Gathering tensions

Home Rule

At this time Mr Asquith, being the Prime Minister of the Liberal Government, had introduced the Home Rule Bill for Ireland. Soon after the introduction of the Bill, with every possibility of it receiving adequate support and finally becoming law, a reaction became apparent in the North of Ireland. Sir Edward Carson, as the leader, fearing that Home Rule would, for them, become Rome Rule, and as a minority fearing that theirs would be crushing taxation, declared that Ulster would never submit to rule from a parliament in Dublin and would resist any such proposal, if necessary, by force of arms and, to this end, set up a provisional government with the nucleus of an army for defence or attack, by the enrolment and equipment of thousands of volunteers, with the provision of attendant services such as an army medical corps with nurses, equipment and supplies. The enrolment of volunteers and importing of arms from Germany was carried on in a feverish ferment, the Protestant clergy blessing the colours of the various battalions to the accompaniment of prayers, hymns and sermons.

This determined attitude of opposition by the Ulstermen gave all those in the South that were pressing for a measure of self-government food for thought and consideration as to the steps that should be taken in face of the threatening attitude of the men of Ulster. The reply from the leaders of the Sinn Fein movement eventually being made known was to this effect: We too must enrol our volunteers, carry on our drill, import arms and ammunition, and, in like manner, be in all aspects ready for any emergency and should the necessity arrive, defend ourselves.

The whole of Ireland from the Giant’s Causeway to Cape Clare was seething with excitement. Home Rule and the attitude of Carson was the one topic. In the bar, house, the train, the street, in town and village, the whole atmosphere was charged, as it were, with an electric current that might at no distant date ignite the whole country.

As the Home Rule bill passed through its various stages, discussions and amendments, and the prospects of its final approval by a majority of the House of Commons became apparent, and the preparations by the Northerners for an eventual struggle became intensified, the recruiting of volunteer bands in the South was rapidly extending and preparations made for any eventuality that might arise. The challenge by the North had been accepted by the South.

In town and village, almost every able-bodied young man had enlisted as a local volunteer and, following their leaders, were to be seen carrying out all military and field movements using dummy wooden rifles for the occasion, in many instances the real weapons being held in readiness for action. With such warlike preparations going on, one could not but ask oneself where one stood in this matter and to what it might lead in the end.

Amidst all this feverish preparation, as a naval officer representing The Admiralty and other government departments, one felt that it was more necessary than ever to maintain a free and friendly attitude – apart from any political bias – as I had done hitherto, and to be most careful not to give the slightest offence by word or deed.

Frequently, those mostly interested in the burning question were only too pleased to hear my views with a free and frank discussion as to the wisdom of all the preparations that were going on. I always held that a government that granted Home Rule was in duty bound to stand by its provisions and that all the drilling was a mistake. The argument on their part was to this effect: That when self-government came and an Irish Parliament had been set up in Dublin, if there should be any monkey tricks with the Ulstermen they must be ready to meet them on equal terms.

Personally, I was on the best of terms with everyone, but I must admit that at this time the general outlook did not appear to be very reassuring, never knowing when there might be an attempt to land arms and that in the execution of duty one might be brought into opposition to one’s neighbours.

No-one in the country was allowed to be in possession of fire-arms of any description. In spite of this law the local branch of Sinn Fein were collecting and receiving subscriptions for the purchase of arms. Collecting from door to door they called on me asking for a subscription. Even had my sympathy been with the Sinn Fein movement, it was unthinkable that I should subscribe to their fund in any way. Receiving them in a free and easy manner and reminding them that, although I was usually numbered among the subscribers to any local fund, I was sure they would quite understand where I stood in this case. That brought a reply – possibly with a little blarney: “Shure and that’s right Captain. Thank you Captain. It’s yerself sorr that would be afther helping us”. And so they departed on the same good terms as before.

Thus the drilling and exercises were proceeding week by week. Cruisers were patrolling the coast to prevent the landing of arms and ammunition and every government department was on the alert. Conditions had now arrived at the stage where we could only ‘wait and see’ what the future held in store for us.

A Neighbouring Farmer

Farming in West Clare took on varying degrees. In some instances the farm might be a few acres of poor bog land, exposed to the beat from the Atlantic gales from which the tenant was just about able to scratch out a bare existence. From other larger farms and better land the tenant was able to rear good cattle, pigs and poultry and to show a bank balance at the close of the year. And if the farmer should be fortunate enough to have purchased his farm under the conditions laid down in the various land acts, there was every encouragement for him to improve his land and get the very best out of it.

