1916 -The Easter Rebellion
As the war dragged on, and England straining every nerve, using up men and material, the Sinn Feiners and the Irish Republican Army which, in reality, were closely allied, living up to the old motto “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity” set about re-organising their forces; this time, not with the idea of fighting Carson’s army, but taking control of the country and setting up a Republican Government in Dublin. Activities were again noticeable among the local sections but not on the same scale as that early in 1914. This was quite a different proposal and there was not the same enthusiasm to face the soldiers of the regular army as that of the Ulster Volunteers. Still there were some prepared to help in a general uprising and preparations went ahead accordingly.
In Dublin, the headquarters of the movement, careful and detailed preparations were made with men armed, supplied with ammunition and food and allotted their appointed stations with instructions on which they were to act and play their part on the day appointed, Easter 1916. On that day the revolutionists in Dublin set their long thought out scheme into motion with dire results to themselves and the city. The city, being brought under shell-fire resulting in the destruction of many fine buildings in the business centre. The leaders were very soon placed under arrest and brought before a military tribunal. Some of them were sentenced to death and executed.
It was intended that the rising and seizing of control should be general in the country, but the provinces, not being fully organised and prepared, failed at the first brush with regular troops.
At first there was a tense feeling all around as it was uncertain as to what extent the rising would spread. There were quite a number of those in sympathy with and ready to take their part in the movement, had they been well-organised and capably led.
The Naval authorities, uncertain of the fate of the war signal stations in case of an uprising, in order to safeguard the stations on Sybil Head in Kerry and Loop Head in Clare, had sent a sloop into the River Shannon with a contingent of marines on board in readiness to land, in case their help should be required in protecting these stations.
In the meantime on the Clare side, in accordance with orders, I had arranged with a certain ‘squireen’ owning a fine commodious house near Loop Head, to hand it over for the use of the marines if required to land. On the Kerry side the marines were landed, but happily for me on the Clare side, all continued quiet and the protection of the marines was not required.
After the uprising – among a certain section – there was a considerable anti-British feeling, while others were daily joining the King’s forces to do battle against the common enemy.
The military force in the country was considerably increased and, to a certain extent, the country was under military control. Soldiers were to be seen stationed here and there where their presence was considered necessary. In West Clare we had a strong military contingent, one section being billeted in the coastguard station at Seafield.
The possession of firearms and holding of Sinn Fein meetings was rigidly proscribed. Notwithstanding this, midway between Kilkee and Loop Head at the village of Cross there was a very active young priest with a strong following who continued the recruiting and drilling, each new recruit being sworn in by kissing the gun on enrolment. They were in possession of firearms and ammunition, one of them being injured by a ball cartridge when carrying out firing practice.
The military authorities, having received information that the Sinn Feiners were to hold a meeting at Carrigaholt, a small town six miles from Kilkee, placed a ban on the meeting and sent a number of soldiers in charge of a young and inexperienced officer – as far as dealing with such was concerned – with orders to prevent the holding of the meeting.
When they arrived, those taking a part had already collected in a certain building and the meeting and speaking was well underway. The young officer, asserting his authority, ordered the leaders to desist and close the meeting. This order they declined to obey. Seeing that peaceful persuasion was of no avail, he ordered a number of his men to enter and clear the room. In carrying out this order, most unfortunately, one of the soldiers pricked one of the civilians in the back with his bayonet, inflicting a serious wound causing the necessity of the removal of the man to the hospital in the county town of Ennis where the injury was found to be of a serious nature, the bayonet having penetrated the kidney. Complications arose and within a few days the man died. Naturally the rebels made capital out of this incident by enlisting general sympathy, particularly in this part of the county.
His remains were brought home for burial, first having been paraded through the town of Kilkee where much sympathy was displayed and resentment shown against the action taken by the military.
I was very sorry indeed that this should have happened, seeing that up to that time I had no apprehension when visiting Loop Head Station, day or night. I was now painfully aware of a bitter and resentful feeling against anyone representing the services and seeing that my visits to Loop Head took me along the road skirting Carrigaholt and through the village of Cross, the conditions arising out of this incident were by no means improved for me. Still, I carried on as usual with a free and easy attitude and a cheery demeanour toward all with whom I was brought into contact.
The unrest and the atmosphere of resentment created by the foregoing incident, Mc not always regarded with favour in doing so much work for the English government, did not altogether relish the idea of taking me to Loop Head after it became dark. I was a good customer and he would not like to refuse but I knew how he was feeling about it and took steps to relieve him of any further anxiety.
There were three motor cars in the place for hire and these well-worn old traps, not to be depended on to complete the journey out and back. However, I engaged one of these with a dare-devil driver for the night visits reserving Mc for the daylight.
