, undated, probably February 1939.
  • (16): ^^ MA G2/X/318, ‘Instructions for Personnel Manning Coast Watching Posts’, September 1939.
  • (17): ^^ MA G2/X/318, extract form report of visit of Major Flynn and Commandant Powell to Western Command Posts. Athlone, Galway and Castlebar, during period January 17th– January 19th, 1940.’
  • (18): ^^ MA G2/X/318, ‘Instructions for Personnel Manning Coast Watching Posts’, September 1939.
  • (19): ^^ MA G2/X/318, Archer to Lawlor, 20 August 1940.
  • (20): ^^ MA Coast Watching Service LOP Logbooks, Brandon Point, Log book for 7 February 1940 to 29 June 1941.
  • (21): ^^ MA G2/X/315 part 1, Report by District Officer, 29 September 1939.
  • (22): ^^ MA Coast Watching Service LOP Logbooks, Brandon Point, Log book for 7 February 1940 to 29 June 1941. Report serial number 18, 10 April 1940.
  • (23): ^^ MA G2/X/318, Archer to Lawlor, 29 September 1939.
  • (24): ^^ MA G2/X/315 part 1, Report by Mackey, 23 October 1939.
  • (25): ^^ MA Owen Quinn Papers, Murphy to Quinn, 5 April 1990.
  • (26): ^^ TNA PRO DO 35/548/25 E70/17, Machtig to Maffey, 9 October 1939.
  • (27): ^^ See TNA: PRO CAB 84/111 and AIR 2/7233 respectively.
  • (28): ^^ MA ADC 43, Commandant McCarthy to Director of Artillery, 23 April 1941.
  • (29): ^^ Ibid.
  • (30): ^^ MA G2/X/315 part 2, Report on M&CWS for July 1940, Togher to Archer, 1 August 1940.
  • (31): ^^ MA G2/X/315 part 2, Report on M&CWS for August 1940, Togher to Archer.
  • (32): ^^ MA G2/X/315 part 2, Coastal intelligence report of September 1940, Costello to Archer, 1 October 1940.
  • (33): ^^ MA G2/X/315 part 2, Coastal intelligence report of September 1940, Costello to Archer, 1 October 1940.
  • (34): ^^ MA G2/X/315 part 2, Coastal intelligence report of October 1940, Costello to Archer, 1 November 1940.
  • (35): ^^ MA G2/X/315 part 2, Coastal intelligence report of September 1940, Costello to Archer, 1 October 1940.
  • (36): ^^ MA G2/X/315 part 2, Coastal intelligence report of October 1940, Costello to Archer, 1 November 1940.
  • (37): ^^ MA G2/X/315 part 2, Western Command Monthly Report, December 1940.
  • (38): ^^ MA G2/X/315 part 2, Western Command IO Monthly report, July 1941.
  • (39): ^^ MA, Owen Quinn papers, typescript ‘Interview with Ted Sweeney’.
  • (40): ^^ MA G2/X/315 part 2, Archer to Intelligence Officers, all Commands, 10 July 1940.
  • (41): ^^ MA, Owen Quinn Papers, Brick to Quinn, 10 July 1994.
  • (42): ^^ MA G2/X/315 part 2, Togher to Archer, Western Command report for November 1940.
  • (43): ^^ Ibid.
  • (44): ^^ Ibid., Churchill to Godfrey, 6 September 1939.
  • (45): ^^ Ibid.
  • (46): ^^ Ibid., War Cabinet minutes, 15 September 1939.
  • (47): ^^ MA G2/X/315 part 2, Western Command Monthly Report, December 1940.
  • (48): ^^ MA G2/X/315 part 2, Western Command Monthly Report, April 1940.
  • (49): ^^ MA G2/X/315 part 2, Western Command Monthly Report, July 1941.
  • (50): ^^ MA G2/X/315 part 2, Western Command Monthly Report, November 1941.
  • (51): ^^ MA, Owen Quinn papers, Murphy to Quinn, 5 April 1990.
  • (52): ^^ NAI DF S4/84/38, MacMahon to McElligott, 11 February 1939.
  • (53): ^^ MA G2/X/318, ‘Memorandum on Coastal Observation’, no date.
  • (54): ^^ MA G2/X/318, ‘Memorandum on Coastal Observation’, no date.
  • (55): ^^ NAI OPW A115/21/1/1939, Industry and Commerce to OPW, 23 April 1956.
  • (56): ^^ MA G2/X/318, Archer to Lawlor, 29 September 1939.

The copyright of any articles published here remain with the author in all cases

Statue of Boyd, by Farrell, in St Patrick's Cathedral

The Boyd Disaster



by Cormac F. Lowth



And such the trust that still were mine,
Though stormy winds swept o’er the brine,
Or through the tempest’s fiery breath,
Raise me from sleep to wreck and death.

Emma Hart Willard,

Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep.

February 1861 will be remembered not only for the loss of a great many ships around Dublin Bay but also for the death of a heroic man, who, with some of his companions, attempted to save the lives of some members of shipwrecked crews in Kingstown.  This was Captain John McNeil Boyd of the guard-ship  H. M. S.  AJAX.


Boyd Monument on DúnLaoighre Pier

January and February have always been the worst months for storms around the east coast of Ireland and the year 1861 was no exception as the customary storms of February proved to be exceptionally severe.  One of the worst storms on record began on Friday 8th and continued to blow with increasing severity for two days.  Northerly gales are a rarity on the east coast and those that occur usually do so suddenly.  At around midnight on the 8th,  the wind had swung around to the north east and by the early hours of the following morning it had increased to strong gale force directly from the north.  One of the first casualties of the storm was the schooner CLYDE  of 100 tons which went on the rocks outside the East Pier of Kingstown harbour with a cargo of salt.  She was bound for Cork from Runcorn and had attempted to shelter in Kingstown.  The crew managed to scramble to safety on the east pier.


The storm increased in force and many more ships were wrecked along the coast.  A dense snowstorm began in the early hours of Saturday morning and a schooner went down with all hands on the Burford Bank, which straddles the mouth of Dublin Bay. This was reported by the Cross Channel paddle-wheeled steamer PRINCE, which had a particularly rough passage from Liverpool and had one of the paddle boxes which enclosed the paddle wheels torn off by a huge wave as she approached Dublin Bay.  The master of the PRINCE, Captain Reynolds, was reported to have been greatly upset at being unable to render any assistance to the schooner as it went down so quickly.  On Saturday morning, the CLYDE, which was still on the rocks outside the east pier, was lifted up by the force of the sea and driven in through the harbour mouth and she went aground on the rocks near where the present Irish Lights depot stands.  She was smashed to pieces shortly after.  Huge waves were by now washing over the piers and some of the great boulders upon which the piers are built were being tossed about like pebbles.


The harbour at Kingstown, (Dun Laoghaire) which had been built as a harbour of refuge, is particularly vulnerable when exposed to northerly winds.  This might perhaps have been averted had the piers been built in an overlapping way or if the harbour mouth had been made narrower, although, while making the interior of the harbour safer, these measures may have made entrance to the harbour more difficult.  Throughout the history of the harbour many vessels seeking shelter in Kingstown during rough weather missed the harbour-mouth and came to grief.  During the storm of 1861 a great many vessels were wrecked inside the harbour due to this exposure to northerly weather.


The Whitehaven collier LEVEN was wrecked in the harbour on the Saturday morning along with some ketches from Strangford, which had cargos of potatoes.  It has been estimated that 135 ships were posted as missing around the British Isles during the storm.  At least 15 of these were wrecked in Dublin Bay and fourteen more occurred between Howth and Wicklow Head.  Bodies were washed ashore for many weeks afterwards.


Statue of Boyd

Statue of Boyd, by Farrell, in St Patrick's Cathedral

During the morning, as the storm continued to blow with increased ferocity, a flotilla of small trading vessels were seen running before the storm towards Kingstown Harbour.  Some of these would successfully reach the harbour where most would ride out the worst effects of the storm.  The collier WANDERER of Whitehaven sank in the Bay and some of the wreckage was washed into Kingstown Harbour.  Another WANDERER from Dundalk was wrecked in the harbour.  Thirty years later a famous vessel of this name would successfully find shelter in Kingstown after being partially dismasted in the Irish Sea.  Other ships wrecked in the harbour and surrounding area included ROYAL SOVERIEGN from Portaferry, CAROLINE of Workington, RANGER from Stranraer, MOSES of Troon, HELEN,  HERO of Ardrossan , CLANS from Ayr, KING OLAVE of Drogheda, SYLPHE of Bordeaux and LIVELY.  The brig MARYANNE  was brought ashore with great skill at Sandycove and all of the crew were saved.


The schooner MARY of Belfast was not as lucky as she missed the harbour-mouth and went ashore on the rocky coast near the bottom of Burdett Avenue in Sandycove.  The crew were fortunately saved as the ship broke up in the heavy surf.  They were pulled ashore by many of the local people and a Mr. Perrin and a Mrs. King received special mention in this regard.  A small brig entered Dalkey Sound where she was overcome by the huge waves and she sank in full view of many onlookers on the shore.  Most of her crew were saved through the efforts of the coastguards. The mail-boat from Kingstown was forced to turn back on Saturday morning as she had part of the foredeck ripped off which allowed a large quantity of water down into the mail sorting room which saturated many of the bags of mail..  It was necessary to take the mail ashore to have it dried out.  The damage sustained cost over five hundred pounds to repair, a sizeable sum at that time.


Among the vessels lost at Howth was the ELIZABETH of Drogheda while further north at Skerries, the local lifeboat saved the entire crew of a brig which went ashore and was shortly after smashed to pieces.  Two colliers from Whitehaven, the brigantine INDUSTRY and the brig NEPTUNE, had attempted to enter the harbour but were washed onto the rocks at the back of the east pier at Kingstown.  Both of these vessels had lost some of their sails. The tragedy of the loss of some members of both crews was to be added to by further tragic losses, the pattern of which has been all too familiar in the annals of maritime rescue, as some of the rescuers were swept to their doom.


The Guardship AJAX

The Guardship AJAX in Kingstown (DúnLaoghaire) Harbour

Captain John McNeil Boyd from County Derry was master of the Royal Naval guard-ship AJAX that was stationed in Kingstown. The ship was normally moored beside the East Pier in the harbour near where the tragedy took place.  When word of the plight of the two vessels on the outside of the pier was given to Captain Boyd at about 9.30 a.m. by the officer of the watch, Lieutenant Arthur Morell, he immediately ordered a boat to be manned.  One of the officers of the AJAX, Lieutenant Hugh McNeil Dyer, had been assisting the coastguards with gunner George Farrin and a boat’s crew in another part of the harbour where ships were in distress and he arrived back alongside the Ajax.  Captain Boyd and some additional crew members, which made a total of fourteen, went aboard this boat with heaving lines, rockets and ropes, and they rowed over to the steps on the pier at a point near to where the ships were being wrecked.  Various other people were on the pier, where waves were now coming over the top in places.  The NEPTUNE was being pounded against the jagged rocks at the base of the pier and the INDUSTRY was in a similar plight close by.  Captain Boyd immediately ordered a rocket fired to take a line to the NEPTUNE but this was blown back by the force of the gale.  The crew of the INDUSTRY managed to get a line ashore but it snapped like thread when it was made fast on the shore.  As Captain Boyd and some of the naval party, who were lashed together with ropes, ventured down the rocky slope towards the crew of the NEPTUNE, who were now all in the water and attempting to struggle ashore, the master of the INDUSTRY, James Collins, was swept off the bow of the vessel as he attempted to get another line ashore.  His brother, Daniel Collins was also swept off into the raging surf but he was rescued by Constable Dineen of the Dublin Metropolitan Police force (no. 82F) who managed with the help of another man to approach the waters edge and pull him to safety.  Many more men from AJAX and some civilians had joined the rescue party.