Amongst the latter was Farmer Burk whose farmhouse, land, and buildings was in sight of my house. He was past middle age, a lean raw-boned man, upright and well-preserved, of a genial and good-natured disposition and a friendly neighbour. His outdoor life, plain living, no excesses, with very little in the way of luxury, had given to him robust health. His wife, a hard worker, well able to take care of his money and making the last penny from the dairy produce, which was her responsibility, placed him among the men of substance.

His attention was given chiefly to dairy produce, the quarter part of which was disposed of locally during the holiday season. Some hay and a little corn was grown for cattle food but not a great deal as the dairy cows were allowed to go dry during the winter.

Here I saw the farmer and his son beating out the corn with a flail after the manner of the ancients. They were a quaint pair – with sons and daughters of marriageable age – and often afforded me a little innocent amusement. There had been different attempts at making a match for the daughters. These had failed to mature. Possibly the fortune offered by Farmer Burk not being sufficient to satisfy the demands of the fond father seeking a partner for his favourite son. In this case the girls resented the idea of match-making by their parents and much rather would have been free to make their own choice but there was no alternative. The usual custom must be followed and a match arranged between the parents in the usual manner.

During the summer evenings visitors wended their way to the farm for milk, cream and butter. After the process of milking the cows had been completed, the milk separated and filled into tubs, the calves were allowed into the farmyard for their evening meal, rapidly emptying the tubs to the amusement and interest of the holiday-makers from the city.

It so happened that one summer the farmer’s wife, who apparently took on the responsibility of looking after the calves, was very much troubled as most of them were the subjects of ringworm and none of the remedies tried did any good or effected a cure. One of the visitors, hearing the story of the scourge of ringworm among the calves, speaking as one with a knowledge of this trouble to which calves are sometimes subject, gave his opinion and advice that a treatment of spirits of turpentine given to the calves in their milk would prove a positive cure. He failed to mention a word as to quantity but seeing that it was a gentleman from Limerick that had told “herself” of the cure, his advice was accepted without question.

The spirits of turpentine was procured and at the evening hour the milk from the cows having been drawn off and separated, and the tubs filled in readiness for the calves to drink, following the advice received, a liberal quantity of the medicine that was to eradicate the ringworm was added. The calves, without any trouble, drank the milk as usual, but very soon after they had partaken of the milk and turpentine they appeared to become unusually playful and frisky. After a little while, as the turpentine took effect, they became rather more than playful and frisky, rushing around the farmyard quite out of control, bumping against any obstacle and knocking one another over.

Clearly the calves were intoxicated, wild and uncontrollable. The farmer, in great consternation, declaring that “herself” had poisoned and killed the whole lot. Herself, in a frenzy, calling down all the bad luck in her vocabulary on the gentleman from Limerick. And so the calves continued their wild antics until, through exhaustion, one by one they fell and fortunately slept off the ill-effects of the turpentine that was to work the magic cure.

Taking a stroll down to the farm with my wife, who had to pay a small account for provisions received, after a few pleasant remarks and handing over the money, from an odd shilling there was sixpence change to come back. This to all appearance “herself” was in no hurry to do. Reminding her of the sixpence change ‘herself’ addressing the husband: “Have ye e’n a sixpence ould man?” Himself: “Where the divil would I be getting a sixpence?”
Herself: “It’s yerself that have a sixpence. It’s wanting the sixpence I am”.
Himself: “Arrah, give the lady back the shilling. Give the lady the sixpence”.
Herself: “Indade I will not be afther giving the lady the sixpence. Give me your sixpence ould man”.
Himself: “It’s no sixpence I have shure. The divil a pinny am I afther having. It’s yerself that have the pinnys. Give the lady the sixpence for luck”.
The word from himself to allow the sixpence for luck fell on deaf ears, and after a while the sixpence change was produced by ‘herself’.