For some reason the authorities gave an order that any officer or man leaving the immediate vicinity of his station was to carry his revolver. Personally, I decided to place mine in the safe and keep it there, concluding that it would be better for me to move about as usual and not let it be thought that those whom I met on the road were regarded as enemies of whom I need be afraid.
The wreck of the Kelp
Soon after the outbreak of the war the three mast schooner Kelp, of three hundred tons, was captured by one of our cruisers in the South Atlantic and taken to Stanley Harbour in the Falkland Islands. Every ship and cargo being valuable, it was eventually decided to send out a captain and mate, first to Buenos Aires, there to pick up a crew, proceed to Falkland and bring the vessel home to London. The captain was quite elderly, being over seventy, and his mate sixty-four – two hard weather, fearless old English sea dogs.
After leaving Falkland with their mixed crew of foreigners, they encountered fair weather until reaching the higher northern latitudes when winter gales were prevalent and, keeping a somewhat northerly course, wishing to make Cape Clare, he first sighted the South Arran Island light at the mouth of Galway Bay on a wild winter morning – the 16th of January – blowing a gale with a high sea. The old captain mistook this light for the Fastnet and, with the opening out of the daylight, being unfamiliar with the coast and failing to recognise the landmarks, soon found himself hopelessly on a lee shore in a shallow draught deeply laden craft with little or no chance of clawing offshore and reaching an offing.
Up ran the signal of distress and a word immediately came through of a ship in distress and likely to drive ashore. Orders were given to call out the rocket brigade and proceed by the coast road not knowing where she might come in.
The word having gone around that a ship was in distress a great number of people were attracted to the coast, in particular at Spanish Point where she eventually grounded, and being of a light draught was thrown high up on the rocks enabling the crew to get a line ashore by which means all excepting one man succeeded in getting out of the ship before the arrival of the rocket apparatus. By the time that I arrived on the scene the men were being cared for in a cottage and the old captain comfortable in a warm bed. In landing, the mate overtaken and knocked down by a sea was rather severely injured about the head requiring medical attention.
As the tide receded, the vessel being left high and dry, was very soon boarded by the crowd but as the cargo consisted of hides, horns and tallow, there was no inducement to loot the same, but some of the ship’s stores and private property of the captain and crew soon disappeared, some of the culprits being traced and severely punished.
As the local representative of the Shipwrecked Mariners Society, arrangements were made by me for a supply of clothing and care of the men who were very soon despatched to London, there to seek another ship. As soon as fit to travel the old captain made his way home declaring that Neptune had been very unkind to him on this his last and finishing voyage. The mate, who had to be carefully nursed for three weeks before being fit to travel, was most emphatic in his declaration that, war or no war, for the future his feet would remain on the solid ground.
The clothes that the seamen were wearing when landed together with other clothing recovered from the stranded wreck were hung out to dry and left out overnight. Lo and behold, when the morning light appeared, the clothing was not to be seen. It had disappeared during the hours of darkness and some of those responsible for its disappearance very soon found themselves answering a charge in the local court.
All this only indicated that there still remained a trace of the same blood in the people of Spanish Point and neighbourhood as in that of their forefathers who were said to have dealt so drastically with the shipwrecked seamen of the Spanish Armada that were so unfortunate as to be stranded on their shores and from which, it is said, the name of Spanish Point was derived.
It is quite common among some of the people to make use of expressions containing blessing or cursing, sometimes quite meaningless. At other times expressing the frame of mind of the person pronouncing either the blessing or the cursing.
Visiting the hotel at Milltown Malbay to arrange for the temporary housing of the men, the doctor – a young man – who after the excitement of the day, his attention to the men and the free passing of the bottle, now rather animated, was present with his friend, a young priest.
In conversing with me about the wreck, the care of the men and the payment of the expenses in a rather garrulous manner, made use of the expression: ‘God blast yer soul captain’. Although it was said in a meaningless and thoughtless manner and did not disturb me in the least, the priest, no doubt, disturbed and horrified that the doctor should be so rude and forgetting himself by speaking to me in such language and cursing my soul, immediately pulled him up as only a priest could do. “Why are ye afther cursing the captain in that manner, doctor?” said he, “it’s ashamed ye should be”. In order to pass over an awkward moment: “No offence meant I am sure” said I, being pleasant.
The doctor, thinking that he had overstepped the mark, and being corrected by the priest, said “Begging yer pardon father and begging the captain’s pardon, it’s only afther talkin’ I am. Will ye be afther a glass with meself?”
“Thank you kindly doctor”, said I, “we’ll get to that after business”.
And so the conversation continued, with the priest, the doctor and myself in rather more guarded language.
