seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


3 Comments

The Battle of the Ford of the Biscuits

The Battle of the Ford of the Biscuits takes place in County Fermanagh on August 7, 1594 when a force of English Army soldiers led by Sir Henry Duke is ambushed and defeated by an Irish force under Hugh Maguire and Cormac MacBaron O’Neill in the region of the fords of the Arney River on the approaches to Enniskillen.

The battle acquires its distinctive name due to the supplies of the Crown forces, largely hard biscuits, which are scattered and left floating in the river. The battle is an early exchange in the Nine Years’ War, and exposes the vulnerability of Crown forces to ambushes in the wilder parts of Ulster with its thick woods and bogs.

The relief force is under the joint command of Sir Henry Duke and Sir Edward Herbert, who have 600 infantrymen and 40 horses. Duke and Herbert believe this to be insufficient, and write to the Lord Deputy that “to go without a thousand men at the least or otherwise we shall dearly repent our going.” No reinforcements are forthcoming therefore the column sets north from Cavan on August 4. Burdened with supplies, the army is expected to take four days to march 29 miles north to Enniskillen. The night before the battle the English camp is pestered by Irish gunfire and incessant skirmishing which causes the English troops to be poorly rested when the set out on August 7 to relieve the beleaguered garrison. As the thin column starts to snake its way north, almost immediately it comes under attack on both flanks as Irish skirmishes hurl javelins, but this is not the main attack.

As the relief expedition approaches Enniskillen from the south, Maguire and Cormac MacBaron lay in wait for them on the Arney River. The Army’s cavalry scouts fail to detect the Irish laying in wait for them. The ground is boggy near the Arney ford, therefore they are forced to dismount. Consequently the infantry escorting the supply wagons for Enniskillen run straight into the ambush. Around eleven o’clock the head of the column approaches the ford. Without warning intense Irish gunfire tears into the lead English elements from concealed positions on the opposite bank. With the advance stalled, Maguire and MacBaron assail the rear of the column with the bulk of their forces. Wings of English shot deploy to skirmish with the Irish, but withering Irish fire pushes them back to their pike stands in the column.

The English rear falls into disorder causing the Irish pike and Scots mercenaries to charge, forcing them to flee pell mell onto the centre of the column. The English collapse continues as the column concertinaed towards the head of the army stalled at the ford. Fortunately the leading English pike has forced the crossing, pushing back the Irish shot, giving the English some room to reorder and regroup north of the river.

The English are engaged by Irish shot from the surrounding hills, but a counter-attack is stillborn when its leader, Captain Fuller, is killed. With most of the supplies abandoned at the river, Duke and Herbert decide their only option is to retreat. However, their retreat to the ford is met with renewed gunfire and the disintegrating army is compelled to cross on another ford an “arrow shot” upstream.

Luckily for Duke and Herbert’s men they are not pursued as most of the Irish have fallen to looting the baggage train which gives the battle its name, Béal-Átha-na-mBriosgadh or The Ford of the Biscuits.

The badly-mauled Crown forces retreat to Cavan. News of the defeats causes some alarm due to the small size of the peacetime Royal Irish Army, which is scattered in garrisons across the island. Although this can be supplemented by forces of loyal Gaelic chiefs, fresh troops need to be raised in England and sent across the Irish Sea to contain the developing northern rebellion. In addition a force of soldiers who have been serving in Brittany is brought to Ireland.

A second relief expedition, this time led by the Lord Deputy of Ireland William Russell, 1st Baron Russell of Thornhaugh, manages to reach Enniskillen and re-supply it. However Enniskillen does fall to the rebels in May of the following year and the garrison is massacred, despite having been promised their lives when they surrendered.

(Photo with permission by Dr.James O’Neill (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)


Leave a comment

The Sinking of the RMS Lusitania

The Cunard ocean liner RMS Lusitania is sunk by German U-boat U-20 eleven miles off the Old Head of Kinsale on May 7, 1915 during World War I.

On the morning of May 6, RMS Lusitania is 750 miles west of southern Ireland. By 5:00 AM on May 7 she reaches a point 120 miles west southwest of Fastnet Rock off the southern tip of Ireland, where she meets the patrolling boarding vessel Partridge. By 6:00 AM, heavy fog has arrived and extra lookouts are posted. As the ship comes closer to Ireland, Captain William Thomas Turner orders depth soundings to be made and at 8:00 AM for speed to be reduced to eighteen knots, then to 15 knots and for the foghorn to be sounded. Some of the passengers are disturbed that the ship appears to be advertising her presence. By 10:00 AM the fog begins to lift and by noon it has been replaced by bright sunshine over a clear smooth sea. The RMS Lusitania increases speed to 18 knots.