Lieutenant Dyer then ventured down to try to rescue a man who was face down in the surf but as he began to drag him in, a huge wave dashed him against the rocks and swept away seaman Thomas Murphy who had followed Dyer with a coil of rope.  Dyer’s head was lacerated and he was knocked unconscious momentarily.  As the wave retreated he was pulled to safety by William Ferris.  He regained consciousness almost immediately, just in time to see a tremendous wave sweep in and along the pier which engulfed everything.  Captain Boyd and a party of men were at the water’s edge attempting to drag a man ashore in a lifebelt.  When the huge wave receded, the captain and five of the rescuers were nowhere to be seen.  Captain Boyd had been heard to remark “Life is sweet” just beforehand.  Mr. John Walsh, the Lloyd’s agent in Dublin, was knocked backwards by the same huge wave and he had several ribs broken and suffered lacerations to his head and neck.  Another of the rescue party, Mr. Anderson, was also being swept away but was saved by catching his thumb in a crack between some of the rocks.  Lieutenant Hutchison, The Harbour Master was washed under by the wave but he emerged unscathed.  Only one man, Fenning, was saved from the NEPTUNE having been dragged ashore by constable Dineen while all but one of the crew of the INDUSTRY came ashore safely.


Site of the rescue on the East Pier

Almost all of the rescue party were badly lacerated and bruised and they were treated by the surgeon of the AJAX, Mr. Buchanan.  Mr. Walsh had a very bad head wound and had to be taken to hospital.  As he was being helped into a cab, the driver refused to take him stating that he did not want blood all over the inside of his cab.  The driver was then knocked down by the irate crowd and the cab, with Mr. Walsh now inside, was taken to the local hospital.  Lieutenant Morell led search parties throughout the rest of the day and a total of eight bodies were found, which included four of the crew of AJAX and all were brought to the revenue store.  A total of ten lives were lost in addition to the six from AJAX.  Captain Boyd’s body was not found until much later.


An inquest was convened next morning at 11 a.m. by the coroner, Mr. Henry L. Harty and a verdict was quickly arrived at that the men from the AJAX had drowned while trying to save the crew of the NEPTUNE.  They next considered the deaths of the seamen from NEPTUNE and INDUSTRY and there was much discussion about the availability of ropes and other rescue equipment.  It emerged that by the time the Manby rocket equipment had been brought around from the West pier, the vessels were a total loss and the whole episode had reached its grim conclusion with the death of Captain Boyd, his colleagues and the unfortunate crewmen.  A verdict of death by drowning was reached.  The search continued for Boyd’s body but only his shirt with the cufflinks attached, one of his boots and a muffler were found.  A reward of five pounds was offered to anyone finding the body.  The storm had abated by now and evidence of the many ships that had been wrecked was scattered about the harbour and the adjoining shoreline.  The harbour master and secretary of the Kingstown lifeboat, Lieutenant William Hutchison R.N., was a man who displayed  boundless energy, courage and resourcefulness at shipwreck rescues for decades at Kingstown and other areas around Dublin Bay.  He was criticised very unfairly in the press for his failure to launch the lifeboat during the rescue.  This prompted him to write the following reply to the criticism in a letter to the Irish Times.

Inscription on the Boyd monument, DúnLaoghaire pier

Inscription on the Boyd monument, DúnLaoghaire pier


—– My history at this port has always shown that when my brother seamen were in danger, I have never hesitated to go to their rescue in the lifeboat.  I should have endeavoured to get volunteers had I seen the slightest prospect of saving the unfortunate crews;  but even if there was time to get the boat round, I am certain it would have been the most rash act of my life;  and when once the NEPTUNE struck the outside of the East Pier, had the boat approached to take the crew from to windward, as I swore in my evidence before the coroner but not stated by your reporter, the lifeboat would have been swept by the broken and rolling sea right over the wreck, adding twelve more seamen to the destruction of life.


                     Lieutenant Hutchison was one of the very few Irish recipients of the R.N.L.I. gold medal for a lifeboat service to the brig DUKE off Sandycove in 1829.    


On Tuesday a diving bell and some divers were brought over to Kingstown from Holyhead to aid in the search and they immediately found the body of Alexander Forsyth, one of the seamen from AJAX.  Lieutenant Dyer, in the gunboat RAINBOW, took the unusual step of continually firing cannon in the vicinity of the East pier and Scotsmans Bay on the assumption that the shock waves would make the body rise to the surface.  On the following day, the funerals of the five seamen from AJAX, who had been lost with Boyd, took place to Carrickbrennan Cemetery in Monkstown, led by the band from AJAX.  The coffins were placed on gun carriages flanked by Royal marines.  Reverend Howe, the chaplain the AJAX read the service for Forsythe and Russell who were of the protestant faith.  A firing party fired three volleys over the graves.


Tayleur Medal

A public meeting was held in the Mansion House in Dublin on Feb. 22nd.for the purpose of organising a fund to erect a suitable memorial to Captain Boyd and the men of AJAX who had been lost. Also, to suitably reward the men of the AJAX who had participated in the rescue and survived and to make some provision for the families of those who were lost.  On Monday, Feb. 25th the body of Captain Boyd was finally discovered about fifty yards from where the wrecks occurred.  The divers had continued their search and at 10.30 a.m. Diver Prichard found the body lying on the sand just clear of the rocks and he brought it to the surface. There was unusual clarity in the water that morning.  The body was brought aboard AJAX where it was laid out on the quarter deck in preparation for the funeral on the following Friday.  The Lord Lieutenant visited the Captain’s widow, Mrs. Cordelia Boyd and her two sons who lived aboard AJAX.  The coffin was carried by the sailors up the East Pier, followed by the entire ship’s compliment, to the railway station, where it was placed aboard a carriage and taken to Dublin.  When the train arrived in the city, the coffin was placed on a gun carriage drawn by eight horses and the cortege proceeded to St Patrick’s Cathedral.  Huge crowds were in attendance along the entire route.  The funeral service was conducted by the Dean of St. Patrick’s and the attendance included the Lord Lieutenant, the Lord Mayor and many other dignitaries. Captain Boyd’s big Newfoundland dog was seen near the coffin.  A large military and naval guard of honour fired three volleys as a final salute over the grave as the coffin was lowered.  Captain Boyd’s grave can be seen today in the little graveyard at the right hand side of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  It lies almost in the centre and is covered by a large flat stone with an inscription describing the sad events.


A fine life-sized white marble statue, which was sculpted by Thomas Farrell and paid for from the Public subscriptions, stands today inside Saint Patrick’s cathedral.  It depicts Boyd standing in naval uniform and sea-boots with one arm outstretched.  The inscription on the plinth reads,


                                            Safe from the rocks whence swept thy manly form,

                                            The tide’s white rush, the stepping of the storm.

                                            Borne by a public pomp by just decree,

                                            Heroic sailor from that fatal sea,

                                            A city vows this marble unto thee.

                                            And here in this calm place where never din

                                            Of Earth’s great water floods shall enter in,

                                            Where to our human hearts two thoughts are given,

                                            One, Christ’s self sacrifice, the other Heaven.

                                            Here it is meet for grief and love to crave,

                                            The Christ taught bravery that died to save,

                                            The life not lost but found beneath the wave.


             All thy billows and thy waves passed over me yet I will look again towards thy holy temple.


This ballad appeared in the THE KINGSTOWN MONTHLY  in February 1896 in an article entitled NOTABLE GALES, which recalled various disasters that had occurred around Dublin Bay in addition to the recent PALME shipwreck.  It was composed by J. J. M. of Kingstown.


                              IN MEMORIAM


Of Captain Boyd, of H.M.S. AJAX and those of his crew who lost their lives on the 9th. of February 1861 in their humane effort to save their fellow –  creatures.          




T’was on the ninth of February, in the year of sixty one,

A dreadful storm from east north-east, swept all the coast along.

About ten in the forenoon, upon that awful day,

It would be vain to describe the state of Dublin Bay.



Ajax memorial in Carrickbrennan cemetery

AJAX memorial in Carrickbrennan cemetery

The mountain waves were raging with a tremendous roar,

And the unchained tempest did it’s best upon the Kingstown shore.

Up high upon the mountain waves, were noble vessels tossed,

Some were dashed upon the rocks and very soon were lost.




And yet the dreadful storm raged, and still the sea ran high –

Thus were there seen in dire distress, two vessels drifting nigh,

On mountain waves careering, their sails and rigging tore –

They seemed to be approaching the worst part of the shore.




One proved to be the NEPTUNE, with a crew of five good tars;

The other was the INDUSTRY with four lashed to the spars –

To see those gallant sailors, it would rend your heart with grief,

To hear their dying screams for help, and could find no relief.



Boyds grave, St. Patrick’s

Boyds grave, St. Patrick’s Cathedral


Brave Captain Boyd now sees them, and like a sailor true,

Calls on his men to volunteer to try and save the crew,

With lines and ropes on the East Pier, they did their best to save;

But all their efforts were in vain, for death was on the wave.




Never until that moment was the like e’er seen before –

The frantic waves in fury dashed those vessels on the shore,

Alas – one of those mountain waves spread desolation round,

Brave Captain Boyd and five brave men, by that same wave were drowned.




When tidings to the AJAX goes, that Captain Boyd was gone,

The hardy tars like children, wept with many a sigh and moan.

The names of those brave heroes I mean to let you hear,

Who lost their lives in such a cause upon that fatal pier.




There was Curry, Forsyth, Johnson, brave Russel and Murphy too,

Five as stout young fellows as wore the jacket blue.

Likewise their noble Captain, brave Boyd of high renown,

Who long will be remembered by the people of Kingstown.



Memorial to Boyd in Christchurch, Cheltenham, where his brother Archibald was minister

Memorial to Boyd in Christchurch, Cheltenham, where his brother Archibald was minister


The angry waves seemed satisfied, the six brave men were drowned.

When the tide an ebb began to make, but few of them were found.

Thousands came to see them in the dead house as they lay,

Waiting for the inquest which was on the following day.




The funeral procession,  it was mournfully grand –

The dead march was played before it by the Cameronian band.

The AJAX men walked two and two, with sad and downcast eye,

The shops were closed along the streets and flags were half – mast high.




Now fare you well brave Captain Boyd, life’s voyaging is o’er,

Farewell gallant Russel, we will never see you more;

Farewell Curry and Forsyth, brave Murphy and Johnson too,

Long will your names respected be, by all the AJAX crew.