Finally there were numerous claims for payments for services rendered in rescuing and caring for the men in one way or another. It was my duty to weed out the genuine claimants from those attempting to get something for nothing. The doctor headed the list with £25 for professional services for extracting the spines from the men’s feet after they had crossed the rocks and stepped on the sea-urchins. Next came the cottager that took in the men and gave them hot drinks immediately after they got ashore with a claim for £10. Then the local publican, £2 for whiskey supplied. And a whole list of those claiming remuneration on various pretexts.
Being conversant with the bargaining methods usually adopted in those parts, every claim was considered accordingly. Settling with the doctor for £15, the cottager £5, the purveyor of whiskey £1 and several other claimants from £1 to 10/- each. The whole cost to the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society amounted to £70. This will give some idea of the daily claims on the funds of the Society throughout the Great War.
The reckless car driver, who had killed a child on a country road, was henceforth called into frequent requisition and one evening in broad daylight when taking me to Loop Head it happened that the driver was confronted with a number of pigs crossing the road exactly in front of the farmhouse to which the pigs belonged. This was not uncommon as animals were frequently met with grazing by the roadside. Patsy, in his reckless manner, without taking any heed or easing his speed and giving them a chance of getting out of the way kept straight on with the consequence that the wheel passed over one, laying it out. With an innocent and non-committal expression on his face he drove on. On my remarking: “I think we bumped that one Patsy”.
“Begorra sorr”, said he, “I was not afther feeling anyting. Indade, it’s not afther bumping the pig we are”.
Returning a couple of hours later – now twilight – the owner was waiting for us with the pig laid out in front of the cabin door but Patsy, with no intention of having any palaver with the cottager, switched on a little more juice and shot past, allowing no chance of his name being taken and leaving the forlorn cottager to mourn his loss.
On another occasion, overtaking a number of people returning from market plodding along slowly and quietly with the donkeys and carts, the driver, to show his cleverness in handling a motor car, kept up the speed, passing them either to the right or left, with total disregard of any rule of the road. At last, in making a sudden swerve to clear one of the donkey carts, mounted the hedge and was near enough to turning the car wheels uppermost. Not wishing to have such manoeuvring operated, I had to give him a sharp warning to be a little more careful and not take unnecessary risks. With all his faults I found him very useful and, although his brother was a ‘Shinner’, Patsy was always ready to render me a service.
Up to this time the explosives belonging to the rocket apparatus were still at Kilrush coastguard station, unguarded. On account of the unsettled state of the country, orders were received to have these explosives removed to Loop Head war signal station. Carting explosives from place to place unguarded was not altogether desirable and required forethought and caution. There was no alternative but to fall back on Patsy to help me. Engaging him for a run to Kilrush, away we started. Arriving at the coastguard station, I had to tell him that I wished to remove a few boxes and would he mind getting them out and placing them in the car. Whether he was aware of the contents of the boxes, I didn’t know. In any case he did not show himself in the least curious. He got out the cases and placed them in the car. Jumping in myself I said: “Now Patsy, the next stop Loop Head”.
We had to return over the same road and pass through Kilrush and Kilkee and, as we bumped along over the rough roads, I was praying that the old bus would keep running until I had got rid of our stuff. He certainly would not wish it to be known that he was removing explosives for the English government so, at his best speed, he made his way through the towns of Kilrush, Kilkee and the village of Cross without a stop and, to my great relief, deposited the stuff, placing it under the charge of the officer of the signal station.
The county of Clare was said to have the lowest percentage of Protestants of any county in Ireland. Consequently Protestant churches were few and widely scattered. In passing a very nicely built small church at the village of Kilbaha, three miles from Loop Head, Mc drew my attention to this church by remarking: “That church beyond sorr, the ass and he feeding in the haggart agin the church door is Mr Stane’s church. There is no religion in it now sorr”.
“Why is that Mc? What is there about it?”
“We call that the soupers’ church sorr”.
“Soupers’ church! What is the meaning of that?”
“In the days of the hunger sorr (the famine of 1845) the poor people out to the whest, ‘the Lord save us’, wid nothing to ate, no potatoes for the pigs and their dying of the hunger and some people ating the limpets off the rocks sorr, no flour for the wife to be making a griddle cake, no spuds and no mate. And afther dying of the hunger and dazase they were, sorr. ‘God save us,’” Mc reverently making the sign of the cross.
“Those must have been terrible days Mc” said I.
“Yes sorr. Dying of the hunger they were sorr, all the poor people in this part, in the village and in the cabins beyond. The hunger wid sorra a spud, very bad entirely.
