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Centuries of military history off the Cork coast

National Geographic had a TV premiere on Sunday 15 Jul on the diving expedition last year to the transatlantic passenger liner, the Lusitania, sunk by one torpedo from a German submarine 11 miles off Cork’s Old Head of Kinsale in 1915.

The Germans believed she was carrying ammunition to help the Allied forces during WWI. She sank in 18 minutes with not enough time to release the lifeboats, with the loss of more than 1,000 lives. More than 700 survivors were rescued.

A two-week archaeological dig began on Bere Island recently. One of the team has said that he hopes they will find an intact British coastal gun emplacement with 18-pound cannons which were built from 1790 and maintained until about 1850 in anticipation of an expected invasion attempt by the French in response to requests from Irish leaders such as Wolf Tone in the 1790s. He said if the gunners were good at their job, they could have posed considerable problems for the French navy with 15,000 soldiers — who abandoned their attempt with Wolfe Tone to land in December 1796 because of atrocious weather. If they had landed, success could not be certain as the British coastal signalling defences were well organised.

It is funded by the Heritage Council as part of a national survey into 18th and 19th century military infrastructure.

The Vikings made the north-eastern ‘Lonehart harbour’ on the island their base for boat-building and ship repair (the Viking age was from before 800 to 1014). They knew the area well enough to have built an underwater wooden-beamed breaker to break the force of the sea coming in during Eastern gales. The remains can be seen at very low tide. Berehaven and a few other Irish ports remained strategically important naval bases to the British and were retained by them after the 1919-21 War of Independence. They were handed over to the Irish government in 1938 — one year before the start of WWII. The British couldn’t get them back on loan. They asked, but were out of luck.

M Sullivan

College Road



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