Commemorating US Navy Based In Cork Harbour A Century Ago
Writes Leo McMahon
The opening this Thursday, May 4th at the Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh of the exhibition ‘Portraits: Women of Cobh and US Sailors’ Wives 1917-1919’ marks the beginning of an exciting programme of events under the auspices of the Port of Cork this summer, commemorating the centenary of the visit of the United States Navy to Cork Harbour and Bantry Bay during World War 1.
Special events are being held in Passage West, Monkstown, Camden Fort Meagher, Crosshaven, Haulbowline and many other locations.
In an effort to counteract heavy losses of personnel, food and other vital supplies as result of German U-boat attacks (5,000 vessels in total were sunk during the war), six US Naval destroyers arrived in the harbour on May 4th, 1917 under the command of J. K. Taussig, who uttered the famous words: ‘We are ready now’.
From 1917 to 1918, a total of 92 US Navy ships dropped anchor in Cork Harbour, a seaplane base was established at Aghada and an estimated 9,000 personnel served in the area during this period from which the ‘western approaches’ were patrolled.
The US Navy destroyer squadron were based in Monkstown Bay where their ‘mother ships’ ‘Melville’ and ‘Dixie’ were anchored. Both vessels played a vital role in repairing and support operations for the fleet and ‘Melville’ also served as flagship for Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander of US Naval Forces in Europe.
One of the fleet, ‘USS Fanning,’ was the first American ship in the war to sink a German U-boat, U58. The captured seamen were transferred to the ‘Melville’ in Monkstown Bay as prisoners of war.
Among the visitors to Monkstown in July 1918 was then Assistant Secretary of the US Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, (later US President), who accompanied First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Eric Geddes.
The US Navy submarine chasers squadron under Capt. Hepburn were based at Glenbrook, Passage West where the men had a barracks in the old Granaries, while the captain was based in Glenbrook House.
Many romances blossomed and marriages resulted in the local churches and family links continue today between Cork Harbour and America. Some of the young officers stationed there went on to become major figures in the US Navy in World War 2, including William ‘Bull’ Halsey, Pacific fleet commander.
Special events to mark the centenary will be taking place, most notably during this year’s Passage West Maritime Festival.
These include a US Navy exhibition on June 10th at the PACE Centre and another at Hazelhurst Gallery, Monkstown from June 13th; a Seaman’s Mass, unveiling of a commemorative plaque and a festival parade with American ragtime music on June 11th. Other events are planned. Enquiries to Angela Murphy 087-1357634.
Camden Fort Meagher
Camden Fort Meagher, Crosshaven, which today is a popular heritage attraction open every weekend during the summer, played an important part along with the other forts in protecting Cork Harbour in World War 1.
Interestingly, the fort, which was renamed Dun Meagher in 1951, is in memory of Thomas Francis Meagher, a Young Irelander who was arrested for his part in the 1848 Rebellion. He was deported to Van Diemen’s Land, (Tasmania), but escaped in 1852 and made his way to the USA where he joined the Union Army during the Civil War.
The fort will be hosting a WW1 US Navy weekend and explore its role in defending the Atlantic shipping routes and will host a seminar about the war and other displays. Information from www.camdenfortmeagher.ie
Haulbowline and Cobh
Haulbowline, which at that time was an island with no bridge to the mainland near Ringaskiddy, contained a torpedo repair station and was an important supply base for the US Navy during the war.
The US Navy had its main operational centre for Europe and command centre at Admiralty House as well as stores at Queenstown, recreational facilities at Baths Quay, and a base hospital at Whitepoint.
Various exhibitions, including rare photographs, will be on display at Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh Museum and the Railway Station as well as during Cobh Arts Festival during centenary year.
A report in The Cork Examiner of April 1st, 1919 states that when the Americans departed in a train from Queenstown (Cobh), they flew a Sinn Fein flag at the front and the Stars and Stripes at the rear.
In addition to the exhibition in the Sirius Centre, this Thursday, May 4th also features a function in Admiralty House, Cobh hosted by the Port of Cork where a plaque will be unveiled at the former US Navy command centre a century ago.
Around 1,500 men were based at US Naval Air Service seaplane base at Aghada near Roche’s Point from 1917 to 1919. An exhibition commemorating this will take place in Midleton in August. Contact Midleton Tourism.
A Lighthouse Day on Sunday, June 4th will celebrate 200 years of Roche’s Point lighthouse, highlighting its importance during World War 1. Contact Willie Cunningham and Tony Harpur.
From July 5th to 7th, UCC will be hosting the conference ‘Winning the Western Approaches: Unrestricted Submarine Warfare and the US Navy in Ireland, 1917-1918.’
An excellent brochure detailing all the events and containing rarely seen photographs of the US Navy in Cork 100 years ago has been compiled by the Port of Cork and Cork County Council in co-operation with all the participating heritage and arts bodies, the Naval Order of the United States and UCC. Contact Sara Mackeown.