Mr Slane, a gintleman that lived in the big house on the point beyond sorr, it wuz himself that would be afther having the soup made for the poor cratures that were dying of the hunger. It’s a baste he’d be afther killing sorr and boiling the soup wid stirabout male (ground maize) and anyting to keep away the hunger. Mr Slane wuz a Protestant sorr. And wid the hunger and he trying to keep it away. All the poor cratures it’s saying a prayer they’d be, fur the gintleman. Thin sorr it’s Protestants he’d be making thim! Wid the hunger on thim, and the gintlemen afther giving the soup, shure they would have the other religion, the same as Mr Slane. And the others called thim the soupers and that wuz the soupers’ church. Afther the hunger wuz gone and the soupers all dead ‘the Lord rest their souls’ there wuz no religion in the church afther. And we call it the soupers’ church”.
This story, probably told to Mc by his father or mother and told in his crude style, is without doubt a true account of a fully Protestant ‘squireen’ proselytising during the great famine when people died by the roadside in hundreds due to the failure of the potato crop in 1845.
The optimistic woman
The west of Ireland, open and exposed to the heavy rain clouds driven along by the Atlantic gales is noted for its abundant rainfall. The winter months were exceedingly wet, the county of Clare being no exception.
Our daily supply of milk came from a smallholding a mile or so from the town. It was the custom of the farmer’s wife to drive into the town of a morning with the ‘ass and butt’ (donkey and cart) and so deliver the milk to her customers from door to door. Her only protection from the torrential rain was that of a woollen shawl thrown loosely over the head and shoulders. Sometimes the shawl would be as wet as a swab. Should one remark on the discomfort caused by so much rain, she would usually reply “Arrah wishee, plase God it will be foine tomorrow”; always optimistic, always hopeful, and never complaining. On many a dark, cloudy and depressing morning with the rain descending in torrents and remembering the milk vendor’s helpful comment: ‘please God it will be foine tomorrow’, one concluded that here was a lesson worthy of remembrance by all grumblers about the weather conditions over which happily we have no control.
She had several children and those of an age had to give their morning help in feeding the pigs and poultry before setting out for school. One morning, being very late with the delivery of the milk, apologising, she explained the reason for this: ‘that the little divileen of a Micky couldna find the ass, and that the gypsies who had passed that way were afther getting it’.
During the summer months it was customary of certain tribes of gypsies to set out with their usual paraphernalia for a town through the country disposing of certain wares and, not the least important item of business, that of buying and selling asses. It was usual for them to be found driving a large pack before them.
It was quite a common practice of the cottagers, when the ass was not in use, to allow it after being tethered to wander and feed by the roadside and, when the word came along that the gypsies were on the move in the neighbourhood, the ass was not allowed to wander far, but was secured by a long piece of rope near the cottager’s cabin for the simple reason that, as the gypsies passed with a pack of asses wandering along at leisure, it frequently happened that the ass feeding by the roadside, attracted by so many of its kind, would join up and wander away with the goodly company, adding one more to the number at the disposal of the nomad. And leaving the cottager inconvenienced by the loss of his most useful animal.
Driving along the road and encountering the gypsies driving before them a large pack of asses, I made the attempt to count them. Counting over one hundred I became mixed with the numbers; there were probably thirty to forty more on the road that day. There were donkeys great and donkeys small, old and lame, young and frisky, strong and healthy, weak and puny, black donkeys, grey, brown and drab donkeys to suit every taste and requirement and, out of the vast selection, anyone could make a choice. The method of business was by barter, or cash, the price ranging from 2/6d to 25/-.
It was quite excusable of ‘the little divileen of a Mick’ when failing to find the ass feeding by the roadside as usual, in concluding that the gypsies had got it.
A Squireen’s House
For some months past, preparations had been going ahead for the erection of a direction finding station on Loop Head for the purpose of tracking the movements of enemy submarines around the coast. This was done by cross bearings from two or more stations detecting the direction from which the sound from the enemy submarines wireless signals came.
In due course, the station with its tall mast and all its necessary equipment was completed, the crew arriving from Devonport depot. In the meantime housing accommodation had to be found, and it so happened that about a quarter of a mile from the station there stood a fine twelve room, one storey vacant house. It was once the residence of a squireen having jurisdiction over the land in this neighbourhood under the auspices of the landlord.
The woodwork of most beautiful mahogany was, no doubt, made from flotsam cast up by the sea not far from this lonely spot, far away from the eagle eye of the receiver of wreck.
At the same time it was decided, on account of the unrest, to furnish a military guard for the protection of both the war signal station and the wireless station, so that housing accommodation had to be found for the military also.
