Some of you no doubt, have been reading reports in the media and on sites such as this about the controversy surrounding the historical anchor of the ‘Aud’ – the German arms ship which was scuttled 8 miles outside Cork harbour on Good Friday 1916, after been arrested by the British Navy.
The capture of the Aud put paid to any real success of the planned Rising, as it sank to the bottom with 20.000 rifles, machine guns and a million rounds of ammunition. The current controversy of the anchor today centers around whether it should remain on public display at Cobh Heritage Centre or be re-allocated on Spike Island.
On 12th September last, the members of Cobh Municipal Council debated and unanimously agreed to keep the anchor in Cobh. The National Museum will ultimately decide however, whether the anchor will stay or go.
During that council debate, a voice in favour of moving the anchor to Spike argued that Spike was the only piece of Irish Soil that the German Crew set foot on in 1916. As the mover of the motion to keep the anchor in Cobh, I thought the case made to move the anchor was a flimsy and weak one, and countered that the purpose for the German Aud coming to Ireland had been much greater than what happened outside our harbour or afterwards on Spike – a British military detention centre and place where Captain Spindler and his crew were taken against their will.
No, I argued that as Cobh was the only town in East Cork that had a Company of Volunteers that turned out for the Easter Rising in 1916, and given that they and their comrades from Cork City and County were about to march to Kerry to collect the German weapons from the Aud and to distribute them to other volunteer units up the west coast as part of an all-out rebellion, that Cobh had a much greater historical claim to host the Aud anchor than the former British Detention Centre on Spike.
To strengthen this argument further, I have chosen the following chapter from my book ‘Republican Cobh & The East Cork Volunteers’ to demonstrate the historical point that the 4th Batt IRA, which was founded, trained and led by the Cobh Volunteers, was one of the most professionally organised volunteer Batt’s of the 1st Cork Brigade.
Under the leadership of Cobh’s Mick Leahy, the 4th Batt went on to capture the first RIC barracks in Ireland since 1916 when they took the surrender of Carrigtwohill Barracks.
The following account, I believe will demonstrate the gallant efforts made by the Cobh and East Cork men when taking the capture of Carrigtwohill RIC Barracks. For me, the historical significance of this and other 4 Batt operations makes such a claim very loudly.
It should also be pointed out that ‘A Company’ or the Cobh Company of the 4th Battalion as it was known, existed long before other areas of East Cork were organised and developed into the 4th Batt.
Later, when any operation involving the 4th Batt was carried out in East Cork, including those carried out by the regional Flying Column, members of A Company were always there in the thick of it.
Please read on and see if you agree with me. Perhaps you might later express an opinion comment afterwards.
Historic “Aud” anchor must not be moved from Cobh
by the Cobh 1916 Commemoration Committee
The Cobh 1916 Commemoration Committee has expressed concern that plans may be afoot to remove the iconic anchor from the historic 1916 arms ship Aud from the town where it was placed on public display last year and place it instead on Spike Island which incurs an entry charge of €18 for adults and €10 for children.The committee, which organised and oversaw a series of events in Cobh last year to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising, including the installation of three new monuments, said it was essential that the Aud’s anchor should remain in Cobh town and continue to be free of charge to view there.
The Aud was a disguised vessel carrying arms for the Irish Volunteers and which accompanied Sir Roger Casement who landed at Banna Strand, Co. Kerry. The capture of Casement and the subsequent discovery of the Aud and its sinking near the mouth of Cork Harbour by its German crew dealt a deadly blow to the chances of the 1916 Rising’s success.
Paul O’Sullivan, secretary of the Cobh 1916 Committee said: “Just over a year ago we and the people of Cobh were delighted to attend the formal installation of one of the two anchors from the Aud in a public part of Cobh Heritage Centre where it could be freely viewed without the need to pay an entry charge. We understood that this positioning of the Aud anchor was part of an agreement between the National Museum, Cork County Council, Cobh Heritage Centre and the Department of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in line with binding conditions pertaining to that departments’ licence for the recovery of the two Aud anchors”.
“We became concerned recently when we noticed that the Aud anchor had been moved from the public part of the Heritage Centre to a location inside the display area of the centre where payment is required to enter. We are now dismayed to learn that plans may be afoot to remove the Aud anchor completely from Cobh town and to relocate it inside the fort at Spike Island which can only be visited on foot of a payment of €18 (adult) and €10 (child) fees. This in our view would be a breach of faith on the part of Cork County Council and the other parties to the agreement and would be a major slap in the face for this town which played an important role in the struggle for Irish independence”.
“Cobh 1916 Commemoration Committee fully supports the Spike Island project. We were delighted to work with them during our events last year, however we feel that the Aud’s anchor must remain in Cobh and must continue to be free to visit. We are frankly not impressed with the response of Cork County Council to our queries regarding the anchor’s future. They have been vague and evasive. For that reason we feel compelled to publicly ask Cork County Council and the other bodies involved if they intend to remove the Aud anchor from Cobh and to explain how they can justify this decision which would remove a key historical artefact from where they agreed to place it and place it at a location where entry requires payment of a hefty fee.”.