U-20 surfaces at 12:45 PM as visibility is now excellent. At 1:20 PM something is sighted and Kapitänleutnant  Walther Schwieger is summoned to the conning tower. At first it appears to be several ships because of the number of funnels and masts, but this resolves into one large steamer appearing over the horizon. At 1:25 PM the submarine submerges to periscope depth of 11 metres and sets a course to intercept the liner at her maximum submerged speed of 9 knots. When the ships have closed to 2 miles RMS Lusitania turns away. Schwieger fears he has lost his target, but she turns again, this time onto a near ideal course to bring her into position for an attack. At 2:10 PM with the target at 700m range he orders one gyroscopic torpedo to be fired, set to run at a depth of three metres.

The U-20‘s torpedo officer, Raimund Weisbach, views the destruction through the vessel’s periscope and feels the explosion is unusually severe. Within six minutes, RMS Lusitania‘s forecastle begins to submerge.

On board the RMS Lusitania, Leslie Morton, an eighteen-year-old lookout at the bow, spots thin lines of foam racing toward the ship. He shouts, “Torpedoes coming on the starboard side!” through a megaphone, thinking the bubbles come from two projectiles. The torpedo strikes RMS Lusitania under the bridge, sending a plume of debris, steel plating and water upward and knocking lifeboat number five off its davits. A second, more powerful explosion follows, sending a geyser of water, coal, dust, and debris high above the deck. Schwieger’s log entries attest that he had only launched one torpedo. Some doubt the validity of this claim, contending that the German government subsequently alters the published fair copy of Schwieger’s log, but accounts from other U-20 crew members corroborate it. The entries are also consistent with intercepted radio reports sent to Germany by U-20 once she has returned to the North Sea, before any possibility of an official coverup.

At 2:12 PM Captain Turner orders Quartermaster Johnston stationed at the ship’s wheel to steer “hard-a-starboard” towards the Irish coast, which Johnston confirms, but the ship can not be steadied on the course and rapidly ceases to respond to the wheel. Turner signals for the engines to be reversed to halt the ship, but although the signal is received in the engine room, nothing can be done. Steam pressure collapses from 195 PSI before the explosion, to 50 PSI and falling afterwards. RMS Lusitania‘s wireless operator sends out an immediate SOS, which is acknowledged by a coastal wireless station. Shortly afterward he transmits the ship’s position, 10 miles (16 km) south of the Old Head of Kinsale. At 2:14 PM electrical power fails, plunging the cavernous interior of the ship into darkness. Radio signals continue on emergency batteries, but electric lifts fail, trapping passengers and crew. Bulkhead doors closed as a precaution before the attack can not be reopened to release trapped men.

About one minute after the electrical power fails, Captain Turner gives the order to abandon ship. Water has flooded the ship’s starboard longitudinal compartments, causing a 15-degree list to starboard.

RMS Lusitania‘s severe starboard list complicates the launch of her lifeboats. Ten minutes after the torpedoing, when she has slowed enough to start putting boats in the water, the lifeboats on the starboard side swing out too far to step aboard safely. While it is still possible to board the lifeboats on the port side, lowering them presents a different problem. As is typical for the period, the hull plates of RMS Lusitania are riveted, and as the lifeboats are lowered they drag on the inch high rivets, which threatens to seriously damage the boats before they land in the water.

Many lifeboats overturn while loading or lowering, spilling passengers into the sea. Others are overturned by the ship’s motion when they hit the water. RMS Lusitania has 48 lifeboats, more than enough for all the crew and passengers, but only six are successfully lowered, all from the starboard side. A few of her collapsible lifeboats wash off her decks as she sinks and provides floatation for some survivors.

There is panic and disorder on the decks. Schwieger has been observing this through U-20‘s periscope, and by 2:25 PM, he drops the periscope and heads out to sea.

Captain Turner is on the deck near the bridge clutching the ship’s logbook and charts when a wave sweeps upward towards the bridge and the rest of the ship’s forward superstructure, knocking him overboard into the sea. He manages to swim and find a chair floating in the water which he clings to. He survives, having been pulled unconscious from the water after spending three hours there. RMS Lusitania‘s bow slams into the bottom about 330 feet below at a shallow angle because of her forward momentum as she sinks. Along the way, some boilers explode, including one that causes the third funnel to collapse. The remaining funnels collapse soon after. The ship travels about two miles from the time of the torpedoing to her final resting place, leaving a trail of debris and people behind. After her bow sinks completely, RMS Lusitania‘s stern rises out of the water, enough for her propellers to be visible, and then goes under.

RMS Lusitania sinks in only 18 minutes. It takes several hours for help to arrive from the Irish coast and by that time many in the 52° F water have succumbed to the cold. By the days’ end, 764 passengers and crew from the RMS Lusitania are rescued and land at Queenstown. Eventually, the final death toll for the disaster comes to a catastrophic number. Of the 1,959 passengers and crew aboard RMS Lusitania at the time of her sinking, 1,195 have been lost.