This house was commandeered and no less a person that that of a rear admiral from the retired list – performing the duties of district captain – accompanied by an official from the Board of Works office, appeared on the scene in performance of a most important duty, requiring experience and mature judgments, that could, by no means, be left to a subordinate officer. That of arranging separate rooms in the house for occupation by the military as well as the naval men. After this had been decided on, then arose the question of cooking. Thinking that naval and military would not mix very well, I ventured to suggest that each should have a cooking range in their own quarters. This was opposed by the gallant one who gave orders that a large range should be provided in the naval quarters to be used by the military also. I had my doubts if that would work satisfactorily. For a few weeks this arrangement was tried out until the cook who came with the naval men resented the stoking of fires and boiling of pots for the use of the military. This led to unpleasantness on both sides and ultimately the soldiers withdrew, keeping to their own quarters, and doing their own cooking without the convenience of a cooking range.
At the end of three months a bill for six tons of coal was forwarded to the district office. This raised the question of expense and the gallant rear admiral – who was a stickler for economy – referred the question back, ordering me to report the reason for such excessive expenditure of fuel. There was only one reason: the large range and correspondingly large fireplace which had been selected by himself. Notwithstanding this, I had to stand a rub for allowing the use of so much coal and ordered to reduce the expenditure in the future. Not always very pleasant to be reprimanded for a lack of practical knowledge on the part of a senior officer.
The military immediately set to work digging trenches right across the headland setting up barbed wire fencing, posting sentries and so cutting off the access to the war signal station and wireless station, which continued to the close of the war.
Although the Republican uprising, during Easter 1916, had been scotched and some of the leaders executed, the movement was by no means dead. Not the least active of the original leaders now at large was one Countess Markieviez who was arrested at the time but, escaping the firing squad, was now on tour moving from place to place addressing public meetings in order to keep the movement alive. This female fiery dragon of the party during an itinerancy of the south west paid a visit to Kilkee.
It may be said that, in this town, her name and the extreme methods advocated by her did not altogether appeal to the leaders connected with the local movement. The parish priest, as one setting an example, was anything other than one of her supporters. Consequently, on her arrival, her reception was of a very flat nature. No band, no beating of drums, no flag waving, no singing of patriotic songs, no acclamation at the presence of one of the champions of liberty; a few very juvenile members of the community only being present to form the guard of honour.
Although this was somewhat disappointing for the countess, the public meeting as arranged was held the same evening in the public hall which was well-filled. Having heard and read so much of this most notorious person, out of sheer curiosity, I decided to attend and hear for myself her own account of the previous Easter event and her policy for the future.
The address included a full account of the preparations leading up to the date fixed for the attempt of seizing the capital and setting up a Republican government by armed force. This was followed by a volume of vitriolic abuse of everything English, in particular against the English government in their suppression of the Republicans and their treatment of the political offenders.
She gave a further account of the training of their men, in readiness for ‘the day’; the concealment of arms and ammunition; the disposition of the men for attack. Providing each man with food and drink sufficient for two days and, how these men, to the great disgust of their leaders, promptly devoured the lot at the first meal. And as there were no arrangements for further supplies, after the first day becoming hungry, and being in no mood to continue the fight on an empty stomach, they laid down their arms and surrendered.
A graphic account was given of her leadership of the brigade for which she was responsible and how, wishing to join forces with another party, a tunnel was cut underground leading into the Royal College of Surgeons, which they succeeded in reaching. And as – in the darkness – they groped their way through the basement, how she laid her hand on a body reclining on a table and, on feeling the hair on the face, knew they were in the dissecting room of the college and this, most assuredly, must be the body of a man laid out for dissection. Reaching the upper rooms, they held a position of advantage for popping at any objectionable person such as a soldier or policeman.
This blood-thirsty woman in relating her experience gave an account – rolling out her utterances with apparently great pleasure bordering on fiendish delight – of her, on being accosted and questioned by a constable, whipping out her revolver and shooting him dead on the spot – a pause – “and…I…heard…his scull…crack on the pavement!” Absence of applause. Using the most bitter and biting language in order to arouse the most hateful instincts of her audience, she went on to enlarge on the villainy of the English, the enemies of their country, the very worst race that ever walked the earth and of the barbarous treatment of Irish prisoners in the dirty English prisons. Having done her best to arouse the spirit of hate in the audience – which sadly failed to respond – she called on them to renew the fight until victory was attained.
Some of my kind-hearted acquaintances, sitting near to me, I felt sure were sorry for me to have to listen to such venom and almost felt that they should apologise. It struck me as being very much overdone and altogether foreign to the real kindly Irish nature. Naturally Paddy desired the privilege of ruling his own country and who could blame him? But he – speaking generally – had no desire for an Englishman’s blood, such as that advocated by the noted countess.
I did not think that the audience altogether approved of the wild utterances of this most irresponsible advocate of bloodlust. And some of those that I talked with after, like myself, concluded that when she heard the policeman’s skull crack on the pavement, someone else heard the wail of the widow and orphan.