Long live the noble mariners, and the people of Kingstown,

Who, in saving life upon that day, have gained themselves renown.

Though they were cut and bleeding, among the rocks they ran,

And nobly did they persevere to save their fellow man.


J.J.M.,  Kingstown.



HMS AJAX in Kingstown Harbour

Another memorial over the graves of the men from AJAX who were lost can be seen in Carrickbrennan graveyard.  It consists of a square plinth with sculpted panels depicting the events on the East Pier.  It is surmounted by a broken ships mast which once had a block and a rope in marble which have long since disappeared.  This was paid for by Commander Yelverton of the Coastguard.  There is a very visible memorial on the East Pier of Dun Laoghaire Harbour near to where the tragedy took place.  This is the granite obelisk on the upper level of the pier with the name BOYD incised on a plinth.  Further down are the names of the five seamen from AJAX who were lost, John Curry, Thomas Murphy, Alexander Forsythe, James Johnstone and John Russell.  This was erected at the expense of the members of the Royal St. George Yacht Club, of which Boyd was a member, and was designed by Trevor Owen. There are at least three other memorials to Captain Boyd, one in Christchurch, Cheltenham, where his brother was a minister for eighteen years, a carved marble scroll in Saint Ann’s church, Portsmouth which was erected by his fellow naval officers, and in Saint Columb’s Cathedral in Derry, there is an inscribed work in marble, with a carved bas-relief panel that depicts Captain Boyd in a stance similar to that of the Farrell statue.   It might seem odd that there is no mention or memorial to the crew members of the colliers who were lost but it must be remembered that such shipwrecks were commonplace in those times and hundreds of poor seamen perished almost every year in similar circumstances, particularly in the coal trade in which many ships were regarded as being sub-standard and under-manned or, as it was euphemisticly put in a parliamentary paper of the day, “imperfectly appointed” and many were justifiably known as coffin ships.  The same paper mentioned,

                        It seems unquestionable that a large proportion of colliers are vessels that have been excommunicated from foreign service and thrown on the market to be sold at low prices, some for £400 or £500 and bought by shareholders out of earnings derived from business that gives them no knowledge or experience of what vessels ought to be. They are then covered by high insurance in the ‘clubs’ or local insurance companies distinct from Lloyds and sent to sea, many of them to perish with their crews whilst their owners live on the insurance.  But alas for the widow and the orphan.


The Merchant shipping Act governing load lines or Plimsoll lines did not come fully into force until 1890.


The following were the surviving personnel from AJAX who took part in the rescue attempt.  Hugh McNeil Dyer,  John Griffiths,  Peter Kane,  Bernard Burke,  George Farrin,  William Wright,  George Robertson,  William Fynes,  Thomas McMagonigal,  William Ferguson,  William Ferris.  William Boyd,  Archibald Mclachlin,  William Herron,  George Doherty.  Almost all of these had been injured to one degree or another and they received gratuities from the Admiralty varying from ten pounds to three pounds.  All were recommended for, and most received, promotion thereafter.


Storm at Kingstown

A number of medals were subsequently awarded.  The R.N.L.I. silver medal was awarded posthumously to Captain Boyd and was received by his widow Cordelia.  She was also given the Board Of Trade medal on his behalf.  This depicts Shipwrecked people and a boat approaching.   Silver R.N.L.I. medals were awarded to Lieutenant Dyer and Gunner Farrin.  Mr Walsh, the Lloyd’s agent was awarded the Lloyd’s silver medal.  At a ceremony on board AJAX on May 30th. Tayleur fund medals were presented by the Lord Lieutenant, to all who had participated in the rescue. This fund was originated to help the survivors and dependents of the wreck of the ship TAYLEUR that was wrecked on Lambay Island off County Dublin in 1854.  Medals and monetary awards were awarded by the trustees of the fund for subsequent acts of bravery at sea rescues.  Mr. Alexander Parker, the chairman of the fund, said in a speech that he felt that the medals were a more appropriate token of appreciation for the efforts of the rescuers than a monetary award from the residue of the fund which stood at six hundred pounds at that time.  After an address by Lord Talbot de Malahide, the Lord Lieutenant made a speech praising all of their efforts and he presented gold medals to Lieutenant Dyer and Mr. John Walsh.  Silver medals were presented to the following  people,  George Farrin,  George Robertson,  Bernard Burke,  Peter Kane,  John Griffiths,  William Ferris,  Thomas McGonigal,  William Fynes,  William Boyd,  William Wright,  William Herron,  James Beer,  John Newham,  Luke Malone,  Peter Holland,  Archibald McLenahan,  John Griffiths,  George Biddlecomb,  George Doherty,  Lieutenant William Hutchison, R.N. Harbour Master and Constable Denis Dineen.  These were some of the first Tayleur fund medals to be awarded. It appears that few gold medals were awarded and most medals awarded subsequently were of silver. It is unclear as to whether a Tayleur medal was awarded to Captain Boyd posthumously. The obverse of the medal depicts the wreck of the TAYLEUR against the rocks and the legend  Tayleur fund for the succour of shipwrecked strangers  around the rim.  The reverse is plain with the name of the recipient, the date, and the service for which it was awarded engraved.  Lord Talbot de Malahide completes the inscriptions.  The ribbons have two vertical silver stripes with a band of royal blue in the centre. The medals were made by Richardsons of Dublin.  The whereabouts of many of the medals is known.  The example in the Went collection in the National Museum of Ireland was awarded to Luke Malone. A silver residual medal with a blank reverse is owned by Father Kit Sheridan of the Pro- Cathedral in Dublin.  It was bought at an auction in Liverpool.



Captain Boyd had joined the Royal Navy in 1825 at thirteen as a midshipman.  Some sources say he was from Donegal, others say Derry.  He served on H.M.S. ARIADNE under the renowned author Captain Marryat who wrote ‘Mr. Midshipman Easy’ and who had devised the Marryat Code of Signal Flags.   He was appointed as lieutenant in 1841.  During the Crimean war he took part in the attack on Kronstadt in The Baltic and during this campaign he devised new methods in gunnery which enabled gunners to extend their range. Boyd had a reputation for fearlessness in gunboat actions during this war.  This was also manifested by the fact that he dived overboard on at least five different occasions during his career to rescue shipmates who had fallen overboard. Boyd was apparently an extremely well liked officer, both ashore and afloat, who inspired great loyalty among his crew members, preferring good example instead of the administration of corporal punishment, which was then still in use in the Royal Navy.  He was a man of deep religious convictions and could frequently be heard praying aloud or singing hymns in his cabin.  The Captain paid particular attention to the education and the spiritual welfare of young naval cadets under his care and he wrote and illustrated a great many instructional papers for their use on a host of subjects relevant to naval matters.  He eventually brought all of these together in the form of an instruction manual, which was approved by the Admiralty and financed by them for publication.  This became the standard training manual for young cadets joining the Navy.   Captain Boyd evidently had come to the attention of the Admiralty as a man of unusual ability as, just prior to his death, he had been offered command of H.M.S.WARRIOR, the latest and largest iron warship in the world which had just been launched.


H.M.S. AJAX was built in 1809 as a seventy four gun wooden ship of the line, a “wooden wall” exactly like many that had fought at Trafalgar under Nelson.  She was stationed in the Mediterranean until 1814 and she was fitted with an auxiliary steam engine in 1846.  She was stationed at Cork until 1853.  AJAX took an active in the Crimean War, notably at the bombardment of Bomarsund in Finland.  She was noted for her poor performance under both sail and steam.  In 1858 she came to Kingstown as the Guardship, under the command of Captain Boyd, where she remained until 1864 when she was de-commissioned and broken up.  There are several photographs in existence of AJAX moored in Kingstown Harbour as the guard-ship.


In the mid 1980s the author and some colleagues dived along the entire length of the outside of the East Pier of Dun Laoghaire harbour.  Several pieces of old wreckage were noted including some pieces of forged iron, some wooden remains, an anchor, and what looked like a ballast mound in different places along the pier.





The copyright of any articles published here remain with the author in all cases


DunLaoghaire Harbour

In November 1807 two ships, the Rochdale and Prince of Wales set sail from Pigeonhouse harbour in Dublin, bound for England. They were carrying newly recruited militia for the Napoleonic War, and their families. But bad fortune struck and an easterly gale forced the two ships onto rocks between Blackrock and Seapoint. They were wrecked and nearly 400 people drowned.


As a result of this disaster, pressure was put on  to go ahead with the building of a new harbour at Dunleary. Work began in 1815. The original harbour and town of Dunleary was situated roughly in the area near the Coal Harbour where the Motor Boat and Yacht Club is now located. Much of the original harbour, which dried out at low tide is now covered by the railway.

In 1821, King George IV visited the town and it was renamed Kingstown in honour of the visit. The town was renamed Dun Laoghaire in 1920 as Ireland moved towards Independence.

In 1826 the mail packet base, where mail to Europe was gathered, was transferred from Howth to Kingstown. Some years later, in 1859, the Carlisle pier was built for a new fleet of mail boats. The pier made it possible for passengers to transfer directly from boat to train, and the new boats with their better engines, modern construction and propellors instead of paddles, reduced travel time from Holyhead from over 7 hours to 3 hrs 45 minutes.

In those years there was almost invariably a Royal Navy guardship stationed in the harbour. The church in which the museum is now housed was built to provide spiritual support for the crew.


Dun Laoghaire harbour is Ireland’s largest pleasure sailing base, enjoying four yacht clubs – the first being built in the 1840’s. It is also justly famous for introducing the Water Wag in 1878 – the first ‘one design’ of its kind in the world. This dinghy introduced strict rules for exact shape, weight, materials, area of sails and so on, which enabled sailors to compete on equal terms.


The copyright of any articles published here remain with the author in all cases

The restored bell

The Dublin Port Diving Bell


The Dublin Port Diving Bell

by Cormac F. Lowth

This article was first published in The International Journal of Diving History, Volume 3, Number 1, July 2010

The restored bell


In  the  nineteenth  century,  several  factors  combined,  which  both  facilitated  and  necessitated  the expansion of the Port of Dublin. The seaward approaches to Dublin Port have always been hazardous to shipping. There are several offshore impediments to safe navigation that include the Kish Bank and Burford Bank, upon which hundreds of ships have been lost while attempting to reach the port.

Having braved all of these dangers, shipmasters now had yet another danger to face as they approached the mouth of the River Liffey. During the preceding centuries, access to the port was impeded by a hazard to navigation in the form of a large sandbank, known as the Bar of Dublin, which lay across the entrance to the main navigable channel of the River Liffey where it flows into Dublin Bay. The depth of water over this obstruction was as little as a few feet at times of low water spring tides, and ships approaching the port were frequently obliged to stand off or anchor to await high tide. When onshore winds blew up, many were thus caught on a lee shore and wrecked on the broad sandy expanses on either side of Dublin Bay, known as the North and South Bull. These areas are literally paved with the remains of the wrecks of sailing ships that were dependant upon the winds and tides and were equally, at times, at their mercy.


