The Floating Threat in Passage West 1916
By Pauline Murphy
Over the course of Easter Week 1916, the city of Dublin suffered severe damage through intense street battles and bombardment from the British battleship HMS Helga. Here in Cork we were lucky not to suffer the same fate but a serious threat did hang over Cork during Easter 1916 and it came from a battleship anchored at Passage West.
When the rebellion flared up in Dublin it caused British authorities in the rebel county to beef up security for fear something similar would happen here.
The Commander in Chief on the Coast of Ireland was Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly whose headquarters was the Admiralty House in Cobh, or as it was known 100 years ago: Queenstown.
Perched high over the town, this domineering old building was where Admiral Bayly oversaw the security of Irish waters and during Easter week he ordered in extra manpower to protect Cork Harbour.
While revolution was raging in Dublin the 14,000 ton battleship HMS Albemarle, with 2,000 Royal Marines on board, sailed into Cork Harbour overnight and by morning the people living in the harbour area woke to a threatening sight.
The marines onboard HMS Albemarle were fresh from battle at the Dardanelles and those battle hardened men had now found themselves on standby in Cork to quell any insurrection that might break out there.
Anchored between Ringaskiddy and Passage West, HMS Albemarle had its 4 12inch guns set up and ready to fire and this sight resulted in utter fear spreading around the area.
Admiral Bayly made it known to those living in Monkstown, Ringaskiddy and Passage West that their lives would be in peril if rebels in Cork replicated their fellow rebels in Dublin because he would order the HMS Albemarle to pound the area in retaliation.
While the HMS Albemarle remained a floating threat at Passage West, security at the Admiralty House in Cobh was tightened, with extra troops stationed there.
On a foggy night during that tense time, a young sentry there was spooked by a moving figure in the fog and he shot at it. The next morning it became clear that the figure was a poor donkey, who had strayed onto the grounds. Admiral Bayly later wrote: “It cost me two pounds; one pound to the sentry for having made such a good shot and one pound to the old woman who owned the animal!”
When the Rising came to an end in Dublin the pressure was then taken off Cork and the HMS Albemarle left Passage West, much to the relief of the locals, who had been living under threat from it over Easter Week.
The British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith later paid a visit to Admiral Bayly at the Admiralty House to congratulate him for running a swift, albeit menacing, operation during Easter week 1916.
Admiral Bayly remained in his post until his retirement in 1919. Coincidentally it was also the same year which saw the HMS Albemarle sold for scrap.