While crossing one of Farmer Burk’s grass fields reserved for hay, seeing him approaching and thinking that he might possibly object, as I drew near I remarked that I hoped that I was doing no harm in trespassing on his grassland. In quite a nice mild manner he replied: “Shure and what haram could ye be doing,” adding in slow and measured tones: “My land? Shure it is not my land. It’s God’s land. I have it only for a little while. Lent to me it is, for my cattle and pigs. Arrah, but ye can walk over it as oft as ye please”. It struck me that the remarks of Farmer Burk as to the personal possession of land were worthy of a note in one’s book of remembrance.

Knowing the good lady to be a bit close and being near the farm buildings, seeing ‘herself’ in the dairy butter-making, I crept near the open window unobserved and remarked aloud so that she might hear: “This would be a good place to visit at night. A good purse full of gold would be found here. Begorra, I think I’ll try it!”
Herself: “Who is that out there? Who is it? Who is it? Who is that spaking? Is it going to rob meself yer are?”
Laughingly I appeared in sight.
“Ach now, that’s yerself is it? You wicked divil of a captain, spaking of robbing a poor woman? If yu did that yu’d have no luck. It’s afther telling the polis I’ll be”.
And so the neighbourly understanding between ourselves, the farmer and his wife, continued.

A Village Character

St. Patrick’s Day, the date observed to commemorate the coming of St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is at all times an outstanding day in the church calendar. The usual custom of attending divine worship being duly observed, it then takes on the holiday spirit, including sports, outings, merry-making, treating and general jollification with an extra glass of the ‘Crature’ or a bottle of Guinness best.

There is an old song with the refrain: “Holy St. Patrick, send down the black bottle, we’ll all have a drink on St. Patrick’s Day”.

Dolly, quite a noted character, with a leaning toward the black bottle and never missing an opportunity if, by any chance, the price of a bottle could be wheedled out of anyone, meeting me on the strand line on St Patrick’s Day, accosted me with a curtsey and a “happy St. Patrick to yer honour”, no doubt expecting to be rewarded with the price of a bottle. In a jocular manner I added “and may he send down the black bottle!” Dolly, being equal to the occasion, with a smile and a twinkle in her sparkling brown eyes, exclaimed – with an air of injured innocence – “it’s the divil of a captain, ye are spaking to meself of e’n a black bottle,” passing on to try a ‘happy St. Patrick’ with the next likely person that she might meet.

Carson’s Army

After the assembly of parliament early in the New Year, the Home Rule Bill was now becoming of paramount importance to everyone in Ireland and the Ulster leaders and volunteers were becoming more determined than ever to resist any such measure. The leaders of the Sinn Fein movement in the South, convinced that if the Home Rule Bill for Ireland passed and that if a parliament was set up in Dublin probably bringing with it civil strife between the North and South, they must lose no time in completing their preparations by the enlistment and equipment, as far as possible, of ever increasing numbers of trained men. Under these conditions the prime minister and his government were not over-confident as to the future state of affairs in Ireland.

There came about a move on the part of the military officers stationed at the Curragh, who gave the government clearly to understand that if there was any attempt to force the rule of a parliament in Dublin on the Ulster men against their will, and that if called on to take any action against Carson’s army, they would refuse so to do. To mark this unusual and unpleasant state of affairs on the part of the military it was understood that the War Office, taking what they considered to be the line of least resistance, suggested a compromise by granting to any such officers a period of unlimited leave. These facts becoming known through the columns of the press, there became still increased activities and enthusiasm among the ranks of the Sinn Feiners.

The weeks passed, and in May the Bill received the assent of parliament and everyone was now waiting and wondering what it would bring in its train. Drilling and preparation for the expected tussle still went on; both in the North and South, and more cruisers were patrolling in order to prevent the landing of arms.

By July, the war clouds that were now arising had the effect of forcing the Home Rule question into the background. The cruisers patrolling on the coast of Ireland had been withdrawn. Troops in Ireland were on the move across channel. The atmosphere charged with a threat of civil war between the North and South was now becoming somewhat clearer. Then came the message to all naval units with the magic word ‘mobilise’. It was my duty to see that every coastguard in the Kilkee Division was on the move as soon as possible to take up his war duties in accordance with the standing orders.

It was about four p.m. and the crew of Kilkee Coastguard Station, whose war duties were to man the war signal station at Loop Head, distant sixteen miles, were immediately ordered to pack all necessary stores and equipment and proceed in compliance with previous arrangements to take up their war signal duties.

