The Coastguard has its 'Troubles'

Coastguard Station, Ballinagall, I3th May 1920.

At midnight last night the watchman, after calling out his relief and whilst waiting to be relieved, was held up by about thirty armed, masked men who covered him with rifles and ordered him to put up his hands and surrender. He had no opportunity of firing but managed to drop his pistol in the bushes. The men made him prisoner and marched him to the watchroom. There they demanded that he open it, and when he said he could not, they broke the door open with crowbars. In the rush which followed the watchman escaped and made his way to the upper watchroom through the back door of his house and the communicating doors.

With the help of the Petty Officer he managed to secure the door with the bolt inside. The raiders attacked again firing rifles, smashing windows and called on the Coastguard to surrender, but we continued to defend the watchroom until 2 a.m. when the raiders retired. We endeavoured to attract police with rockets and signal lamps as the telephone wires were cut.

The morning man on coming to relieve was covered by five or six men with rifles who emerged from the bushes in front of the cottages and ordered him to put his hands up. He managed to drop his pistol and kicked it backwards. He was made prisoner.

The forenoon watchman hearing shots got up and, not being able to get through the communicating doors, because of the bolt being left on in the house next door, went out and was made prisoner until the raiders retired. The defence of the watchroom was successful and all arms and ammunition intact. A fortnight later the C-in-C Western Approaches informed the Admiralty that an attack had been made on the Coastguard Station at Brandon Quay.

'These attacks appear to point to an altered attitude of Sinn Fein towards the Navy. These cases are really on a parallel with the attacks on the police barracks and the burning of government offices and property.

'It is understood there are some 157 Coastguard, War Signal and Wireless Telegraphy Stations in Ireland. The Coastguard who are issued with revolvers are engaged on patrol duty and the question of how effectively, with such outrages, is an extremely difficult one. If the Coastguard Stations themselves are put in a state of defence, by means of such expedients as increased personnel, mining, barbed wire, live wire etc., it will not provide for attacks on the Coastguards themselves when on patrol.

'It appears to be a question which must be viewed from the whole standpoint of the present situation in Ireland with which the military are intimately concerned, and it is for consideration, whether the Admiralty should not officially express their view, that the time has arrived when martial law should be proclaimed in Ireland'.

The next day the Admiral, Queenstown telegraphed the Admiralty reporting on an interview he had had in Dublin with civil and military heads, which had resulted in a statement that under the present circumstances the police and military forces were unable to assist all Coastguard Stations.

The G.O.C., Cork however agreed to send a small guard as a temporary measure to assist the Coastguard to hold Ballinagall and Dingle Bay Coastguard Stations. The Admiral sent naval vessels to guard Ballinagall, Dingle Bay and Fenit Tarbert, and suggested that, as the army did not have enough men to guard the Coastguard Stations and the police were being reorganized, the only efficient method was to give each Coastguard Station ten Marines and use destroyers to visit and provision the Stations.

At midnight that night the Coastguard Station at Brandon Quay was surrounded by two hundred men, two houses were broken into and the Coastguard was called on to surrender to the Irish Republic. Three shots were fired and the Chief Officer and four coastguardsmen made prisoner. They were bound and searched and then thrown over a wall. The women and children were given time to dress and secure their valuables, and were ordered to clear out of the house. The windows were then smashed and everything saturated with petrol and tar, and set on fire. All the houses were burned out and very little furniture was saved. The raiders marched round the station and cheered.

The Chief Officer was told that the raiders were out to destroy property and his would not be the last unarmed station to be destroyed. The confidential books of the station were burned by the Coastguard and did not fall into the raiders hands. This band: of rebels went on to Ballyheigue Coastguard Station at 2 a.m. ; where there was a complement of Chief Officer and three men. , Ballyheigue was an extremely strongly built defensive station: with heavy iron doors and a strong central tower. When the raiders arrived they lit flares which were seen by J. the watchman who roused the others, and they rallied in the central tower. The watchman went up to the flat roof of the tower and when he saw two hundred men he suggested that they should surrender, and the Chief Officer agreed. They opened the door without destroying the confidential books and the raiders then set the building alight.

A description of a typical attack was sent by Lieutenant-Commander H. M. Hughes of H.M.S. Urchin to the C-in-C Western Approaches.

'The attack on the police barracks at Fenit on the night ist-2nd June 1920 - The ship was lying alongside the pier. The following arrangements had been made for the defence of the Coastguard Station. One leading seaman and four AJB.s armed with revolvers were sent each night as reinforcements, with two Lewis-guns and two rifles for the sentries on guard outside. On any sign of trouble a rocket was to be fired as a signal to the ship.

'An armed sentry was placed fo'c'sle at night to watch the pier and coastguard station and give the alarm when the rocket was fired. His orders were to challenge and fire on anyone approaching the ship.

'A landing party of one petty officer and four men were detailed, with guns, ready to land and proceed on the first alarm. A boat was in readiness if required to land on the beach.

9 Comments · 17481 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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