Formation of the Coastguard
Formation of the Coastguard.
In 1816 the Preventive Water Guard which had been in operation since 1809, was extended and reorganized and took over control of the Revenue Cruisers and the Landguard. By establishing a number of stations along the coast that worked in close cooperation with the cruisers at sea, a more efficient force was developed. At the outset during the first half of the 19th.century its main function was the protection of revenue through the prevention of smuggling. Lifesaving was not an official function until 1922. Then the force was placed under the Board of Trade which had been responsible for lifesaving since 1856. Of course Coastguard crews did not ignore ships in distress and they carried out many valiant rescues In September 1819 Lieut. James Dombrain (later Sir James) of the Preventive Water Guard was sent over to Ireland to reorganize the Water Guard along the coast of Co. Cork. The exercise proved so successful that the smugglers were forced to move their operations to other places along the east coast of Ireland. It was thus decided that the Water Guard should next be established between Waterford and the Giants Causeway, a distance of 300 miles. In 1822 the force was transferred to the Board of Customs and renamed the Coast Guard. By 1824, a line of stations defended the whole coast of Ireland and the Coast Guards were established as an independent force in Ireland with Dombrain as Comptroller General, based in Dublin.
The relationship between the local islanders and the British imperial government was often strained, and this tension regularly played out in the maritime landscape. By implementing Britain’s maritime policies, the coastguardsmen often came into direct conflict with local interests. The salvage of wrecked ships, long considered by the islanders an important source of commodities and the only source of timber for house construction, was clearly illegal by British law, and one of the primary purposes of the Coastguard was to protect the King’s right to material salvaged from wrecks. This could lead to violence; in one incident the murder of a Coastguardsman by an unknown islander was thought to have resulted from a dispute over salvage rights. In another instance, the Coastguard confiscated thirteen fishing curraghs, along with the nets, equipment, and catch of fish, on the grounds that the boats were not numbered or registered with the British government. As this occurred in 1847, at the height of the Famine, it may have doomed twenty-six families to starvation. The Coastguard, made up of Royal Navy men usually of the Anglican faith, often lent assistance to the evangelical Protestant mission established on the island at Dugort, which may have been another source of conflict within the mostly Catholic population.