The Coastguard has its 'Troubles'

By Bernard Scarlett

The return of peace and the upheaval of the latest re-organization had hardly been absorbed when the Coastguard in Ireland found themselves once again in the firing line, facing the bombs and bullets of 'the troubles'.

The Coastguard Stations were the targets of the rebels by whom they were regarded as symbols of imperialist Britain. Although some coastguards were killed and injured, in most attacks on their Stations the rebels treated the men and their families with courtesy, and allowed them to remove their personal effects before setting fire to the buildings.

The attacks had already started when the Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches was asked by the Admiralty for it's views on the reorganization of the Coastguard Service in Ireland. Admiral Tupper replied that the state of unrest rendered it difficult to suggest what stations were or were not required.

'At present it seems quite useless to have any War Signal Stations or War Watching Stations that cannot be readily accessible from seaward for victualling and manning purposes', he reported. 'Owing to interrupted land communications such stations are easily rendered quite useless for the purpose for which they exist by ill-disposed persons cutting the land wires, and it would appear that if our system of complete coastwise communication is to be preserved in Ireland all such stations should be connected to a fortified port by underground or submarine cable.

'At present the majority of Coastguard Stations are only able to carry out in a minor degree their duties because of the uncertainty of communication, and the general hostility displayed by the inhabitants, which confines the ratings to the vicinity of their stations.

'About thirty Coastguard Stations are garrisoned by Marines; about fourteen have been destroyed; the fate of the remaining one hundred stations is uncertain until some definite policy is adopted to prevent the rebels from making further attacks'.

By October 1920 the Admiral was opposed to greatly reducing the number of Coastguard Stations in Ireland or abolishing the Coastguard Force.
He claimed that the presence of coastguardsmen on the coast, in addition to their usefulness for patrolling, customs duties and saving life, had a considerable influence on the population. He thought that pensioner coastguards were eminently more fitted for the work of a Customs force than civilians with no sea experience.

In a signal to the Admiralty he declared, 'It is from my point of view essential to have officers and men in the coast watching service, principal ports and signal stations who understand the Navy and have been accustomed to work with it. And who also are in close touch with and understand the natives.

'Although the number of Coastguard Stations attacked since the present rebellion began has been considerable, the general feeling of the coastline population is not hostile to the Coastguard. In a few localities this statement must be modified, but it is believed that the attacks on the Stations generally speaking have been organized and ordered by the Central Committee of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and carried out by men the majority of whom have come from a distance and who have coerced a few of the local men into joining them in these raids.

"When the present rebellion has subsided, I submit that it would be a sound policy to increase the Coastguard Force in Ireland, establishing in the south-west, west and north-west of the country men, and their families, who have had more experience of civilized life than obtains in those localities normally. This would have the effect of civilizing the neighbourhood'.

The Irish Coastguard records on the attacks against their stations gives a dramatic insight into the trials and tribulations of the service at that time.

9 Comments · 18722 Reads · Print  -> Posted by Tony on September 29 2007


#1 | Cakeij on 12/10/2007 19:41:31
A thought provoking article especially for those who are finding it frustrating to track their coastguard ancestors in Ireland during this period. Are the coastguard records also kept in the national archives in Dublin? Perhaps i will be able to find out more about the burning of the station at Kinsale when I return there on 8 Nov
#2 | Tony on 27/10/2007 23:42:21
The National Archives in Dublin do not have any Coastguard service records as they belonged to the Admiralty and the Royal Navy Coastguards left Southern Ireland in 1922. There are a small number of Station Lease books and Contract plans for station buildings Also some letters regarding famine conditions in Ireland in 1846.
Tony daly
#3 | Donal on 24/11/2007 21:44:06
Tony, Do the references in the article on Coast Guard and the Famine, such as RLFC 3/1/93, refer to the National archive and do you by any chance, have reference numbers for the station lease books, etc
#4 | Tony on 25/11/2007 16:09:43
The RLFC 3/1/93 items from the Relief Famine Committe set up during the 1846/7 famine.As part of their paperwork the Coastguard station Officer passed on a lot of information about fishing and harvest conditions in their neighbourhood. These letters showed the difference in severity among various area.
At the National Archives, Bishop Street, Dublin Among the O.P.W. (Office of Public Works) in the 4.4.2 OPW 4 are some volumes relating to Coastguard station leases.
The first OPW 4/6/4 contains abstracts of leases and other arrangements by which coastguard stations were held. It is the sole survivor of a set of four volumes and contains the index for all four.
OPW 4/6/12 is a property register of coast guard buildings in Ireland . Details include the name of property (held for one year or more), county, division and district, date of lease, terms, lessor, amount of rent and when payable.
#5 | Donal on 25/11/2007 18:20:37
Thanks Tony,
Are the RLFC items stored in the National Archive, also?
#6 | Tony on 25/11/2007 23:29:18
Hi Donal,
Yes, the Relief Committee Letters are also at National Archives.
I have synopsis of about 100 letters, if you are looking for a particular Coastguard Officer or station.
#7 | Donal on 26/11/2007 22:44:52
Thats very generous, Tony.
My interest is in trying to get some idea of sources for the history of the CG stations around here, (Miltown Malbay) I thought there was just Freagh and Seafield/ Mutton Island but I see Spanish point and Miltown Malbay itself mentioned also in some of the ADM documents. Having references is a big help because I can investigate further on my next visit to Dublin.
#8 | Tim on 16/09/2020 12:56:09
Hi folks, new here, wondering if any one may know where i can find copies of lease/freehold deeds from late 1800's early 1900's between Irish landlords and HM Coastguard, Irish side of the records were destroyed in a fire so need the British side please. Any guidance gratefully received.
Thank you
#9 | Sailorboy2255 on 06/02/2022 17:53:16
Hi Folks. I am new to this forum but am very interested in the subject. My father served in the RN for 16 years from 1910 - 26. He was posted to Corkbeg W/T station in 1920 with his wife and son. They were in the coastguard station when it was attacked in 1921. He and his family were eventually evacuated from Ireland in 1922. I am trying to find out more about his life in Ireland and would love to come over and see what remains of where he lived and worked. Does any of the coastguard station exist now? Was this the same building as the Wireless Station? John

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