The  first  notable  improvements  to  the  port  entrance  were  carried  out  in  the  latter  half  of  the eighteenth century when the Great South Wall, which ran from Ringsend to the Poolbeg Lighthouse was built.  This  helped  to  define  the  channel  and  to  render  it  more  navigable,  however,  a  great breakthrough came in the early nineteenth century. Various reports had been submitted to the Port Authorities  as  to  how  to  overcome  the  problem  of  the  Bar,  one  of  which  was  prepared  by  Captain William Bligh of the famous Bounty Mutiny in 1801. He had undertaken, on behalf of the Admiralty, a comprehensive hydrographic survey of Dublin Bay and its approaches and one of his recommendations was for the building of a further wall on the north side of the channel. Other engineers had made similar suggestions and as a result, the North Bull Wall, which runs from Clontarf to the Bull Lighthouse, was built between 1819 and 1824. The tidal water thus enclosed by these walls created a sluicing action on  the  ebb  tide,  which,  over  the  next  few  decades,  shifted  the  sands  of  the  Bar  of  Dublin  around northwards to form what is now known as The Bull Island, which remains today as a wonderful amenity for the citizens of Dublin with beautiful dunes and sandy beaches. This engineering work, combined with new dredging techniques, now gave free access at all stages of the tide to the port to bigger and more deeply laden ships.

Bindon Blood Stoney

Bindon Blood Stoney

Up to this time, berthage in the port was confined to the north and south quay walls that ran from Ringsend right into the heart of the City. These had been adequate in the past to accommodate the size of vessels and the volume of trade that then existed, however, with the advent of steam powered merchant ships and advances in the technology of iron and steel shipbuilding, and a consequent huge upsurge in world trading patterns, the existing berthage and facilities for loading and discharging cargoes were soon found to be hopelessly inadequate. At first improvements were made to the existing quay walls by limited rebuilding and deepening but the pressing need for deep-water quays quickly resulted in various proposals being examined as to how this could be best achieved. Initially, traditional methods of coffer-damming and dry building were proposed by the resident port engineer George Halpin, whose duties also included being Inspector of Works and Superintendent of Lighthouses. With the onerous schedule of these duties, much of his work in the Port of Dublin was devolved upon his Assistant Engineer, an innovative genius who was to revolutionise the work of building the new quay walls in Dublin Port, Bindon Blood Stoney (1828–1909).


Stoney was born at Oakley Park near Birr (formerly Parsonstown) in County Offaly in the Irish Midlands.  He attended Trinity College in Dublin where he graduated with great distinction as a civil engineer. His first working appointment was as assistant to William Parsons, the third Earl of Rosse, in his observatory at Parsonstown where the Earl had designed and built a giant seventy-two inch telescope, known as the Leviathan, which is still in existence today. The Earl’s son, Charles Parsons, perfected the steam turbine which came to be adopted in many warships and other vessels. There can be little doubt that Stoney must have benefited from association with such inventive geniuses. He next took an appointment on a railway project near Aranjuez in central Spain and on his return to Ireland; he worked on the River Boyne railway crossing near Drogheda. In 1856, at the age of twenty-eight, after several interviews, he was appointed as Assistant Engineer of the Port and Docks Board of Dublin.


The Diving Bell and Float

The senior engineer of the port George Halpin, had many other duties to perform in his capacity as Director of Works and Superintendent of Lighthouses for the many coastal lights that were then in the care of the Port Authorities and because of Halpin’s prolonged absences, Stoney became in effect the de facto port engineer. One of his first major tasks was to supervise the completion of a new graving dock. In 1862, Stoney submitted a counter proposal to Halpin’s to the board, using a method which he  maintained  would  cost  only  half  of  that  of  the  traditional  cofferdam  system  with  the  necessity of laboriously hand laying cut stone blocks. He also contended that the work could be done much quicker with his method. Stoney proposed to build huge prefabricated concrete blocks on the shore and to lay them on a prepared seabed by the use of a large floating shear-crane. He further proposed that workmen operating in a large diving bell, slung from a floating barge, be used to level the seabed.  Halpin, understandably, was none too pleased at his subordinate’s attempts at a counter-proposal to his own and he attempted to scupper Stoney’s plan from the outset. He maintained that the idea was not feasible and urged them to accept his own suggestions. Perhaps the idea of saving so much money on the project, coupled with Stoney’s forceful arguments, must have swayed the members of the Board as, after much discussion, it was decided to adopt Stoney’s proposals. Halpin, whose health was at that time failing, decided to retire shortly after and Stoney was officially appointed as Senior Engineer.


It  took  several  years  before  Stoney’s  plans  for  the  deep-water  docks  came  to  fruition. There  was urgent work needed in underpinning and re-building the existing quay walls and deepening the channel alongside. By 1871 the work on the new docks had been started and the first section to be built was what is known today as the North Wall Extension, which runs eastwards from the Point Bridge. The work was not put out to tender as it was decided to use direct labour within the port, a decision that was to pay dividends by the accumulation of useful skills among the workforce. The photograph of Bindon Blood Stoney shows an almost patriarchal looking figure and in some ways this was true. During his time as Port Engineer, Stoney gained working conditions and pension rights for the labourers and tradesmen in his care that were far in advance of those which generally prevailed at the time.


The Shear Float

Provision of the equipment to carry out the works was put out to tender and the firm of Harland and Wolff in Belfast was granted the contract to supply the shear float while the contract for the bell float went to the engineering firm of Thomas Grendon & Co. of Drogheda in County Louth. The shear float measured one hundred and thirty five feet long by forty-eight feet beam by fourteen feet overall depth and the bell float was eighty feet long by thirty feet beam by eight feet depth. The bell chamber was twenty feet square and the access shaft with its airlock chamber was three feet in diameter. There was six and a half feet of headroom inside. The overall depth of the bell including the shaft and air-lock chamber was forty-four feet. The horizontal air pump, and the lifting gear on both barges were driven by steam engines mounted inside the barges. The surrounding water had a cooling effect on the air going to the bell chamber, nevertheless, men working in the bell chamber found the atmosphere oppressively warm. The concrete blocks measured twenty-two feet wide by twelve feet in linear length. They stood twenty-seven feet high and they were designed to give a working depth of twenty feet below ordinary spring tide low water level.


The Block Wharf

All of the equipment including the shear float and the bell was designed by Bindon Blood Stoney.  He also designed the machinery to mix the concrete that went into the making of the blocks. The large-scale use of concrete using Portland cement was still in a basic stage of development in the middle nineteenth  century.  The  concrete  mixer  designed by  Stoney  was  capable  of  delivering  about  twelve cubic yards of concrete per hour and it was powered by  a  three  horse-power  motor.  The  blocks  were cast  on  a  specially  built  block  wharf  and  allowed to  cure  for  several  weeks.  Large  cast  iron  girders were  incorporated  into  the  bottom  of  the  blocks and the wrought iron lifting bars were attached to these.  Large  stones  were  used  in  the  construction to  bulk  out  the  cast  concrete.  The  procedure  for lifting  the  blocks  involved  the  shear-float  moving bow-first  up  to  the  platform  of  the  block-wharf,  which was set low near the water. After the crane was  attached,  the  ballast  tanks  in  the  after  end  of the shear float were filled and this tilted the barge enough to lift the block. The barge was then towed to the laying position. The shear float was described as…  A  powerful  tubular  girder…which  distributed the shearing strains over the whole area…


The area for the new quay was first dredged down to the solid substrate and the crew in the diving bell  then  levelled  the  seabed  by  distributing  the  gravel,  or  in  some  cases,  loading  any  surplus  onto platforms in the bell, which was then disposed of elsewhere when the bell was again moved. The normal crew consisted of six men and incredibly accurate results were achieved when the blocks were joined together.  Grooves  cast  into  the  blocks  were  subsequently  filled  with  concrete  to  key  them  together.  Large rebates were also cast into the blocks to take stone facing blocks for the new piers and in some instances, part of the stone facing work was completed on the blocks while they were still on dry land.  Each concrete block weighed three hundred and fifty tons. There are fine scale models of the shear float and the diving bell in the Engineering Department Museum in Trinity College Dublin.

The physiological effects of working in compressed air may not have been fully understood by the crews working in the bell as there are several accounts of men suffering with ear trauma and bleeding from the nose and ears, particularly when working with colds or congestion, something that would be unthinkable in the present day. Nevertheless, throughout the history of the operations using the diving bell in the port, there is no recorded instance of any serious accident or fatality. The blocks were laid in parallel rows where berthage was required on either side of the new quay walls and space between was filled with spoil from the dredging operations. The walls above water were then built up in the conventional manner.

An old photo with Shear Float in the distance

From the ‘Illustrated London News’, showing the Prince and Princess at the naming ceremony with Bindon Blood Stoney in attendance. The diving float and bell are featured.

Stoney persisted throughout in his design concepts with the idea of building for the future as he foresaw the days when bigger ships would use the port. It stands to his credit that all of the new quays and docks that were designed and built by him are still able to take the biggest ships that are capable of entering the port. By the time the first blocks were laid, trade in Dublin Port had more than trebled over a period of thirty years. Over the following fifteen years, all of the North Wall Extension and the deep-water basin were completed. Many prominent people and members of various scientific and engineering organisations visited the port to see the new quays being built. Stoney was awarded the Telford Medal by the British Institution of Civil Engineers in 1877. Also in that year, William Gladstone visited the works in progress and he was shown around by Stoney. The Prince and Princess of Wales visited Dublin in 1885 and officiated at the naming ceremony for the new deep-water docks. Princess Alexandra broke a bottle of wine and christened the dock ‘Alexandra Basin’, the name it still bears. There is a contemporary illustration from the  ‘Illustrated London News’ that shows the Prince and Princess at the naming ceremony with Bindon Blood Stoney in attendance and the diving float and bell in the background. While there, they were given a demonstration of the shear-float laying one of the blocks.

The Opening of Beresford Swing Bridge in 1879

The shear float and diving bell were used for several other improvements in the port including laying the pre-cast foundations for the new Bull Wall Lighthouse and laying concrete reinforcing blocks around the Poolbeg lighthouse. The decision to adopt Stoney’s method of using pre-cast concrete blocks was vindicated as the work was finished within both the stated time frame and the budget that was allowed for the works. Many more improvements and innovations were carried out by Stoney during his tenure as Port Engineer. He designed the dredging equipment and the great hopper floats that were used for deepening the channels. Several of the bridges upstream from the port were in need of replacement, notably the old Essex Bridge, for which Stoney designed and built a fine wide replacement in 1873. He also designed the steam-powered Beresford Swing Bridge which has since been replaced by the present Butt Bridge. The latticed iron balustrade of the Essex bridge was regarded as very ugly by many of the citizens of the day. No such inference could be attached to one of the most visible of Stoney’s achievements in Dublin, that of the new Carlisle Bridge in the very heart of Dublin. Today known as O’Connell Bridge, it replaced an older narrow hump-backed bridge that was totally inadequate for the volume of traffic that daily thundered along the capital’s main street. The contractor, Doherty, used caissons and cofferdams that were designed by Stoney. The bridge, like O’Connell Street which it adjoins, is exceptionally wide, and with its elliptical arches and stone balustrades, it remains a pleasing architectural gem and a fitting monument to its designer, Bindon Blood Stoney.

