The Defence Forces have made a number of significant archaeological discoveries at a 400-year-old fort in Co Cork and believe they have “only scratched the surface”.
In recent weeks, the army — which runs Fort Davis near Whitegate — uncovered a 100m-long underground tunnel, part of a network beneath the complex at the mouth of Cork Harbour.
On clearing scrubland, they also discovered old ruins and pillboxes along with the remains of torpedo bays in the hewn-out rock at the bottom of the three-level structure, the majority of which is underground.
Commandant Pat O’Connor, who is in charge of the fort, believes that it is an archaeological goldmine as throughout a long history, the site remained relatively undisturbed as it had always been occupied by military forces.
The fort was developed in stages from 1607 when it was called King John’s Fort. It was built to repel foreign fleets from entering the harbour as had occurred a few years previously when Spain landed troops to help the Irish, leading to the Battle of Kinsale. At that time, the fort was built as a hilltop installation.
Like other fortifications around Cork Harbour, it was used by the British as a high-powered defensive system to protect one of the most strategic ports of the then British empire.
The fort was extended over the years with a myriad of underground tunnels which were dug out of rock, primarily by French prisoners captured by the British during the wars of 1798-1815.
It had been garrisoned previously during the Jacobite Wars (1688-1691) and was updated again during the American War of Independence (1775–1783), when it was renamed Fort Carlisle.
Sgt Paul Fitzgerald, whose team from Ist Cavalry Squadron are in charge of maintaining the training facility, said it took three weeks to clear the 100m-long tunnel.
“It’s very old as it’s not cemented like most of the rest of the tunnels. I know there has to be more here. The only drawings we have are from the British department of war in 1917 and they are only for a minimal part of the complex. This tunnel is outside of the area detailed by them,” Sgt Fitzgerald said.
Parts of the fortifications are very overgrown and when clearing scrub, his team also found old buildings and pillar boxes.
They also discovered torpedo bays believed to date to the First World War.
The soldiers also tend to a graveyard on the site where British troops are buried and even some Irish ones who were based at nearby Spike Island after it had been handed back by the British in 1938.
The army’s ordinance section is currently refurbishing a 6in cannon which was put in place on the top of the fort in 1903.
During the fort’s heyday in the 1860s, there were 20 big guns guarding the mouth of the harbour.
One was a Moncrief “disappearing gun” which became retractable by the use of a five-tonne counterweight — one of only four examples of the gun in use throughout the world for coastal defences.
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