Prisoners of the RIC
It frequently happened that when documents of a confidential nature were to be sent out from the headquarters at Queenstown, instead of passing them through the post, an officer had to make the journey and receive the documents in person. On one of these journeys, as usual, I had to change at Charleville and wait for an hour and half for the connection.
It was now getting dusk and nearing the time for the Cork train to arrive when I noticed that people were congregating in great numbers in and around the railway station. While I was wondering what lay behind the gathering together of such a medley crowd, a contingent of Royal Irish Constabulary under arms – about twenty in number – arrived and took up a position on the departure platform. Observing the tense and excitable feeling prevailing among the assembly, being in uniform and fully aware of the strong feeling among the Sinn Feiners against the King’s men, I thought it best – in case the mob got out of hand – to get close to the constabulary. This I succeeded in doing by working my way through the crowd.
In a short time a further number of constabulary arrived, with two prisoners under arrest. They had appeared before the magistrates that day and the case being adjourned, the prisoners were remanded in custody and were on their way to Cork gaol. With the arrival of the prisoners on the platform, the crowd – who no doubt would have liked to rescue them – commenced shouting and jostling the police and generally getting out of hand. I must confess that I was not enjoying this little show in the very least.
These stalwart peelers did not appear to mind but held their ground like a granite ring with the prisoners in the centre. Their concern was to see that the prisoners did not get away and immediately the train drew up at the platform they were quietly bundled into a reserved compartment followed by the escort. I jumped into an empty carriage. The inspector of constabulary, seeing me, entered the same compartment and immediately lowered the blinds, that he might not be seen from the railway embankment. At the same time remarking we had better have the blinds down, it may prevent a shower of stones or some other more effective missile coming through the window. A cheery remark, thought I, as we pulled clear of the station with a feeling of relief to be again speeding on my journey.
The Sergeant helps me
The enemy submarines were now very busy in the North Atlantic. One of them, when cruising about one hundred and fifty miles to the westward, fell in with a ten thousand ton ship homeward bound with a general cargo. On being ordered by signal from the submarine to stop the ship, the captain disregarding the order, decided to try and get away by altering course and zigzagging. After carrying out these tactics and eluding the submarine for several hours, as night came on, he concluded that he had succeeded in getting away. But, alas, when the moon arose, shedding forth her brilliant light on friend and foe alike, the submarine once again sighted its prey. And this time, without giving the crew a chance to get away in their boats, fired a torpedo into her, causing such damage that she very soon listed over, disappearing into Davey Jones’ locker. But not before the captain, officers and crew had got into the boats.
The captain, two officers and twelve men in one boat eventually landed at a small village six miles from Kilkee. On behalf of the Shipwrecked Mariners Society, their physical comforts received attention, providing them with temporary accommodation and sending them onto Liverpool for a fit-out of clothing in readiness for another ship.
The ship’s lifeboat, in which the men landed, was left on the beach and, as there were no coastguards or other representatives of the Receiver of Wreck men to take charge of the boat, a woman owning a considerable stretch of land, whose house and grounds were quite close to the spot where the men landed, had set covetous eyes on this boat and, when visiting this place on the following day, it was found that this person had practically taken possession of the boat, claiming it as flotsam for the simple reason that it came in on the foreshore of which she was the owner.
As a representative of the Receiver of Wreck, I could see that if the boat was allowed to remain, there would, in all probability, be some difficulty in finding a sufficient number of men to get the boat out again against the wishes of this influential person. It was felt that the boat must be removed from her private enclosure but I scarcely knew how it could be done without incurring expense. Eventually I visited the police barracks for the advice of the sergeant. A very decent fellow he proved to be.
After listening to my representation of the case, he said: “And shure Captain, ye can be afther laving it to meself. We’ll be getting the boat out for ye. Its spaking to the bhoys I’ll be. And I’ll be afther telling thim that Mrs Maloney is stealing the boat from the sailors and to get it back to the strand. Thin it will be sold, and the money will buy clothes for the poor fellows”. Trust an Irishman to find a way out!
“Very well put sergeant,” said I – with many thanks – “It’s leaving it to yourself, I’ll be”.
True to his word, the next day the boat was removed back to the strand and eventually when sold, I saw to it that Mrs Maloney was not the purchaser.
A case of arms
Orders had been given by the proper authority that the rifles at Loop Head War Signal Station were to be exchanged for another pattern. After a few days information was received that a patrol trawler would land a case of arms giving the date and hour of her expected arrival and instructing me to make arrangements for the immediate conveyance of the case to the signal station for which it was destined. Falling back on my friend Patsy once again, I instructed him to have the car down by the landing place at a stated hour, that a boat was expected with a couple of packages. As the trawler drew near and the boat was seen to be making its way toward the landing slip, it being something unusual, a crowd very soon collected. Patsy was there with the car – an open one with a moveable hood.