“We are now calling for a statement of clarity from Cork County Council and we further call on the people of Cobh and the general public to support our call for the retention of the Aud anchor in a public place in Cobh which does not require an entry fee”
By December 1916, most of the republican Internees in Wales had already been released. By now the British Government had realised the own goal it had scored after the execution of the Volunteer leaders.
The mood in Ireland had been transformed from that immediately after their surrender when the volunteer prisoners were spat at and jeered by members of the Dublin public. Now republican prisoners were being openly welcomed home amid hero status. Cobh was no exception to these triumphant and celebratory displays, as the following report in the Cork Examiner newspaper of august 1916 showed:
“A very large crowd gathered at the railway station for the arrival of the two naval dockyard workers Jim Fitzgerald and Michael Leahy who were interned following the outbreak of the Rising. Among those welcoming the men home were the Chairman and Town Clerk of the UDC. On alighting from the train, the crowd broke over the barriers and lifted the two men shoulder high and carried them through the town singing nationalist songs and cheering vociferously. At the request of the home comers, no band played.”
In Cobh, as elsewhere in the country, the period of celebrations was short-lived and the business of reorganisation and preparing for the next round of fighting was quickly got underway. Cork was especially eager to redeem itself and to make up for missing out in the fight at Easter. But if the volunteer movement was eager to build upon the gains of the last eight months since the rising, so was the British administration in Ireland determined to prevent the rebels from becoming a further cause of trouble.
Almost immediately after their return home from Frangoch, Leahy and Fitzgerald had grabbed the attention of the RIC at Westview Barracks once again. District Inspector D.E. Armstrong who had made a written recommendation on the 13th April, a full week and a half before the Rising, calling on the Admiralty to discharge five employees from His Majesty's Dockyard for being Volunteers, was now very annoyed that Leahy and Fitzgerald had been reinstated back in their posts at Haulbowline. The District Inspector pointed out that had the German arms ship 'Aud' and Roger Casement not been captured, the Rising would have almost certainly gone ahead in Cork, where these two local leaders would have been in the thick of it.
But not only had Armstrong some justification for being perturbed that Leahy and Fitzgerald were parading around town and in Haulbowline like hero's, while being paid for the honour by His Majesty's Government, but the senior policeman was also in possession of up to date intelligence which showed the two men were engaged in further organising and plotting. In a report sent to Dublin Castle in December, Inspector Armstrong explained that a new GAA club had been established in Cobh - the 'McDonagh's Football Club. The Inspector noted that it was likely a cover for the Sinn Feiner's who met in the rooms. A short time later, Armstrong was back onto the Castle to report that Leahy, Fitzgerald and Jack Stack were the organisers of the club and that they paid 15d a week in rent. He added that the club now had 65 members.
By now the pictured that was emerging in Cobh was being mirrored all over the country. Volunteer recruitment and training was well underway in most areas, particularly in areas where it hadn’t before 1916. In East Cork, towns like Midleton, Youghal, Castlemartyr and Cloyne soon began organising. The Cobh Volunteers, or A Company, as they came to be known, would be the driving force behind this new recruitment drive to establish the 4th Battalion of the Irish Volunteers. Capt. Mick Leahy would naturally spearhead this task and in time, would also take command of the Battalion from his new base in Midleton. Daithi O'Brien of Roches Row in Cobh would replace Leahy as commander of the Cobh Company.
With this new volunteer impetus, would also come a new boldness and daring. Few volunteers believed the next round of fighting wouldn't involve them, or that future actions would be confined to a particular area of the country like the last time. Everyone knew however, that there couldn't really be any fighting until the volunteers had the necessary arms to undertake the task. As things transpired, only those areas that took it upon themselves to go out and steal or buy guns from those that had them, would be the ones best positioned to take the fight to the enemy. Such actions would first require bold and daring leadership and few leaders came as bold and as daring as Daithi O'Brien in Cobh.
While local commanders like Daithi O'Brien were raiding the big houses all over the country for arms, or were bribing soldiers with money to hand over their rifles, there was also parallel political activity underway in 1917 and 1918 where Sinn Fein contested and won a number of By-elections around the country. These series of electoral victories gathered pace and galvanised nationalist opinion behind Sinn Fein and away from Redmond's Irish Party in the General Election of December 1918 when Sinn Fein had a landslide victory. More than anything else, the reason why Sinn Fein prospered at the expense of the old Nationalist Party was because of its opposition to conscription. Redmond's party had called for Irishmen to fight for Britain, while Sinn Fein opposed the idea of Irishmen fighting in another country's imperial war. On this occasion, Sinn Fein was also joined by the catholic bishops who had come out strongly against conscription. In Cobh, Bishop Robert Browne, who normally was a regular invited dinner guest at the Admiralty House at the Mount, had since openly begun joining republican speakers at anti-conscription rallies in the town.