Mc was ordered to attend at the coastguard station with horses and carts. At that very hour the local company of Sinn Feiners were carrying out their field exercises and drill in a field close to the coastguard station. Seeing that the crew of the coastguard station were on the move, and that Mc had arrived with his horses and carts and was loading up the gear, they suspected that a craft – of which we had been appraised – was about to attempt the landing of arms and that the movement of the coastguard was for the purpose of frustrating such a landing, they became a little excited, threatening and intimidating in their attitude with the consequence that a crowd soon collected.

From my house with the aid of my telescope, seeing that something unusual was taking place, I immediately hastened around the bay and found that the crowd which had gathered were inclined to prevent our men from leaving their station. Realising the gravity of the situation, and being desirous of avoiding any unpleasant scenes, I approached a young man with whom I was on most familiar terms, one of the leading citizens and an organising spirit in the local volunteer movement. Explaining to him our position and requesting him to tell his men that the country was on the verge of war and that our men were moving to Loop Head in preparation; that the order had been given to mobilise and the Royal Naval Reserve men would be ordered to join their depot tomorrow. Having explained our position, he hastened to inform his men, myself moving among the crowd with him. I could call many of them by name and with a few opportune remarks and a light jest such as “what a pity we can’t have the Home Rule now! The fun with Carson is all spoiled for us in the South. Carson can have his turn after we have settled with the Germans”. This attitude on my part together with the appeasing words from their leader had a quieting and steadying effect.

By this time the evening was far spent and seeing there were a good many of the toughs hanging about the foot of the hill, and not being quite sure whether they would molest our men or not, it was decided to delay departure until early morning. Mc was ordered to take away his horses and come back at four a.m. At that hour Mc appeared and, before the ‘bhoys’ were astir, our men left the station and got away quietly. It was afterwards discovered that a wise course had been taken as the boys intended to capsize the carts and give us a rough time. That might have led to resistance on the part of our men followed by serious trouble.


The men from all other coastguard stations in the division were ordered to proceed on the following day to Devonport depot taking their small arms with them.

All Naval Reserve men were ordered to report at the Customs House, Limerick the next day. There were quite a number to go from Kilkee, all well-known to me. At the appointed hour they were all assembled at the railway station accompanied by their friends and their families to give them a send-off with the blessing of God and good luck. Some of them had partaken of an extra glass or two which, under the unusual circumstances, was quite pardonable. Two or three of them were a little troublesome and refusing to board the train. They were all anxious to know if I was coming. I had to tell them that I would be with them after a day or two. “Shure Captain and will yerself be afther coming wid us? Will there be a real war Captain? We’ll be looking out for yerself sorr” and so on. Moving among them with cheerful and encouraging words, by starting time they were all on board the train, going out to do their duty in the great struggle that lay ahead, some not to return until the end of the war and others not again. Under the conditions prevailing in Ireland at the time be it said to the credit of every Royal Naval Reserve man in the Limerick district, there was not one who failed to answer his name.

Collecting Arms & Ammunition.

Accompanying the unrest in the country at this time there was a great desire on the part of the volunteers to possess fire-arms which according to the orders in force was prohibited. Although the station officers had been ordered when leaving to take all their small arms with them, the day following mobilisation it was discovered that at Liscannor and Kilrush the arms were left behind at the coastguard stations. At Cashen River Station the revolvers only were left behind. Prompt action had to be taken for fear this might become known, the stations raided and the arms stolen. The constabulary at Liscannor and Cashen were immediately informed and requested to take charge of arms and ammunition and despatch the same to the depot at Queenstown which they promptly did.

The arms left at Kilrush Coastguard Station I decided to deal with myself. Ordering Mc to have the horse and Victoria carriage ready – there was always the choice of a side-car or the four wheeler Victoria – by nine p.m. for the journey to Kilrush Coastguard Station, not giving Mc any inkling as to my mission and as an excuse for extra rugs I took my wife with me.

On my arrival at the coastguard station all the doors were locked and the women and children gone to bed. In all cases, for safe custody, every man kept his arms in his house instead of in the watch-room. The women were aroused and gladly handed over the arms to my charge. No time was lost in placing them in the carriage and covering them up with the rugs. Late hour as it was, there was one spectator of the scene, which neither Mc nor myself appreciated in the least. It was apparent that Mc did not relish the idea of carrying these weapons in the carriage and small blame to hm. In all probability he was a little nervous and afraid that we might be set on.