As the boat drew alongside, in order to blind the bystanders as to the contents of the arms chest, a strongly built case, and with the rifles heavy to handle, I ordered the men to be careful in handling the case not to damage the delicate wireless machine. And before the onlookers realised what we were handling, Patsy, the driver, had found a resting place for the chest in the back of the car. Saying to him: “Loop Head”, I jumped into the car and we were off. Once on the road, providing that Patsy could keep the old bus moving, I had no fear. Such were the precautions required in the handling of small arms during this troublesome time.
The following day, meeting the resident magistrate – a personality in any small town in Ireland – who was curious to know what the big box contained that was landed yesterday. Not being inclined to satisfy his curiosity I replied: “Only a mummy, for use in connection with the station on Loop Head”. “A mummy”, he said, passing on, no doubt wondering if it was a genuine Egyptian or a mummy made in Birmingham.
Several weeks had passed without hearing a word in reference to the ammunition for the new pattern rifles supplied to the war signal station when instructions were received to the effect that, on account of the uncertainty of things in the County of Clare, it had been decided to provide the stations on Loop Head with a supply of provisions such as beef, biscuits, etc. to be stored as a reserve in case of their being cut off at any time.
At the same time I was ordered to proceed as far as Mallow, there to meet an officer arriving from Queenstown by a certain train who would hand over the provisions to my care. Thinking it rather unusual that a few cases of provisions should require an officer to be personally responsible, on arrival at Mallow and meeting Lieutenant Pincher with whom I was acquainted, I asked: ”Why all this fuss and precaution over a few cases of provisions?” Whereon he informed me that there was something of more importance than the provisions; that there were two cases of rifle ammunition and the rear admiral, who was quite fidgety about its transport, had decided that it was a good opportunity to pass it on with the cases of provisions, an officer to be held responsible. The lieutenant, counting the packages as they were being transferred to my train, pointing to a mail bag, said: “The stuff is in that mail bag”. Having satisfied myself that the number of packages was correct and leaving them in charge of the guard in the guard’s van, I took my seat as usual.
Arriving at Limerick there was a further transfer to another train. It so happened that the usual sacks of mail were also in the guard’s van and the post office van waiting on the platform to receive them. The mail bags having been handed out, my consignment of goods came next and, as I counted them, there was one short. Of course the guard said there were no more – that was all that were placed in the van. Running my eye over them, I detected that the mail bag containing the ammunition was missing. For the moment I had strange visions of a severe jacketing and a reprimand for failing in the performance of my duty.
Mentioning to the guard that it was a mail bag that was missing, “Begorra sorr”, said he, “The postman must be afther taking it wid him in the mail van”. Without delay I shot out of the station in pursuit of the van, overtaking it just as it reached the post office. As they commenced to unload, I made it known to an official that I was in quest of a package enclosed in a mail bag that had possibly been taken by the post office man in mistake. Could I check the sacks as they were unloaded? No doubt he thought this strange, that I should be in quest of a mail sack, but raised no objection and, as the sacks were handed out of the van, to my great relief I spotted the missing sack. Claiming the same and pointing out that it was not sealed as were the mails he, without raising any objection, allowed me to take it away.
This was the ammunition for the new rifles at Loop Head and, although somewhat undignified and contrary to all naval usage, I threw the sack over my shoulder, joyfully making my way back to the railway station and taking good care not to leave it out of my sight until it was safely deposited at the war signal station.
The purchase of a donkey
After the outbreak of war, and the war signal station at Loop Head had been fully manned for the duration, it was very soon discovered that the one small rainwater tank was not at all sufficient for the use of the men. It was therefore necessary to employ a man to bring a barrel of water daily from a distance of nearly two miles. This was costing four shillings per day. As the war dragged on into the third year and with a wireless station added, the excessive daily cost for water being brought to the notice of the rear admiral – a strict economist – he proposed that a donkey, cart and barrel should be purchased in order that the men could fetch their own water, both for the wireless station and the war signal station. After reporting that there was suitable accommodation for housing the donkey in the buildings recently taken over and that there was no reason why the men should not fetch their own water, in due course I was ordered to make the purchase as suggested.
After making enquiry for a person with a donkey for sale and, making it known that I wished to become a purchaser, I had considered certain offers of old and weary looking animals with their horny shoeless hoofs pointing toward the nose. On a Sunday morning a country man, after attending mass, came along to my house offering an ass for sale. I was busy and could not give the time to bargaining and arguing over the price such as the peasant is always accustomed to do. This was, however, a possible looking animal and I decided that I had better try and strike a bargain.
To draw the water, the donkey would have a long uphill pull and we required a sound animal. We commenced business.