Joe Murphy in srandard Dress

Stoney retired in 1898 after forty-two and a half years of service, leaving behind him an efficient, modern, deep-water port. During his working life he received many honours and accolades from several sources including an Honorary Doctorate from Trinity College Dublin. He was the president of the Institution of Civil Engineers for many years. His opinions were sought and respected far and wide on civil engineering matters and port development. He died on May 5th 1909 and there were many tributes to him that mentioned his great achievements and his sincere humanitarian personality. There is a road in the Docklands area named after Stoney.  Such was the scale of development achieved by Stoney and the port workers that no further expansion was required until well into the twentieth century. The shear float was laid up and it was scrapped in 1919.

The bell with its attendant float was retained in the port and it was to experience a renewed career from the 1920s on. A new method of building quay walls was instigated by the Dublin Port Engineer who was appointed in 1917, Joseph H. Mallagh. This consisted of building large hollow concrete blocks on the shore and floating them into position where they were sunk and filled with dredging spoil. These blocks became known as ‘caissons’ in the port. Again, the diving bell was used to level the seabed and the new development continued until the 1950s with the building of oil and timber jetties and the Ocean Pier extension to Alexandra Basin, after which, the bell was laid up in the corner of the port dockyard.

Two of the Crew of the Bell

The last foreman to work in the Dublin Port diving bell was a renowned Ringsend boat-builder named Joe Murphy who worked in the port as a shipwright. Joe is retired now but he has remained active as a builder of traditional boats. When interviewed by the author he described what it was like to work in the diving bell. There was electric light and a telephone connection in the bell and a stint normally took about five hours. They also had to do shift work to take account of the tides, which sometimes involved going down in the bell in the small hours of the morning or late at night. The squad were experienced and tough and many newcomers fell by the wayside when they encountered the compressed atmosphere and the cramped working conditions.  Ear and sinus problems were frequent.

The Crew of the Original Bell

The last job carried out by Joe and his team in the diving bell was to lay the caissons for a new lead-in jetty and it was a particularly arduous job as the area had been prepared by a bucket dredger and there were many ridges. Sometimes the team, working in thigh boots and overalls, had to move as much as ten tons of material on the seabed on a single shift and this frequently involved shovelling much of this onto the side platforms to be disposed of later. Joe developed a unique method of levelling by driving pegs into the seabed and relating them to the depth gauge in the bell.

The work on each caisson involved moving the bell about six times. Sometimes the hot compressed air reacted with the cold water and created a fog that blotted out all visibility in the bell. One of the few perks of working in the diving bell was to find a few plump flatfish that had been left behind on the bottom when the water receded, for their supper. The access shaft of the bell was lengthened at this time to take account of the greater depth in which it was being used.

Joe Murphy with the Bell model

Joe Murphy had taken over as supervisor in the bell from John Reilly, another port shipwright, who had graduated to standard dress diving. When the bell was laid up and John Reilly received further promotion, Joe took over his duties as the port diver, in which capacity he served for several years before eventually becoming a Senior Technical Supervisor. The bell was in danger of being scrapped in the 1980s but due to strongly voiced opinions from many people including Joe Murphy, the decision was made to save this unique artefact for posterity. A large floating crane, the Mersey Mammoth, was on charter in the port and this was used to transport and lift the bell to its present location on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. The lift and placement of the bell onto a prepared plinth was supervised by Joe Murphy. In 1989, the Dublin Docklands Development Authority decided to donate money to have the bell restored. The Dublin Port Company also contributed to the project. The nearby St. Andrews Resource Centre formed a committee, which included Joe Murphy, now retired, to supervise the refurbishment. The bell was shot blasted and painted inside and out and a viewing port was cut into one side of the bell through the massive eight-inch thick iron plating of the chamber. The access shaft with the airlock was adjudged to be beyond repair and it was faithfully replicated by the Fingal Steel Company. There is a scale model of the bell in the St. Andrews Resource Centre. Although lacking a plaque to explain its original purpose, the bell stands today as a unique piece of industrial archaeology and a testament to the men who built the modern port of Dublin.



Bindon Blood Stoney, Biography of a Port Engineer. Ronald Cox. Monograph 1990.

Dublin’s Diving Bell, a History. St. Andrews Resource Centre monograph 2003.

Joe Murphy, Ringsend Boatbuilder and Master Shipwright, Autobiography, 1989.

History of the Port of Dublin, Harry Gilligan. 1989.

Dublin Diving Bell, Cormac F. Lowth, SUBSEA, no. 81 Autumn 1995.

Joe Murphy, Personal Interview.

Wreck and Rescue on the East Coast of Ireland, John de Courcy Ireland. 1983.

Illustrated London News.


Joe Murphy, Desmond Branigan, Tony Brennan, and The Late Robbie Brennan of the Maritime Institute of Ireland.


Cormac Lowth is a building contractor who has been a sport diver for many years. He has written many articles of historical and travel interest for several diving and historical magazines and journals.

He is a member of the Maritime Institute of Ireland, The Old Dublin Society, and the Irish Maritime Archaeological Society.  He is well known as a lecturer to many historical and diving societies.


The copyright of any articles published here remain with the author in all cases



under construction 

Loss of The Palme





under construction

under construction

under construction



Memorial to the crew.

The funeral was the largest seen in Dun Laoghaire. Flags were lowered in all European ports. All fifteen were buried together in Deans Grange Cemetery. A fund was raised to support their dependents. There were donations from the ship’s owners in Finland and from ‘the people of Russia’. There is a plaque on the old lifeboat station wall and a granite memorial. Every year this sad event is remembered. At noon every Christmas Eve there is a progress along the East Pier, led by a piper. A short service is then held.


  • Coxswain Alexander Williams, age 35, married with 6 children
  • Henry Williams (his father and ex-coxswain), age 60, married with 3 sons (including Alexander)
  • John Baker, age 33 married with 3 children.
  • John Bartley, aged 45, married with two children.
  • Edward Crowe, age 30, married no children.
  • Thomas Dunphy, age 31, married 3 children.
  • William Dunphy (his brother), age 40 married with 6 children.
  • Francis McDonald, his son was born to his widow early in 1896.
  • Edward Murphy, age 30, married with 3 children.
  • Patrick Power, age 22, single.
  • James Ryan, age 24, single.
  • George Sanders, age 30, married no children.
  • Francis Saunders (his brother), age 27, married with 5 children.
  • Edward Shannon, age 28, married with 4 children.
  • Henry Underhill, age 32 years, married, no children.


The late John deCourcy Ireland was research officer with the MII

  • de Courcy Ireland, John. Lifeboats in Dublin Bay: A Review of the Service from 1803-1997. ISBN 0953354008.
  • de Courcy Ireland, John. Wreck and Rescue on the East Coast of Ireland. ISBN 0907606091.
  • Lowth, Cormac (1995). “The Palme shipwreck and the lifeboat disaster of 1895″. Blackrock Society Proceedings 3: 94–105.


A Ballard written by J.J. Moran and dedicated “To the memory of the Crewe of the Kingstown Lifeboat

Twas in the year of ninety-five
On the eve of Christmas day
Fifteen brave men, from Kingstown
Were drowned in Dublin Bay.
The cause of this disaster –
A ship did appear.
Flying signals of distress
Outside of the west pier.A gale was blowing from south-east
The sea was white with foam
When those brave men that morning
Left their families and their homes.
They went out in the lifeboat
This vessel’s Crewe to save
But in their humane efforts
They met a watery grave.When this sad news reached Kingstown
One hardly could conceive
The widespread desolation
Upon that Christmas Eve
The joys of happy Christmas
To sorrow then gave way
All hearts were grieved for those brave men
Who lost their lives that day
Twould melt one’s heart with pity
To see the sorrowing wives
The mothers and the children
Of those who lost their lives
For husbands, sons and fathers,
Oh sadly did they mourn
To think that those so dear to them
Should never be no more.Now let us dry the widow’s tear
And soothe the mother’s grief
Let each one do the best he can
To send them some relief
No more I’ll say but this I pray
As I lay down my pen
May the lord in mercy give their souls
Eternal rest. Amen.


the end


The copyright of any articles published here remain with the author in all cases


Baily Optic

The Baily Optic

This working Optic is the light from Baily lighthouse in Howth, North Dublin. It was installed in 1902 and removed in 1972 when the lighthouse was modernised. The lighthouse was originally gas, then vapourised paraffin powered, the light was equivalent to 2,000,000 candle power. The optic now shines a lesser light over the museum.

Bailey Optic Light, donated by Irish Lights. The lens is a first order annular with a focal distance of 920mm. Its two faces ; one set at 180º, thus giving two flashes every revolution. It floats on a trough of mercury, supported on cast-iron pedestal. The centre bull’s eye and fifteen concentric prisms form the dioptre or refracting part, while the outer prisms form the catadioptic or reflective part of the lens. This lens replaced a non-reflecting lens which had been fitted in 1865 and was itself replaced by an entirely electric light in 1972. This lens, pedestal and weight driven clockwork rotation machine went into operation 1st January 1902, giving a single flash every min. The light source from 1902 to 1908 was a 19 mantle coal gas burner mounted on a lamp changing apparatus with a stand-by six wick oil burner. The coal gas was replaced in 1908 by vaporised paraffin, using a burner with 3 x 50mm mantles. In 1946 a triple 50mm regenerative burner increased the candle power to 2,000,000 from 950,000 candelas.

For an interactive view of the lighthouse (on the Irish Lights site) click here

The copyright of any articles published here remain with the author in all cases

guarding neutral ireland

LOP 6 Howth Head

LOP 6 Howth Head

The Coastwatching Service in Howth, Co. Dublin: LOP 6, the Summit, Howth

Michael Kennedy (difp at iol.ie)

[paper delivered to the Howth Historical Society, February 2009]
For a PDF version of this page: click here

I: Introduction

May I begin by thanking you for the invitation to address the society this evening, as it is always a pleasure to talk about the coast watching service, Ireland’s frontline troops during the Second World War? Dermot Quinn’s invitation has given me the opportunity to undertake some new research into the role of the service on the east coast of Ireland by focussing on the records of the Look Out Post, the ruins of which until recently stood in the car park at the summit on Howth Head.
My talk has two sections. Firstly I’d like to look at Howth Head LOP in the general context of the Coast Watching Service and talk about what the service was and how the Howth post operated within that structure. Then I’d like to focus on the post in day-to-day operation during a particular period of the Second World War, a period usually ignored by historians of the Battle of the Atlantic. Most accounts of the conflict in Atlantic end in the summer of 1943 when through technology and combined naval and air power the Allies defeated the U-boat. However I want to focus on a later period and that is the first months of 1945, the final months of the Second World War. In these months a renewed U-boat campaign began in the coastal waters around Britain and Ireland. That campaign brought German submarines into the Irish Sea for the first time and this led to increased Allied air and naval operations off the east coast of Ireland. Looking out east across thirty miles of sea towards Wales as well as southeast across Dublin Bay, the Kish bank and down the Irish Sea towards Wicklow Head, Howth Head lookout post was in a prime position to view this development in the war at sea.  I should explain that one further reason for picking early 1945 is a practical one. The logbooks for the post only survive from 1943 to 1945. This precludes examination of one obvious area, and that is the role of the LOP in the air defence of Dublin during the period surrounding the North Strand bombing of May 1941.