The coastguard station was situated about a mile from the town of Kilrush and in order to get back onto the main road leading to Kilkee we had first to pass through Kilrush. All being ready away we started and Mc with no idea of dawdling whipped up the horse – which was a good one – and drove for all he was worth until we were clear of the town and well on the road towards Kilkee. Then, no doubt feeling that a danger spot had been passed, he eased down and we made our way back to my house at an easy pace. Arriving home after midnight the arms were deposited in my house. Then I dismissed Mc who “with a good night sorr, and thanks be to God sorr” took his departure, no doubt wondering what job ‘the Captain’ had for him next.

The following day, with no desire to retain these arms longer than necessary, a carpenter was ordered to make an arms chest and no time was lost in packing and placing the same on the rail consigned to the depot at Queenstown.

The ammunition still remained at the stations. It would never do to leave it there and, for its safe custody, it was decided to collect it and hand it over in charge of the officers at the war signal station, Loop Head. In order to do this a motor car with a trusty but reckless driver was hired, the stations visited and ammunition collected. Then, making my way to Loop Head, confessedly not feeling particularly comfortable on the journey but it was the only thing to do, and having deposited the ammunition at the Loop Head Station knowing it to be in safe keeping, my mind on that score was at ease.

Declaration of War

On the night of the fourth of August I was aroused in the middle watch by a telegraph boy bearing the decisive message arrived at in the House of Commons a few hours earlier: ‘Commence hostilities against Germany’. All the men from the division had been sent away and for the time being I was left alone. At the twilight hour on the first day after the declaration of war I noticed, what appeared to me, a suspicious looking person pushing his bike through the town toward the coast road leading to Loop Head. I wondered what game the fellow was up to, possibly cutting the telephone wires?

Meeting the young man, a leader of the Sinn Feiners mentioned earlier. Mentioning to him my suspicion of this person, he replied: “We’ll soon find out Captain”. Searching up a friend of his – who had been in the police force in New York – and getting out his motor car, away they started, very soon overtaking the man in the act of fixing up a tent or shelter where he intended to spend the night. After a few questions, and cross-questions from our New York friend, he proved to be a tourist from England doing the west of Ireland at what happened to be an unfortunate time. The following day the constabulary became suspicious of his movements and took him to task and eventually it became known that, in Dublin he was arrested and taken before the military authorities as a suspicious person but, giving a satisfactory account of himself, was released and advised to get back to England.

Coast watchers

The coastguard now mobilised and the coast line unwatched, it was decided to appoint civilian coast watchers. For the purpose of organising the men in the Southern District, a Commander from the retired list, the Hon Francis Spring-Rice R.N. afterwards Lord Monteagle, was called up and appointed for this duty. With the appointment of coast watchers, my duties were carried on from Kilkee, the headquarters of the division, much the same as before. The organising Commander made periodical visits sometimes accompanied by the Rear Admiral doing the duty of the District Captain.

The Commander, of noble birth and a gentleman by nature, proved himself to be one of the finest officers under whom I had ever served; a strict disciplinarian, but fair and considerate to all, a gentleman for whom one had the highest respect and admiration.

The fact of war having commenced between England and Germany, and the measure of home government for Ireland dropped, had a most wholesome effect in the country both on the Carsonites in the North and the Sinn Feiners in the South. The training of men with dummy rifles was – for the time – dropped and the general feeling, as far as one could judge, appeared to be sympathetic toward England, France and Belgium which had joined in the common cause against German aggression. In a most practical manner this was demonstrated both in the South as well as the North by many thousands of men who had been drilling with the dummy rifles joined His Majesty’s forces and donned the King’s uniform.

It has always been my opinion that had there been a measure of conscription put into operation in the first year of the war including all Ireland, it would have been fairly well accepted by all but the extremists, and the rebellion of Easter 1916, with all the trouble which followed, in all probability have been averted.

In order to create a more efficient system of coast watching by the coastguard in 1913 the Board of Trade had a number of lookout huts erected in the most advantageous positions commanding unobserved views of long stretches of the coastline. In these huts the coastguards were to keep their night watches during bad weather.

