Thousands of fired bullets believed buried for up to a century on an east Cork beach have been uncovered after recent storms cleared the area of sand.
The bullets, which included at least one musket ball, were discovered near Youghal’s Claycastle beach, close to a former army firing range known as ‘the butts’.
The range was established in the late 1800s by the British army and subsequently retained by the Irish Free State.
It was particularly used by the Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil (FCÁ) up to the mid-1980s.
Soldiers, facing seaward, would fire at targets mounted on a concrete structure, with stray bullets being embedded in stop butts, or raised clay mound, behind the targets.
Hundreds of thousands of rounds were fired over time and it seems quite a few overshot the butt entirely
Stories of fishermen upping anchor as bullets splashed nearby were legendary.
The bullets were lodged in pools of water formed between silt and the peat-like remnants of trees.
Former FCA private Robert Sweetnam says the collections represent “about 130 years of firearms history”, with up to seven different types of bullets in evidence.
“The black ones are almost certainly .577 ball ammunition used in a musket type rifle onwards from the 1850’s”, he says, “while the copper, pointed ones include .303s from 1898 onwards, plus 7.62s introduced in the 1960s.
“In general they range from the old gunpowder days to the self-loading automatic weapons of today, including machine guns. The British Army has always put particular emphasis on rifle combat and would have used the firing range a lot".
Amongst many locals who collected bullets as keepsakes were artist Deirdre Morris, her husband Fionn O’Halloran and their 11-year-old son Ferdia, whose hobby is collecting unusual items.
“We brought home over a hundred bullets”, says Deirdre, “Ferdia was careful to wash his hands due to the lead content but they’ve greatly enhanced his collection. They’re a real blast from the past!"