A month later, on the opening day that the First Dail met (21st January 1919) at the Mansion House in Dublin, while the new republican TD's refused to recognise or attend the House of Commons in London, a small group of Volunteers at Soloheadbeg in Tipperary, shot dead two armed RIC officers who were escorting a cart of gelignite to a quarry. This action is generally referred to by most historians as the first action of the war of independence, or by republicans as the beginning of the Tan War.
With more and more daily raids for arms and shootings taking place all over the country, followed by increasing numbers of RIC men resigning from the force, the British Prime Minister Lloyd George began recruiting a new force of demobbed soldiers from WW1 to supplement and back up the RIC in Ireland. The force soon became known as the Black and Tans because of the colour of their uniforms. This force was soon followed by another comprised of former army officers called the Auxiliaries, with both becoming synonymous in Ireland with murder, destruction and general terror.
From this period in early 1919 to the summer of 1921, a highly tense militarised period between the IRA and British Crown forces existed. While the IRA took the war to the British with a highly motivated guerrilla war and assassination campaign against policemen, the British often responded by punishing the civilian community through the burning of properties and shooting of civilian/republican suspects.
On 3rd January 1920, Ireland's first RIC Barracks was captured and destroyed when Mick Leahy led his 4th Battalion men to take the surrender of Carrigtwohill's Barracks after a five-hour gun battle. Later that year, the IRA began utilising a growing number of its volunteers who had fled their homes on the run, into mobile Flying Columns. These full-time active service and highly trained columns proved very effective against often far superior numbers of British forces.
Paradoxically, two of the more famous of these flying columns were from opposite ends of County Cork. In West Cork, Tom Barry's flying column scored some highly punishing defeats against often superior British forces. In East Cork, Diarmuid Hurley's column, while initially notching us some minor military victories of its own, went on to succumb to the IRA's greatest ever defeat with the loss of 14 volunteers who were either killed outright, or shot immediately after surrendering, or were later executed by firing squad, after their quarters, a cottage at Clonmult near Midleton was surrounded and ambushed by Crown Forces in February 1921. Cobh had lost four volunteer sons to the ambush, with the only volunteer to escape from the ambush with his life was Captain Jack O'Connell, also of Cobh.
On 11th July 1921, a Truce came in to being between the British and Republican forces. It was obvious to many IRA commanders that talks had already being ongoing for some time. On the day, the Truce was announced, Mick Leahy and the Brigade Intelligence Officer Florrie O'Donoghue had just completed an inspection of all republican units in Munster and were convinced from what they had witnessed, that the IRA were about to enter into negotiations with the British from a position of strength. Also, during this break in hostilities, the Republican Army began another round in recruitment, training and development in manufacturing ordinance. Henry O'Brien of Cobh, a moulder with Henry Fords in Cork, and brother to Daithi, was in charge of grenade making at an underground bomb factory at Blossom Grove in Knockraha. By the time the Treaty negotiations had come to a close, there would be two additional Brigade grenade making factories in the County.
By the time the contents of the Anglo-Irish Treaty become known, they were met with deep suspicion by many senior IRA commanders. One man who had good reason to doubt the sincerity of how the treaty was being sold to members of the Dail and to the IRA itself, was Mick Leahy.
Leahy noted how Mick Collins was making the case for accepting the Treaty on the basis that failure to do so would involve a much-heightened all-out war from the British, and that the IRA simply didn't have the weapons and resources for such a prospect. Leahy knew this to be a false premise for he had only finished examining all the Munster volunteer areas and their resources when the Truce began. He was well aware of all the recruitment, training, development and manufacturing of ordinance which had taken place throughout that period since.
But perhaps what made Mick Leahy suspicious of Collins motives more than anything else, related to an adventure that Collins had sent him on many months earlier. Collins had sent Leahy to Italy on a secret mission back in January for the purpose of skippering a ship full of weapons back to Ireland. All the necessary preparations had already been put in place for the landing of the weapons at a location off Rabbit Island not far from Collins home turf in West Cork. When Leahy arrived in Italy he met up with a number of Army officers who had all the weapons ready and on standby, as was the prearranged ship. The problem was, the promised money for the purchase of the weapons wasnt forthcoming. Leahy waited and waited and made contact with his two go-betweens, Sean T O'Kelly in Paris and Art O'Brien in London, but there was no reply from Collins or any sign of the money for the weapons. Leahy eventually gave up the wait at Easter and made his way back to Ireland.
Mick Leahy never did get an explanation, an apology nor a thank you from Michael Collins as to why the weapons were not purchased and why he was left out on his own. However, with the benefit of hindsight, the Brigade Commander drew his own conclusions - that his time in Italy happened to coincide with some secret discussions that had been taking place at that time between Collins and British sources. It occurred to Leahy that perhaps a too well armed IRA would be less inclined to accept a future bad deal/ultimatum from the British and therefore the Italian arms deal was better to not go ahead in Collins mind. Enter – The Civil War.
All content written and researched by Kieran McCarthy
Revisit Cobh’s Rebel Past with writer, historian and active member of the Cobh 1916 Centenary Committee - Kieran McCarthy.
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