At Kilkee one of these huts was erected on Lookout Hill (mentioned earlier). The approach from the cliff road leading to this hut, for about three hundred yards, was by a narrow footpath not far from the cliff with a sheer drop into the sea and, it must be admitted, that any man called on to make his way to this hut and lock himself in for a long and dreary watch on a dark and stormy winter night should be possessed of a good nerve and be free from any superstitious fears of fairies or leprechauns.

Under war conditions there were no coastguards to keep the bad weather lookout and the civilian coast watchers being purely a wartime unit were not available for a bad weather lookout. It was therefore decided to engage men for this duty at night as and when required at a wage of 2/6d per hour. After making this known, and asking various persons likely to take up such employment, there was not one person found willing to undertake this duty, where on the Board of Trade raised the sum to 4/- per hour without any response, eventually consenting to pay two men to keep the night watch in the hut together for company. This tempting offer also failed to bring forward the men required. There was certainly a score of men that could very well have done with the money but held back by superstitious fears and the lack of the ordinary courage required. Strange as this may appear, the hut on Lookout Hill remained without a night watch throughout the period of the war.

The neighbouring town of Kilrush on the banks of the Shannon, said to have been the birth place of the Fenian movement in Ireland, was typical of other towns in the west with every evidence of more prosperous days in the past being once an important port with large warehouses and corn stores now empty and falling into decay.

St Senan and Inis Cathaigh

Situated just off the town was the island of Scattery – originally Inis Cathaigh – about one mile in length by half a mile in breadth. There is much of interest on this island as it was there that Saint Senan, one of the early evangelists after Saint Patrick, founded a monastery. His name, to this day, is locally revered as one of the fathers of the early Christian church in Ireland. It abounds in local tradition and legend. It is said that a wild beast once occupied the island making it impossible for men to live there. That, on the arrival of Saint Senan, he being directed from heaven, subdued the beast by making the sign of the cross over it and in the name of God implored it to leave the island and never again molest any man. He was assured by an angel that he had need of no fear in setting up a monastery on the island; that no monk would ever be drowned in crossing from the mainland and that no-one numbered among his converts would ever go to hell if buried there. With advancing age the saint, knowing the time of his departure to be not far distant, it is said that he left the island for a time of quiet prayer and preparation and that shortly before his death he directed his disciples to carry his body back to the monastery for interment. And according to local tradition his earthly remains were laid to rest in the presence of heavenly bodies and he was mourned by many of his converts and monks.

Visitors to the island will be shown by the residents the burial place of the saint which is still said to work miracles; also the spot where, by striking the rock in a dry season, he brought forth a spring of water, saving the lives of the monks. Sailors were said to visit the burial place on the island of a certain saint at whose shrine they offered prayers for safety on their voyage.

From the evidence afforded by the old ruins of a monastery and other buildings of a religious nature, the island continued to be occupied by a religious community, in all probability, from the sixth century down to the date of the penal days. To this day are standing the walls of the Bishop’s House or palace, the monastery and other buildings connected with the brotherhood, said to be seven in number. There is no doubt that the abandonment of this island as a monastic settlement followed by neglect and decay of the sacred buildings similar to hundreds of chapels throughout the land was due to the foolish and oppressive laws of the misguided persons ruling the destinies of the Irish people, forbidding them to worship God in a manner according to their conscience and the custom of their fathers.

In reference to the penal laws under which no priest was allowed to say mass or practice the Roman Catholic form of religion. Having frequently noted, over a period of years, the numerous ruins of the places of worship without making enquiry as to the reason, but drawing my own conclusions that on account of the reduction in the population through emigration, these chapels being no longer required, had been closed and allowed to fall into decay.

Walking along the road at Quilty I used to meet a priest with whom I was on speaking terms and being near to the crumbling ivy-covered walls of what must have been a very fine well-built chapel, I ventured to ask the reason for so many chapel ruins so frequently met with. Those old walls, he replied “are reminiscent of the penal days”. For once in my life I was ashamed of my ignorance. Ashamed too of the folly, indiscretion and lack of free thought on the part of the one-time governors of that country called England of which we are all so proud.

The burial ground on the island near to the old monastic settlement was still used as the last resting place of the departed taken across from the mainland for burial.