II: LOP 6 in local geostrategic and Command level contexts

By the final year of the war the coastwatchers were a well-trained force with considerable active service experience. As local men employed in their own locality they knew the conditions to expect in the area and by early 1945 could be relied upon to supply an accurate picture of the events unfolding before them. With their binoculars, telescopes and telephones they sighted and reported the events unfolding around them through the Second World War. And do not forget that Ireland was on the frontline of that conflict from 3 September 1939 to 8 May 1945 and in the Battle of the Atlantic the coastwatchers witnessed the longest battle of the conflict being fought off Ireland’s shores.
Howth Head was LOP 6 in Number 1 District, which stretched from Ballagan Point in Louth to Kilmichael Point in north Wexford. In effect this was the coastal region of the Defence Force’s Eastern Command. Each post was operated by a group of eight men, one corporal and seven volunteers. It was enough to man three watches with a watch of two men off duty. The NCO in charge of Howth Head was Corporal John Rourke. From the records available and through the work of Tony Kinsella, we know that eight volunteers, the rank and file coast watchers who manned the post through the Second World War were Roger Austin, John Gallagher, Thomas MacLaughlin, Tom MacNally, Andy Moore, Paddy Moore, John Redmond and Tom Redmond. While the Gardaí at Howth could be relied upon to call the LOP on the Summit close to 11pm and 8am, the logbooks also show the regular but unpredictable visits of Corporal Rourke, the NCO in charge of the post, and his superior, the District Officer Captain Jordan made unscheduled visits at all hours which were essential to
keeping the men on their toes and alert.
The men on Howth Head had by January 1945, like their colleagues in 82 other posts along the Irish coastline, kept a 24-hour watch seven days a week along the Irish coast since September 1939. They stretched from Ballagan Point in Louth to Malin Head in Donegal, divided into groups to make up 18 districts each district under the control of a Lieutenant or a Captain. Districts were grouped together to report to Reporting Centres at Command and later at Air Defence Sector level. They were primarily an invasion warning force, but they were in reality an air and marine observer corps who provided essential intelligence information to G2, the Military
Intelligence Branch of the Defence Forces. Made up of former members of the inter-war Volunteer Force, the army reserve and those with marine experience who joined in 1939, the rank and file coastwatchers were equivalent to privates in the regular Defence Forces and the only promotion in the service was to Corporal, the NCO who headed each post.

The physical location of the LOP is a factor we also need to consider. The post was sited 550 feet above sea level and faced due east. Its main windows faced directly out to sea and its secondary focus being South and North along the coast. One should also take account of the local geography – for example the Howth post could not directly see down into Howth Harbour and the member of the watch patrolling outside had restricted visibility to the north and northwest and southwest over Dublin when compared to the clear field of vision northeast, east and south east.
Weather conditions are also important – how prone was the post to fog for example; how did its fare in the changing seasons and the hours of daylight available?
One should also factor in what one might call human frailties. By this I mean that the coast watchers were subject to the same foibles as you and I. For example, they suffered from the effects of tiredness, were not always fully alert, fell asleep on watches, drew of false conclusions and were working in conditions where they lacked general overall information on the forces they were observing. With regard to this last point, the Irish Defence Forces during the emergency, and in particular G2, were conscious that information regarding the most up-to-date military equipment and technologies was not available to them and intelligence suffered accordingly.
Coastwatchers were also instructed to report only the most basic form of information structured to the set pattern outlined above.
The neighbouring posts were Rush nine miles to the north and Dalkey seven to the south across Dublin Bay. The post’s own location covered the approaches to Dublin Bay. But with the effective closing of the Irish Sea to marine traffic following the laying of a minefield from the Wexford coast to Wales in May 1940, Howth Head saw little other than routine local marine traffic until the end of the war. Occasionally the post recorded an Irish Shipping vessel passing the Kish and a handful of times during the final months of the war Marine Service Motor Torpedo Boats and the patrol vessel Muirchú were sighted. The vast majority of incidents recorded in the post logbook referred to air activity and observations and is therefore not surprising that the primary role of Howth Head LOP was with regard to the air defence of Dublin.

III: The Air Defence of Dublin

Howth Head was the North Eastern limit of the no-fly zone over Dublin city a rough rectangle from Howth Head south to Dalkey, west to Tallaght, north to Collinstown airport and back to Howth Head. Aircraft inside this zone could be and were fired upon without warning by the anti-aircraft guns in the vicinity – their targets included American, German and British aircraft, as well as a handful of friendly fire incidents directed at Irish military and civil aircraft. Unlike their colleagues in Rosslare and in Donegal, there is no record of these guns scoring hits on incoming aircraft. Located with the lookout post on Howth Head were a sound locator, a
searchlight and a light anti-aircraft gun, most likely a heavy machine gun. Dublin’s air defence during the Second World War was extremely basic and well below strength. Searchlights at Howth, Clontarf, Ringsend, Blackrock and Dalkey working with sound locators on Howth Head and Sorrento Park in Dalkey would to identify aircraft and work in conjunction with batteries of heavy medium and light anti-aircraft guns to defend the city. An air attack on Dublin was expected from the east with incoming aircraft using the River Liffey as a landmark to position before attacking the strategic locations of Dublin Port with its oil storage tanks, the General Post Office, Government Buildings and the Telephone Exchange in the city centre as well as Defence Forces GHQ at Parkgate Street. All these facilities were located along the line of the Liffey. The incoming aircraft were expected to be lined up on their bombing run by the time they entered Dublin Bay and the heavy guns – two at Clontarf and four at Ringsend could engage targets up to 6½ miles away, that is to say
approximately the eastern end of the no-fly zone over the city marked by a line between Howth Head and Dalkey.
So within this context the LOP on Howth head had a very important strategic role in defence of Dublin city. The system was undoubtedly primitive, but working with posts along the east coast and as far southwest as Brownstown Head in Waterford, Howth Head reported all air traffic to Air Defence Command and ultimately, once a countrywide reporting structure was in place, to Air Defence Command’s Eastern Sector where aircraft were plotted. The night of the North Strand bombing of 30-31 May 1941 saw the system operate with considerable success, the major failing being that the phone system connecting LOPs to ADC in Dublin Castle
was overloaded and temporarily collapsed.
So it is predominantly air-traffic that I will talk about tonight. The LOP had a commanding view of traffic to and from Collinstown, now Dublin, airport nine miles west north west and also from the Air Corps base at Baldonnell to the south west of Dublin. Indeed daily Air Corps patrols along the east coast and the daily Aer Lingus return flight to England, to Liverpool and Manchester, are routine entries in the post logbook. But the logbook presents a puzzle at this point. Here are two scenarios. Is it possible that, perhaps possibly if a dignitary were on board, or material of sensitive nature was being transported, the post logged a single Aer Lingus Douglas DC-3 being joined in flight and escorted shortly after takeoff by an Air Corps biplane. For example at 1142 on the morning of 5 January 1945 the LOP logged one Douglas DC3 six miles northwest of the post flying east at 4,000 feet being escorted by an Air Corps biplane four miles northwest of the post at a higher altitude. If so it looks like the Air Corps fighter escorted the Aer Lingus plane to the limits of Irish airspace
because the post also regularly logged a returning Air Corps biplane shortly after the Aer Lingus aircraft had passed. I can’t say for certain, but possibly these were amongst the last flights of the Aer Corps three remaining Gloster Gladiators, which were finally struck off charge on 31 March 1945. However the Howth Head logbook records Irish biplanes flying in and out of Collinstown through April and May 1945, so presumably these are Aer Lingus’ de Havillands. So perhaps rather than escorted flights what the LOP was observing was two Aer Lingus flights taking off in close proximity to each other and flying together out over the Irish Sea. There are no 100% identifiable reports in the period I have examined of any of the sixteen Hurricanes that the Air Corps had on charge on 31 March 1945, though scores of low-wing, single-engined, single tailed monoplanes are reported passing the post. Perhaps one would have expected Hurricanes to escort important flights rather than the slower antiquated Gladiators. Which returns me to the likelihood of the aircraft being Aer Lingus de
Havilland biplanes. Presumably recourse to a timetable might answer this conundrum – however it shows the limits of the LOP logbook.

IV Analysing Coast Watching Service reports

Examining reports from a variety of posts along the coast shows the coastwatchers as a force that, despite differences of ability between posts, was capable and consistent in its operations and, despite various failings and the low level of technology available to them, a force that accredited itself favourably. Reports of incidents from posts tally not only with reports from neighbouring posts but also with reports from the belligerent forces that the coast watchers were observing. In fact the British often used coast watching service reports being radioed by Command Headquarters to Dublin to monitor the activity of their own aircraft.

When analysing reports from the LOPs it is best to follow a similar approach to that of military intelligence. Individual incidents reported by coastwatchers eachprovide interesting episodes, but they do not illustrate anything more than that specific incident. Incident reports were phoned to Command level reporting centres in a standard format across the Coast Watching Service network. To give you some examples: Volunteers T. Redmond and R. Moore reported to Marine Sector at 1629 on New Year’s Day 1945 that they had ‘Seen one LIBERATOR monoplane 6 miles EAST of post flying SOUTH altitude 2000 feet Nationality British Visibility
Moderate.’ Early the following morning their colleagues T. McLaughlin and F Gallagher reported at 0304 ‘Aircraft heard five miles NORTH EAST of post moving SOUTH altitude and nationality unknown Visibility Moderate.’ The day watch of 2 January, F Redmond and T McNally, reported at 0957 ‘8 Low Wing Single Tailed Twin Engined monoplanes 7 miles NORTH EAST of post moving SOUTH EAST altering course 6 miles SOUTH EAST and returning NORTH EAST heights from 2000 to 3000’. It sounds like aircraft training, but the precise aircraft type is not clear.
Such reports need to be pieced together to provide a general narrative and analysis over a period of time.
The tendency when reading LOP logbooks is to concentrate on the peculiar and unusual. For example, at 1401 on 23 February the LOP reported:

One Wellington and One Anson 4 miles north-east moving south. The Anson was looping the loop over the Wellington. Altitude 3000 4000 feet. Nationality British. Aircraft altered course 6 miles south-east and flew north at 4000 to 7000 feet. Visibility good.

