LÉ Cliona crew to finally be honoured over 1962 naval fire

The brave actions of four crew members of a Naval Service ship, which nearly sunk after an incident off Cork Harbour in 1962, are to be finally recognised.

Following a lengthy campaign, the Department of Defence has decided it will present Scrolls of Commendation to four of the crew of LÉ Cliona, one posthumously.

Former defence minister Simon Coveney initiated a review of the actions of crew members after a campaign was launched to have their bravery recognised.

The scrolls will shortly be presented to ex-stoker Bill Mynes, who lives in Cabra, Dublin; lieutenant Pat O’Mahony, who later retired as a commander and who lives in Kerry; and Maurice Egan, who worked in the engine room and retired as a warrant officer. He lives in Midleton, Co Cork.

The family of late chief stoker Gerry O’Callaghan, who lived in Ringaskiddy, will also be presented with the scroll.

Meanwhile, a special plaque is to be erected at the Naval Service headquarters in Haulbowline to recognise and honour all the crew of LÉ Cliona.

The ship had been conducting an anti-submarine exercise off Cork Harbour in May 1962.

Just off Roche’s Point the crew started to fire off hedgehog depth charges. The first round went off successfully, but during the second round, one of the depth charges exploded prematurely, resulting in a fireball that engulfed the boiler room.

The force of the blast lifted the corvette out of the water and ruptured oil lines, sparking the fire below deck. Both Lt O’Mahony and stoker Mynes suffered severe burns fighting the fire.

There were around 80 people on the ship at the time, including a number of guests, an RTÉ film crew, and journalists and photographers from the then Cork Examiner.

Mr Mynes, who was 19 at the time, was in the boiler room when the explosion occurred.

He ordered two younger stokers to evacuate while he suffered burns on his arms, hands, and face crossing the rising flames to cut off oil supplies.

Lt O’Mahony, who was second-in-command on the ship, left the bridge to help Mr Mynes and fought the fire with sea water for about 40 minutes.

The fire was eventually extinguished. Despite the Marine Rescue Co-ordination centre dispatching an oceangoing tug, the Clonmel, to the scene to assist, the LÉ Cliona was able to proceed to Haulbowline under her own steam for an investigation and repairs.

None of the crew who showed immense bravery were eligible for Distinguished Service Medals because they were not recommended within four years of the incident.

“It was never really about getting medals, we just wanted recognition for what we did at the time. So it’s nice after all these years to be honoured because there could have been an absolute disaster that day and potentially a great loss of life,” said Mr Mynes.

Although a date for the presentation of the scrolls has not been firmed up, it could happen as early as September 1.

Meanwhile, the Naval Service has confirmed September 30 will be a big day at its Haulbowline headquarters.

A number of new officer cadets will be commissioned on that day and there will also be joyful family reunions with the crew of LÉ James Joyce, which is due to return from the humanitarian rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea.

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