Within sight of my house there was a blessed or holy well known as Saint Senan’s Well. Having read that Christian missionaries from Ireland were the first to introduce the Christian religion to the people of West Cornwall, the question arose in my mind as to whether there was any connection between Saint Senan of Scattery Island and Sennen near the Land’s End. Mentioning this to a Catholic friend who had read the life of Saint Senan – a very old book written long ago – he kindly consented to lend it to me. In this life story of the saint, the writer had recorded – probably culled from tradition – that on a missionary journey to France he landed in Cornwall and there introduced and instructed the people in the Christian religion. This was a point of much interest to me at the time.

The Irish people being freed from servitude with liberty to hold public worship in accordance with the practice of the Roman Catholic Church, the old chapels were seldom if ever used again. In most cases a new chapel was built and very often not very far from the old ruins. In all probability there was some superstitious belief, or fear of bad luck, following any interference with the old consecrated ruins hallowed by centuries. These old ruins always commanded an undefinable reverence combined with awe on the part of the peasantry. Mc, for instance, when passing the ruins of an old chapel and burial ground never failed reverently – night or day – to raise his hat and utter a little prayer. And there these old walls remain, crumbling with time, but undisturbed by the hand of man. Lasting monuments reminding generation after generation of the cruel and intolerable yoke placed on their forefathers by aggressors from another land, people and tongue.

Saint Senan’s well – within sight of my house – previous mentioned, was counted among the blessed wells so frequently met with in Ireland. Writing of such wells in general, it was quite a common thing to see people going through their prayers and devotions near these holy wells. Sometimes a person would be seen in a most sincere, reverent and devout manner walking around and around a well, in all probability repeating a certain number of prayers suggested by the priest at the time of confession, or for the repose of the soul of a departed parent, brother or friend.

Frequently the waters were said to possess certain curative properties. The well of Saint Senan, a spot of interest and attraction to visitors, the waters from which were said to cure afflictions of the eyes and other bodily ailments, arose from a plentiful and ever-flowing spring of cool and crystal clear water. It supplied the inhabitants with drinking water delivered by water carriers. It had a walled enclosure with an iron gate – locked by the caretaker – and an outer wall three feet in height. The overflow – from which the drinking water was taken – was trapped in three enclosures: first the drinking well, then the eye well and the foot well.

With the passing out of the old parish priest a new father in God appeared on the scene and, being of a progressive turn of mind, decided that some of the old customs carried out at the well, not being strictly hygienic, must cease. He disliked the idea of sore eyes etc. being cleansed in these waters and proposed that it should be enclosed by a six foot wall and the waters piped into a tank from which every water carrier could draw. This progressive order was much resented but the father of the flock – in their best interest – had spoken and there was no appeal. The walls were erected and the three enclosures, through which the water passed and in which sore eyes, sore feet and other ailments were cleansed, together with the artistic beauty and attraction of the old well and its enclosure, disappeared.

Remarking on prayers offered at holy wells, the sister of a very devout and religious man passed away without the last rites of the church at which he was much distressed and for several days he visited the well and walked around and around, presumably making intercession on behalf of and for the repose of the soul of the departed.

At one corner of the low wall enclosing the well at this time, there was a saucer-like cavity on which the devotee, to ensure the correctness of the number of orisons said, placed a number of small pebbles corresponding to the number of prayers he desired to offer. The devotions carried out in this manner, coupled with faith and hope, without any doubt brought much comfort to the sincere in heart when making supplication at a holy well or the shrine of a saint.


Sighting submarines

The enemy submarines now making their presence felt in the English and Irish Channels soon appeared off the south west coast of Ireland sinking a collier off Loop Head which was bound for Scapa. The captain of the collier, although ordered by the submarine, refused to stop, whereon the submarine opened fire, killing the man at the wheel and injuring the captain, finally sinking her with bombs. The boat with survivors landed at Kilrush with the body of the captain who had died of his wounds. The officer commanding the submarine – a humanitarian – seeing the captain was badly injured, supplied the necessary bandages for his comfort.

Early in 1915 the Admiralty, with the object of enlisting help from anyone near the coast in tracking movements of submarines, caused a number of posters to be displayed offering the sum of £100 to any person giving such information as would lead to the capture or destruction of a submarine. From the west coast of Ireland there was no lack of informants coming forward with reports of having sighted a submarine. And daily, dozens of telegrams reached the Commander-in-Chief’s office direct.

These two interesting letters were sent direct to the Secretary of the Admiralty by a man deciding to ignore any local official and get in at the top. He was living in an old Martello Tower on Ballard Head six miles from Kilkee. The letters eventually reached me for enquiry and report.