While I am sure these reports brought a smile, what G2 actually wanted were broad brushstrokes covering daily and weekly events, patterns, sequences, repetitions and also periods of negative information where little happens as all were important in building up a picture of tendencies in any particular location. And I would ask you to bear this in mind through the paper.
It is a question of first establishing, by grouping and linking individual incident reports, what could be regarded as a normal and then piecing together the changing sequence of events from subsequent incidents. We will see below that certain events could be expected by the coastwatchers on duty to occur daily at set times and once this pattern of normal activity was established then it was possible to place unexpected and unusual events within this context until new trends were established and patterns of the belligerents’ activities and intentions emerged. A Daily Reports Summary taking incidents from all 83 Coast Watching Service LOP
reports over the preceding 24 hours was circulated every 24 hours by G2 to senior  military officers, the Minister for Defence and to the Department of External Affairs.
Reports for a given period were pieced together and plotted to show air activity off the east coast. What I hope this shows is that the individual reports each LOP phoned in to their respective reporting centre were accumulated and analysed. The final step  was known as the Command Intelligence Summary, a monthly report from the Intelligence Officer in each Command sent to the Director of Military Intelligence.
While this might seem an example of military bureaucracy, what I would like to emphasise is that the men who served at Howth Head LOP were part of a large information gathering operation that stretched around the Irish coast and played a critical role in the defence and foreign policy of wartime Ireland. This may not have been apparent to the men on Howth Head, they were simply reporting on events locally as they saw them, and this was the same all across the service. But what is apparent in retrospect and from examining military and diplomatic records in Britain and the United States, is that these reports from the Coast Watching Service could
find their way by top-secret channels to London and Washington and that the coast watchers were only a few steps removed from one of the most sensitive areas of Irish foreign policy during the second world war and that is Ireland’s covert military co-operation with the Allies under the veil of official neutrality.

V LOP 6 January to May 1945

Now turn to the post itself and place it in context before examining and analysing just what the coast watchers upon Summit of Howth Head saw and reported as the Second World War entered its final months in Europe.
Each post had a specific daily routine. Howth was no different. The post operated three watches: midnight to 8 AM; 8 AM to 4 PM; and 4 PM to midnight.
Weather reports were submitted to Air Defence Command towards the end of the evening and night watches – after nightfall and at dawn. The morning watch tested and checked the post’s telephone and its clock with Air Defence Command. These checks were critical as the post’s communications equipment had to be synchronised and in working order if its reports were to have any value to Air Defence Command and to Military Intelligence. The post also submitted a report to the Marine Service Sub-depot in Portobello Barracks in Dublin, today’s Cathal Brugha Barracks. This report covered the daily activities of the post regarding personnel and establishment matters and subjects covered included leave requirements, training, provision of uniform and kit, medical inspections, and the report announced any visitors to the post. The afternoon watch inspected the nearby anti-aircraft battery – a searchlight, sound locator and light anti-aircraft gun and its various associated hutments, barbed wire fences and warning signs. However by 1945 that post had been mothballed as
German air attacks on Dublin were now thought unlikely. Earlier, in 1944, ADC informed its men not to fire on Allied aircraft.
Reporting routine activity was the most taxing task facing Howth Head LOP in early January 1945. Standard day time observations were of Aer Lingus and Air Corps aircraft on the flightpath to and from Dublin airport passing three to six miles to the north from east and west and aircraft three to six miles offshore passing north and south. The aircraft flying south split between those that continued along the Irish coastline down past the LOPs at Bray Head and Wicklow Head or those who, using the Kish lightship as a waypoint, routed northeast. Traffic out of Collinstown tailed off after 4pm and when the final incoming flights ended near 6pm the evening and night watches recorded vastly reduced air traffic on the northern and southerly routes, though a large proportion of these flights evidently also used the Kish to the south of Dublin and the Rockabill light to the north of as waypoints, flying around Dublin to the east and then moving north again – a route first confirmed in 1941.
However G2 had learned from Admiralty sources that a new U-boat campaign was likely in the first weeks of the New Year. U-boats were en-route to the Irish Sea and sunk two British merchant ships off Holyhead on 11 January. 11 January was a quiet day at Howth Head. The Aer Lingus DC3 had made its return trip, Air Corps aircraft on patrol were logged and the only remarkable event was that the Sub-Depot had inquired about which men were to go for a dental inspection. However G2 sources intercepted reports of the sinkings off Holyhead and further learned that the in the hours after the attack the Dún Laoghaire to Holyhead mail boat had sailed with extreme precautions and without lights. In fact 30 minutes out of Holyhead the danger from U-boats was so acute that using the excuse of engine failure it returned to port. As the mail boat returned passengers on the vessel saw a flotilla of motor torpedo boats leaving Holyhead and later heard explosions from depth charges.
At 0935 on the morning of 15 January Howth logged three heavy explosions an estimated 30 miles southeast of the post and at 1240 heard heavy explosions an estimated 35 miles north of the post. There were also sightings of groups of three to five British fighter aircraft training off Howth, coming from the north 6-7 miles offshore, flying south towards the Kish and then sweeping back east and northeast.
But noticeable amidst all of this was a sharp rise in the amount of air activity passing approximately north-south and south-north along the Irish Sea seven to ten miles from shore, routes which suggested the passing flights were anti-submarine patrols. These flights continued the following day with ten Sunderland flying boats sighted on similar routes during daylight hours and a destroyer sighted 25 miles east moving south at dusk.
While the night watch was quiet, 17 January saw the Allied operations off Howth continue as 15 Group and 19 Group of RAF Coastal Command began intensive patrols over the Irish Sea to counter the new U-boat threat in the area. This was an area of the Irish Sea into which U-boats had not previously dared to penetrate.

The counterattack air deployment was seen by coastwatchers whose reports to G2 showed heavy air activity along the east and south to the east coast of Ireland on the 17th and 18th of January, with flares and gunfire reported during darkness.
On 17 January a Coastal Command aircraft sighted a moving oil slick, a sign of submarine activity, in the Irish Sea east of Skerries. That day Howth Head LOP reported many similar Coastal Command flights from mid-morning when at 1033 a Liberator, a favourite Coastal Command very long range aircraft, was sighted five miles to the south east flying north east low over the sea at 1,000 feet. It was followed a quarter of an hour later by a Sunderland flying boat at 500 feet following a similar route. That night Howth reported bright white flares to the north and south of the post. The following afternoon two frigates were sighted manoeuvring six to eight miles to the north-east during a period of continual air patrolling which suggested strongly that the U-boat threat remained real and present in the Irish Sea. It may also have been that the presence of a ‘large boat like a liner’ sighted ten miles north-east at 2043, fully illuminated moving south, probably a hospital ship, was the reason for this increased activity as air and naval assets sought to clear a path for the vessel, a second
presumed hospital ship being sighted moving south ten miles off shore on the evening of 20 January.
These operations greatly worried Colonel Dan Bryan, the head of G2. He wrote to Minister for Defence Oscar Traynor and the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces General Dan McKenna as well as to the head of the Naval Service and the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs that

the increase in aerial and naval activity off the east coast indicates the presence of a German submarine or submarines in the Irish Sea. These are the first instances of such activity against shipping, known to this branch, near the Irish coast. If such activities continue they will again direct attention to the question of the Irish ports.