“What is the age of the donkey?”
“Five years sorr.”
“How long have you had it?”
“Two years sorr.”
“Where did you buy it?”
“From the gypsies sorr.”
“How do you know its age, seeing you are after getting it from the gypsies?”
“By the truth sorr. Look at the ass’s mouth yer honour. If he was more thin five years ould sorr, his teeth would not be as clane as that yer honour”.
“Can he pull a large barrel of water up the hill to Loop Head?”
Assuming an air as much as to say ‘don’t insult the beast’, he replied, “Ara wishe yer honour. That ass is a strong as a horse, it’s two barrels he would be afther pulling up that hill aisy”.
“Does he kick or bite?”
“Why are you selling it?”
“It’s two others we have sorr and herself said I should be afther giving this one away”.
Accepting the country man’s assurance of all the good qualities and virtues of the ass, the business proceeds.
“What price are you asking?”
“Two poonds tin sorr”.
In his own vernacular I replied “It’s thirty shillings I’ll be after givin you”.
With an attitude of mild contempt at my offer, and its ruined intiraly he would be, he declared ‘the ass wuz worther more thin three poonds and its cheap he wuz giving it to yer honour.’ “The ass is worth twenty shillings and I am offering you a good price, thirty shillings”.
Playing up an old trick, he took the animal by the head and led it away – possibly thinking that by assuming this attitude he would get his price. Without any remark I allowed him to depart. After a time back he came. “It’s two poond tin I’ll be afther giving it to yer honour fur”, said he. Seeing that prices were very high I thought that I ought not to drive a hard bargain and after a little further argument a compromise was reached. I was to be ‘given’ the ass for two pounds and to be given two shillings and sixpence luck money. Foolishly I handed him one pound seventeen and six which did not please at all, seeing he was deprived of the pleasure of handing back the luck money. I should have followed the usual custom of handing him the two pounds and allowing him to hand me back the money for luck, thus satisfying himself that he had received his price and at the same time giving me the pleasure of receiving the gift of two shillings and sixpence for luck.
Neddy, after being duly installed in his new quarters, soon became quite a favourite and pet of the bluejackets who, in their kindness with no intention of his being left at any time short of food or going hungry, were so lavish in filling the rack with sweet hay, even going to the extent of purchasing oats – very little hay and certainly oats had never figured in his menu before – that, the expense incurred in this way and the loss – after closing the stations – on the sale of the donkey and cart, it is very doubtful if the economy, or money saved by the purchase of a donkey was really worthwhile. But the economical rear admiral was well satisfied and that was all that mattered.
In the early part of the year the Sinn Feiners were still very much alive and making their presence felt in various ways. About this time an announcement by the government appeared in the press calling on the agricultural community to put as much land as possible under cultivation in order to help the food question, now becoming of vital importance.
In the eastern part of the County of Clare there was a very active company of ‘Shinners’ who took this liberally, concluding that anyone was at liberty to work up any uncultivated land. With horses and ploughs they set to work, ploughing land on which they had no right of entry. This movement was of such an extensive character that the magistrates and police were not equal to dealing with the situation and had to fall back on the military who very soon made their presence felt by checking those lawless proceedings. This brought about so much unrest that the authorities considered it necessary to place the county under martial law and not to allow anyone to pass in or out of the county without a permit. Such was the state of affairs at this time, making it – to say the least – most inconvenient for everyone.
Very soon after this outbreak of lawlessness a word came along warning coast watching and other stations that a possible attempt might be made to land arms and that a sharp lookout should be kept. It was quite evident that the trawlers on patrol had also been warned as they were more than usually active.
At Liscannor Station the station officer had been sent back for coast watching duties and was there alone. In the uncertain light of fading day one of the trawlers on patrol stood into Liscannor Bay hovering about until lost to sight in the darkness. He, with visions of the landing of arms, got into communication with the military headquarters, reporting the sighting of a suspicious craft, in all probability the vessel for which they were on the lookout. The general in command, taking no risks of a consignment of arms getting through, gave orders for his men to stand to arms, march out, and take up their positions, spreading for miles across the country, cutting off all approach to the shore. The night watch passed and, nothing unusual having happened, with the coming of the dawn, the disgruntled troops plodded their weary way back to camp, cursing the fool of a coast-watcher for giving them a night out.
The general, with certain of his staff who, immediately on the alarm being given, had made his way to Liscannor in order to obtain first-hand particulars from the coast-watcher reporting the suspicious craft, and spreading accordingly in a soldier-like fashion, was quite sporty about it, even to giving the coast-watcher credit for his sharp lookout and prompt action in passing on the information of a suspicious craft which in reality was a patrolling trawler whose dim outline in the fading light had given rise to this mild bit of excitement.