30th March 1915
“Dear Sir
A submarine came down from the north from Arin Islands, about eight o’clock in the morning and could see quite plain over the water a position of her and she putting fog out of her. Me and four or five children have seen her for three quarters of an hour.
Came in to Ballard Tower in under it and then went north west towards Lupe Head under water and over water fishermen have seen her but not before me. I would say that she came out from Galway. Have a look out for her.
I remain your obedient servant
Martin Keane
Doonbeg Upper Ballard
Co Clare, Ireland”

9th April 1915
“Dear Sir
I received your letter on the 9th April and to my report that I have made to you my report is staunched and true and can get all my family to prove to that see her as well as me and see all of her quite clear with a man standing in her middle and could half of him covered with brown cloase on him and would be sure it was a waterproof suit. No other body from West Clare have seen her as good as me self and my family nor could identified what she was. I have seen her coming down from Arin Islands until she come where I live on Ballard Tower. Several other people see her steaming and throwing the gas smoke out of her but coudent tell what was as good as me and kept watching her until she went to Lupe Head. As far as I can hear there is people to look after the coast that know nothing about as good as me nor cannot see. Please let me know by return if there is as far as I have done I have seen nothing gained by it. I should think and be sure of it if there was a turn to be giving that I should be the most trusted to give it to me as I have a big interest in this since the outbreak of war. And to all my reports that I made you I have day and date for them. Please you will let me know by return what may be done. Police came to me to give all information about it but I gave them none I gave it all to you. If there is any other person employed you will let me know by return where I live on around the coast.
I remain your obedient servant
Martin Keane
Upper Ballard
Doonbeg, Co Clare”

Mc and the lights

The men at Loop Head were eight miles from the nearest small store where provisions were obtainable. Arrangements were therefore made with Mc to run a horse car once a week for the convenience of the men obtaining provisions from Kilkee. This arrangement was not always convenient to Mc, when he used to send his son with a donkey and cart – in local phraseology “ass and bull”. The thirty-two mile journey, out and back, would take the donkey about twenty-four hours and, in my opinion, was sailing very near to cruelty to animals but that was not always taken notice of in such backward surroundings.

Whenever I wished to visit Loop Head, Mc was always ready with the horse and car. The journey for a night visit travelling over the darkened and exposed roads was always a dreary outing.

On one occasion, very soon after leaving the war signal station for the return journey (after a visit) a little distant lightening appeared. Nothing whatever to be alarmed about, but Mc very soon commenced to show signs of uneasiness and nerves by expressing his fear that the lights of the car would attract the lightening. After a time – the lightening now a little nearer – he said “I’ll be afther putting out the lights sorr”.
“Why do you wish to put out the lights?” I asked, “It’s black enough. You can scarcely find the road with the lights”.
“The lightening sorr” said Mc.
“Never mind the lightening. It’s a long way off and will do us no harm”.
“Indade sorr it’s afther putting thim out I should be”.
“Don’t mind the lightening, we are quite all right. It’s too dark anyway to put the lights out. You won’t see the road and we shall find ourselves in one of the bog pits”.
“Shure sorr, wasn’t it the lightening afther killing the man at the station?” (A man was killed by lightening at Kilkee Station).
“Oh yes, I heard all about that”.
“Begorra sorr and wasn’t the light afther gettin, the lightening that killed himself?”
“Oh, Cheer up Mc” said I, “We shan’t be killed tonight. I’ll let you know if there is any danger”.

As we journeyed along with a flick of lightening now and then it was quite evident that any remarks of mine had not in the least allayed Mc’s fear. He was still uneasy about the lights. Then it came on to rain and on some pretext of adjusting the lamps, much to my annoyance he extinguished the lights. If the lightening did not bother me, I certainly did not like travelling the road – in some places unprotected by hedges – in such darkness and suggested that he had better leave it to the horse to find its own way over the road.

Mc, whatever was wrong with him, agitated by superstitious fear or what not, after the lights were extinguished, to all appearance, was in a much happier frame of mind. The horse plodding along, at its own pace, prolonged the journey, making it slow and tiresome all on account of a few flashes of lightening and a faint-hearted driver. So much for Mc’s theory of the lights attracting the lightening.

Read on …