In the days following the disaster, the Cunard line offers local fishermen and sea merchants a cash reward for the bodies floating all throughout the Irish Sea, some floating as far away as the Welsh coast. In all, only 289 bodies are recovered, 65 of which are never identified. The bodies of many of the victims are buried at either Queenstown, where 148 bodies are interred in the Old Church Cemetery, or the Church of St. Multose in Kinsale. The bodies of the remaining 885 victims are never recovered.


Leave a comment

German Bombing of North Strand, Dublin

north-strand-bombingFour German bombs are dropped on north Dublin at approximately 2:00 AM on May 31, 1941. One bomb falls in the Ballybough area, demolishing the two houses at 43 and 44 Summerhill Park, injuring many but with no loss of life. A second bomb falls at the Dog Pond pumping works near the zoo in Phoenix Park, again with no casualties but damaging Áras an Uachtaráin, the official residence of the Irish President. A third bomb makes a large crater in the North Circular Road near Summerhill, again causing no injuries. A fourth bomb falls in North Strand destroying seventeen houses and severely damaging about fifty others, the worst damage occurring in the area between Seville Place and Newcomen Bridge. The raid claims the lives of 28 people, injures 90, destroys or damages approximately 300 houses, and leaves 400 people homeless.

The first bombing of Dublin during World War II occurs early on the morning of January 2, 1941, when German bombs are dropped on the Terenure area of south Dublin. This is followed, early on the following morning of January 3, 1941, by further German bombing of houses on Donore Terrace in the South Circular Road area of south Dublin. A number of people are injured, but no one is killed in these bombings.

After the war, what becomes West Germany accepts responsibility for the raid, and by 1958 it has paid compensation of £327,000. Over 2,000 claims for compensation are processed by the Irish government, eventually costing £344,000. East Germany and Austria, which are both part of Nazi Germany in 1941, make no contribution. The amounts are fixed after the 1953 London Agreement on German External Debts, allowing maximum compensation.

Several reasons for the raid have been asserted over time. German Radio, operated by the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, broadcasts that “it is impossible that the Germans bombed Dublin intentionally.” Irish airspace has been violated repeatedly, and both Allied and German airmen are being interned at the Curragh Camp. A possible cause is a navigational error or a mistaken target, as one of the pathfinders on the raid later recounts. Numerous large cities in the United Kingdom are targeted for bombing, including Belfast, which like Dublin, is across the Irish Sea from Great Britain. War-time Germany’s acceptance of responsibility and post-war Germany’s payment of compensation are cited as further indications that the causation is error on the part of the Luftwaffe pilots.

Another possible reason is that in April 1941, Germany has launched the Belfast blitz, which results in Belfast being heavily bombed. In response, Ireland sends rescue, fire, and emergency personnel to Belfast to assist the city. Éamon de Valera, the Taoiseach, formally protests the bombing to the German government, as well as making his famous “they are our people” speech. Some contend that the raid serves as a warning to Ireland to keep out of the war. This contention is given added credibility when Colonel Edward Flynn, second cousin of Ireland’s Minister for Coordination of Defensive Measures, recalls that Lord Haw Haw has warned Ireland that Dublin’s Amiens Street Railway Station, where a stream of refugees from Belfast is arriving, will be bombed. The station, now called Connolly Station, stands a few hundred metres from North Strand Road, where the bombing damage is heaviest. Flynn similarly contends that the German bombing of Dundalk on July 4 is also a pre-warning by Lord Haw Haw as a punishment for Dundalk being the point of shipment of Irish cattle sold to the United Kingdom.


Leave a comment

RMS Titanic Arrives At Queenstown

The RMS Titanic arrives at Queenstown, known today as Cobh, in County Cork on April 11, 1912, at 11:30 AM. The ship, on her maiden and only voyage, anchors two miles offshore at Roches Point as the port can not accommodate a ship of its size. Queenstown is the last port of call for RMS Titanic prior to her trans-Atlantic crossing.

Tenders are necessary to ferry goods and passengers from ship to shore and vice versa. One hundred twenty-three passengers are waiting on the White Star Line pier to board the tenders Ireland and America. Of the 123 passengers, three are traveling 1st class, seven are traveling 2nd class, and the remainder are traveling 3rd class (steerage). Seven passengers disembark at Queenstown.

After the passengers board, the tenders proceed to the deep water quay to load 1,395 sacks of mail as well as many emigrants. The two tenders travel out to the anchored RMS Titanic to offload the mail.

At 1:30 PM, with all passengers and mail now on board, RMS Titanic gives three mighty blasts of her whistles signaling she is now ready to depart. The anchors are raised and the engines slowly turn over. The ship makes a graceful turn to starboard and heads back out into the Irish Sea destined for her next port of call, New York City, where she is scheduled to arrive early the following Wednesday morning.

Of the 123 passengers who embark at Queenstown, only 44 survive the disaster of the horrible night of April 15, 1912.

The photograph is of the RMS Titanic as she departs Queenstown, quite possibly the last photograph ever taken of the liner.