The Allied counter-attack in the Irish Sea continued. In the encounter off Skerries, sono-buoys were dropped and naval vessels combed the area, but with no results. Signals intelligence suggested that up to five U-boats were now operating in the Irish Sea. The Royal Navy feared that they could have very serious effect on British anti-submarine forces training off Liverpool. Following a report that Hitler ordered the intensification of the U-boat war, the commander-in-chief of the Western approaches, Admiral Sir Max Horton, instructed Coastal Command aircrews to pay particular attention to areas of the Irish Sea were U-boats when being hunted sought cover by bottoming in suitable declivities on the seabed. These areas include the seabed of Howth and off Anglesey.
The frigates first sighted by Howth Head on 18 January remained off the Irish coast through 19 January and while identifiable Coastal Command activity was slight the presence of the naval vessels indicated a continued danger from U-boats.
Expecting the arrival of the Irish Shipping vessel Irish Larch at dusk that afternoon, Port Control instructed Howth Head to keep a sharp look out for the vessel and report her when she was within sight. She was duly reported at 2230, three miles southeast, safely entering Dublin Bay.
The last ten days of January saw no let up in anti-submarine operations off Howth. In a period of good weather and clear visibility, the post noting on the morning of 22 January that the Welsh Mountains were visible, the Sunderlands and Liberators of Coastal Command kept up regular patrols. In one crowded report at 1340 on 22 January Howth reported a departing an Air Lingus DC3 from Dublin airport, sighted at 2000 feet, six miles to the northwest, whilst ten miles to the east out to sea a Liberator and two Sunderlands flew low level anti-submarine patrols at 500 feet. Further east still on the horizon the post logged ‘six warships’ manoeuvring and tracking west towards Ireland. An hour and a half after the initial sighting the naval group was ten miles east south east of Howth. A destroyer from the group was reported dropping two depth charges and later as night fell red flares were seen from the direction of the force. Luckily the clement weather had continued, with good visibility, light south winds and a calm sea and this allowed Howth Head to send in detailed reports of this action.
Naval forces sank U1051 and U1172 south of Anglesey in late January, but Royal Navy Signals Intelligence suggested six further vessels were en route to the Irish Sea. However for our subject, Howth Head LOP, the story was not so exciting.
The weather changed for the worse on 23 January and with fog and rain reported. Fog reduced visibility and made aurally locating the direction of an aircraft more difficult. The post reported bright red flares to the east on 24 January, but in the murky conditions with reporting made more difficult by the phone going out of order,
Howth was reduced to reporting events over a more localised region. However the steady stream of Liberators sighted over the following days indicated that the anti-submarine war was still on.
The picture is somewhat scattered for early February with the consistent theme being routine daytime patrols by Air Corps and RAF interspersed with periods of intense anti-submarine operations flown by Liberators and Sunderlands, with the usual daily Aer Lingus flight passing east and west to the north of the post. The transit of groups of three to seven aircraft from north to south along the Irish Sea during the evening was followed by fairly quiet nights. Unusual actions were such as at 2128 on 2 February when an aircraft identified by its navigation lights 8 miles northeast flying south at 3000 feet was signalled to by Morse code by a presumed naval vessel it flew over. On 8 February, during a period of poor and stormy weather the post was informed by Eastern Sector ‘to keep a lookout for an Anson which was lost on [a] flight between Northern Ireland and Wales.’ Ten days later, on 18 February, just after 6pm, a second incident was reported when ‘Air Defence [Command] notified [the] post that [a] plane was lost between here and Dundrum Bay’ on the east coast of Northern Ireland beside Newcastle. The watch at Howth was to ‘keep [a] look out for wreckage’. Visibility had closed in through the day as overcast skies gave way to fog, through which RAF Liberators flying at low level searched for traces of the missing aircraft.
But more often aircraft simply passed from north to south offshore singly or in groups with occasional aircraft flying south to the Kish and then routing east or northeast. The remainder of February was by and large routine. The main focus of air and naval activity remained off the Wexford coast, but in early March G2 recorded increased air activity along the east and south-east coast.
On 6 March the Irish Times and Irish Press carried a Reuters report that ‘U-boats are in the Irish Sea – the submarine war is on again day and night without pause.’ That morning the Gardaí at Howth rang the LOP to tell the coastwatchers that ‘a submarine had been seen four miles off Rockabill’ fourteen miles directly north of the post. A number of Liberators flew past Howth Head during the day, but a sign that operations were underway were explosions on the horizon twenty to thirty miles east of the post out to sea on 7 and 8 March. The Allied counter-attack the coastwatchers were observing included the largest operational effort ever flown in one day by American forces operating with coastal command. On 8 March an American liberator of 103 Squadron made radio contact with a submarine off Arklow. Two days later Oberleutnant Herman Bruder,   commanding U1058 reported to Admiral Donitz that there was Allied air activity all day in the middle of the Irish Sea. This was already apparent to Howth Head LOP, the post reporting regular flares and explosions in the same vicinity to Military Intelligence. These sightings died down mid-month, partially due to a deterioration in the weather.
On the morning of 25 March a Liberator of 110 Squadron made contact with a submarine 40 miles north-east of Howth. The following day another Liberator made visual contact with a U-boat off Cahore Point. A periscope and a v-shaped wake were sighted, but the disappeared before an attack could be made. That day Howth reported a large number of flares to the northeast and to the southeast, but there was no obvious changes or increase in military activity off the coast of Dublin.
To the Commander of American forces operating with Coastal Command the operational effort in March was the greatest ever expended in any month by aircraft of his wing both in the number of sorties and hours on patrol, but nonetheless, German submarines continued their offensive in coastal waters of Britain and Ireland with some success. Howth did not see a great deal of this later part of the spring 1945 offensive, poor visibility and the centre of operations being located out to sea further  south down the east coast of Ireland were the reasons.
April saw a further fall off in anti-submarine operations and was quite a contrast to January. For April reports from Howth showed two definite trends. First is the almost complete absence of anti-submarine operations by combined air and naval assets. Second is the continuation of heavy air traffic along the east coast of Ireland. Day and night show different patterns. The majority of aircraft reported between midnight and 0800, perhaps 2/3 of them, came along the coast from the North, flying south over the Rockabill light. They generally did not alter their routes to avoid Dublin. The opposite was the case for the aircraft transiting the Irish coast from the south, they flew up the coast and routed north east by the Kish. Indeed on the early morning of 19 April the LOP reported an aircraft circling over the Kish before getting its bearings and flying northeast.
Day reports for April were much more numerous and the month the day watch was the busiest and most important of the three watches at Howth Head. Its reports showed considerable air traffic, though an almost complete absence of marine traffic, off Howth. Aer Lingus daytime flights took place almost daily, as did a regular British biplane flight from Collinstown as commercial air traffic between Britain and Ireland recommenced in the aftermath of D-Day. The number of reported flights by Irish biplanes is greatly reduced, perhaps bearing out the assertion of the Chief of Staff that the Gloster Gladiators were phased out at the end of March 1945? As with night-time flights the day reports reinforce the role of the Kish lightship as navigation aid for the majority of aircraft transiting the east coast of Ireland. Of these aircraft the majority are unidentified ‘Low Wing, Twin Engine, Single Tailed monoplanes’, either flying singly or in groups of up to half a dozen., though poor visibility with fog mid-month again reduced the number of incidents reported. Except for the sustained passage of Liberators during the afternoon of 11 April there was no sign of sustained anti-submarine activity during the month, the majority of flights appearing to be routine coastal patrols or groups of aircraft training. Probably if logbooks for Dalkey and Bray LOPs for the same period were factored in it would be apparent if any of these aircraft were from Baldonnell and perhaps a greater number could be identified.
A proportion of the aircraft flying from the south and passing northeast must be Irish Air Corps, but only one flight was seen to the south and heading south east. Perhaps the identification of these flights was made more difficult by the Dublin mountains in the background? For the record I should add that through April the evening watch from 1600 to 0000 was, with the exception of 18 and 25 April, quiet and unremarkable. 18 and 25 April were busy days for the day watch as they saw heavy air traffic past the post.
Despite the conflict winding down in Europe as Russian forces moved into the centre of Berlin, the level of military operations – training and transport flights – off Howth LOP continued as April gave way to May 1945. It was the same in the last week of the war. There are only two indications in the logbook that the war in Europe was ending – two messages to be on the look out for any German U-boats flying a black flag and seeking to surrender – these messages being phoned to all posts around the coast. In reality only the posts on the Inishowen Peninsula saw surrendering submarines as German U-boats were brought into Lough Foyle under escort. Despite the end of the war in May there was no immediate fall off in activity off Howth. The regular flights continued in the pattern of previous months. There was a noticeable increase in marine traffic with a cargo vessels and oil tankers taking to the waters of the Irish Sea in greater numbers.

Peacetime conditions saw the Defence Forces demobilise from their wartime strength. The Coast Watching Service was one of the first branches to be stood down.
Colonel Bryan, Commander O’Muiris, the Head of the Naval Service and a number of senior officers in the Army argued the case with the Chief of Staff General Dan McKenna for keeping the Coast Watching Service in existence in peacetime in a reduced form and they also argued that the service would be a necessity in any future war. Despite the coastwatchers having performed the role of a coastguard in alerting the lifeboat service to incidents at sea on many occasions during the war and thus having a viable peacetime role in a country with no coastguard it was not to be.
Howth continued in operation until the end of the day watch on 19 June 1945.
The men had been informed four days earlier by District Office Captain Jordan that they were ‘all men to have kit on post at 1400 on 19 June’. The post’s last observation, by Volunteer John Redmond, was at 1516 of an Aer Lingus DC3 coming in to land at Dublin airport. Perhaps in this there is something poignant in this for a new age of peaceful air travel in the post war years. But for LOP 6 it marked the end of the emergency after a watch of five and a half years. The telephone was dismantled and signed over into the custody of Private Lumsden of the Army Signal Corps and the coastwatchers melted back into civilian life.

VII: Conclusion

So what does all this tell us? I think I can draw a few short conclusions from the story of Howth LOP. First of all, we can see that Corporal Rourke and his men ran an efficient post and within the structures of the service they were part of played a confident and effective role. We know very little about how the Defence Forces operated during the emergency and more often than not we get Dad’s Army stories and inaccurate writing. In fact what was going on up on the Summit in Howth and being replicated along the coastline was a well thought out Irish response to an Irish problem. The state had no naval service in 1939, it had to monitor its coasts, how would it do this. The answer was through landward observation. Planned by Military Intelligence in conjunction with the general staff, the Coast Watching Service was set up in little over a year and its men were trained up from scratch. The post was well positioned, strategically located for air and marine observation and provided information of contemporary and, as I hope I have shown, historic value. We can use the LOP’s log to find out what the Second World War off Howth was like. The log shows us just how close the Second World War was to Ireland. Neutrality could not insulate Ireland from a conflict that took place around her shores and on the limits of her territory. The logbook of LOP 6 shows that the Second World War was taking place in the seas and skies off Dublin. The Second World War was not a conflict that took place remote from Ireland, it took place on our doorstep. We have forgotten this, or we possibly never realised it, and Howth LOP helps us remember that fact.

The copyright of any articles published here remain with the author in all cases

Leinster Postcard

RMS Leinster, over 500 died

An exhibit illustrating this event will, on occasion, be displayed in the Museum

The date is 10th October 1918. The place is Kingstown (now DunLaoghaire), Britain (of which Ireland is an integral part) is at war with Germany. A war that came to a close within a number of weeks.

At the Carlisle pier one of the Kingstown to Holyhead mailboat is loading. The RMS Leinster, one of four such boats named after the provinces of Ireland, owned by the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company. Launched at Belfast in 1897 the Leinster held the record for the fastest crossing to Holyhead, in 2 hours 24 minutes. At the time of launching she was the fastest ship in the world.

At this time the boat was painted in drab camouflage and carried a small gun on the afterdeck as protection. It relied on its speed to avoid submarines, which were the main menace to shipping. The crew was almost entirely Irish or Welsh. Apart from the crew and passengers, there was a team of postal sorters, working in the bowels of the ship, sorting mail delivered early that morning and due for next day delivery throughout Britain. The passengers consisted of a great variety of nationalities, many of them military, but also a large number of women and children traveling for many and varied reasons.

In total there were 771 people on board as the Leinster set sail at 8.50 a.m. under the command of Captain William Birch.

In the Irish Sea at that time there were three destroyers on patrol, His Majesties Ships, Mallard, Lively and Seal. Two of these were based in Kingstown and had set sail earlier. They reported heavy weather, it was going to be a rough crossing, with winds from the South-South-West, blowing up the Irish Sea at Force 6 or 7.

Unknown to everyone, a German U-Boat was in the vicinity under the command of Oberleutnant zur see, Robert Ramm. It was UB 123 and had made the hazardous journey from the Baltic around Scotland and Northern Ireland, sinking at least one merchant ship on the way. It was now ready and waiting for a target.

One hour after the Leinster left Kingstown, UB 123 sent off two torpedoes, one of which hit the Leinster in the bow, and the ship started to sink. An SOS was sent, which was picked up by her sister-ship the RMS Ulster which had only minutes before passed them on its way back from Holyhead. The message was relayed and sometime between 9.40 and 9.50 the Mallard, Lively and Seal rushed at full speed to the scene. Meanwhile boats and rafts were being launched, with great difficulty because of the heavy seas. Captain Birch was heard to say that he did not expect the ship to last very long, when another torpedo struck, this time in the boiler room, fragmenting a lifeboat in process of launching and sealing the fate of the Leinster, which lasted only a few more minutes. The time was around 10 a.m.

At 10 a.m. Mallard reported that their forebridge was washed away by the high seas, as it raced to the scene. At 10.15 The RMS Ulster docked and brought the first news of the disaster. A fleet of boats and ships started to get ready as fast as they could, hospitals were alerted, ambulances and transport assembled.

By 10.35 the three destroyers were on the scene lowering boats in an area 12-13 miles from Kingstown and 5 miles ESE of the Kish. Small boats got damaged, lifeboats were swamped, there were people in the sea everywhere.

The destroyers were joined by a flotilla of boats from Kingstown including the Helga. By 12.40 when the destroyers left for Kingstown taking most of the survivors, many of whom were suffering terribly from cold and immersion, a few of whom died on the way. Sadly Captain Birch, 61 years of age, did not make it. He was lost when the lifeboat he was on capsized at the moment of rescue.

It was the worst disaster ever in the Irish Sea, of the 771 who left Kingstown that morning, only 270 were saved. It was a national disaster, it was also a local disaster, there are families in Holyhead and today’s Dun Laoghaire who still remember their lost ones. Of the 22 postal workers on the boat, only one survived. Fortunately there are also some happy stories such as that of the survival of 16 year old cabin boy Thomas Connolly of Tivoli Terrace and his father Philip who was a greaser.

In late October and November, bodies were washed up on the Isle of Man and given burial there. One and a half months after the event, two bodies were washed up on the west coast of Scotland. On December 18th a bag of mail was found on the shore on the Isle of Man, dried out and later delivered overprinted with a purple stamp “Salved from S.S. Leinster”

UB 123 was probably responsible for sinking another merchant ship shortly afterwards but on Friday 18th October, her base lost contact and she was most likely sunk by a mine in the North Sea, on her way back home.

The copyright of any articles published here remain with the author in all cases