Oysterhaven Coast Guard

The Coast Guard Unit at Oysterhaven is part of a network of 52 Units based at strategic locations around the coast which are operated by volunteers both male and female.  The units have a capability and range of equipment depending on location, which includes radio communications, cliff equipment, rescue boats and vehicles.

There are 16 volunteers in the Unit and the Area Officer  (AO) is Martin Collins and the Deputy Area Officer is Thomas Gleasure.

The Manager of the Coast Guard Volunteer Units is Norman Fullam, Voluntary Services and Training Manager.

The Coast Guard Unit at Oysterhaven was founded in 1867.  The Coast Lifesaving Service (CLSS) was established in 1923 when the duties formerly performed by Her Majestys Coastguard (HMCG) were taken over by Saorstat Eireann.The New Station House is on the site of, and incorporates the old facility, a rocket-cart shed dating back to the 19th century.  The original building housed the horse drawn cart which was equipped with life belts attached to rockets which were brought to the seashore and fired out to sea using navigational equipment to the scene of an emergency.  As time and technology advanced the rocket cart was replaced by the motorised van and radio equipment was introduced for immediate communication between the rescue team(s) and those manning the station.

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The new building provides a garage and the store room on the ground floor and the Operations Room on the first floor from which weather and sea conditions can be evaluated.  Materials are in keeping with local traditions:  plastered walls with painted white finish, natural slated roof, timber doors and windows.  Internally the building is modern, bright and full of natural light.  Nautical detailing has been used on the open tread stairway and on the doors.

History of Oysterhaven Coast Guard

Courtesy of Eileen McGough

As Station No. 29, the Oysterhaven branch of the Irish Coast Guard celebrates the refurbishment of their headquarters, the old coastguard station at Oysterhaven, it is an opportune time to have a look back at the history of the coastguard service and various coast- watch systems which operated along the Irish coastline, in particular from the mouth of Cork Harbour to the Old Head of Kinsale.

A country surrounded by sea will have always needed a coastal alert and defence system. Archaeologists and historians are agreed that those Iron Age headland and cliff -top forts, such as at Killowen, Dunbogey East, Killeagh, Kinure and Duncearmna on the Old Head, were sited with the objectives of both coastal watch and defence in mind. These forts were in sight of hinterland forts, like that in the Fennell brothers` land at Reagrove, and Willie Fennell`s land at Rocky Bay, so that the alarm could be quickly raised inland from fort to fort all the way to the infant Cork city, by means of fire, warning that a fleet of invaders had arrived at one of the coves or bays nearby. There were numerous invasions, by Vikings, by pirates or by enemy tribes. Excavations at some of these forts have shown evidence of re-occurring habitation, right up to medieval centuries.

In the 13th century, when the Anglo- Norman Lords began to take possession of the hunting lands they coveted along the coast, a priority must have been the protection of their shipping, from the depredations of pirates and from shipwreck along the treacherous southern coast. Over the following centuries the Daunts became the major land -owning family and it is recorded in their history that the Crown granted them Trinity Charters, giving them authority to place Buoys, Markers and Beacon Lights to guide shipping along the south coast, from the entrance of Cork Harbour to the Rennies. James Daunt of Tracton Abbey was High Sheriff of County Cork in 1627 and he was instrumental in placing Beacon lights on the promontories, from the entrance of the harbour right up to the King and  Queen`s Old Castles, near Daunt`s Bridge in the city. Theirs was a family heavily involved in shipping, they had two fleets of vessels, one named after animals, the other after sea birds. Their interest in keeping the coast -watch was understandably of vital importance to them. During the late 1500`s and the early 1600`s, the south coast was plagued by marauding pirates who had their headquarters in various ports along the coast, at Leamcon, Crookhaven, Schull and Baltimore.

One of the more notorious of these was a Captain William  Baugh, who finally came to grief in Kinsale in 1612/13.One of his ships, The Lion, skippered by one John Horse, made port in Kinsale in May 1612, having been divested of   much  of her stolen  bounty along the south coast. Baugh was generous, but also shrewd enough to know that he had to sweeten his way along the coast. The looted cargo consisted of linens, silk, canvas, rye and wheat, precious stones, peppers, gold and silver plate, sugar, cotton wool and Brazilian wood. In Kinsale there was an obligatory pay-off to the local Admiralty officers, William Hull, Captain Henry Skipwith, constable of the fort in Kinsale and others ashore. Another local British official, alleged to be in league with Baugh, Sir William St. Johns, treacherously   made off from Kinsale with a second vessel belonging to Baugh, leaving the pirate chief destitute in Kinsale. He was imprisoned and died while in captivity in Kinsale. In a recent article on Kinure, we mentioned the notorious pirate, Jack Connor, also known as Jack the Bachelor, who used Ballymacus Bay as his rendezvous place, the headland there was known in Gaelic as Pointe Ealadora, in deference to the cat- and -mouse chases between the customs officials and the smugglers.

It was not piracy but shipwreck which doomed one ship of the Daunt fleet, The White Horse, captained by Nicholas Daunt. She foundered on the rock at Robert`s Cove, after which, some claim, that   particularly dangerous reef of rock became known as The Daunt Rock. The loss of this vessel and others, and the real threat of piracy, spurred the Daunts to put in place a system of coastal watch and defence.

(When in 1874 a lightship was finally stationed to mark the Daunt Rock it is of interest that their familys tradition of naming ships after seabirds was continued.  The Daunt Rock Lightship, the Puffin was the ill-fated vessel which sank at her anchor, in sixteen fathoms, in a violent storm on October 8th 1896, having been stationed to mark the Daunt Rock only eight weeks previously. All eight crew members on board were lost. The picture on page 15, features the wreck of the Puffin, beached at Ringaskiddy after she was raised by Ensors, a Cork firm of Salvors.

The Guillemot was the lightship which replaced the ill-fated Puffin in 1896and she was still at her station, on the night of the census in 1901, with a crew of eight on board and four ashore. In a fierce south-easterly gale, in February 1936, The Pelican dragged her anchor, and was in grave danger, but the crew were all saved in a famous rescue by The Ballycotton Lifeboat. The Osprey was the last Daunt Lightship; it was replaced by the current flashing buoy in August 1974.)

With the real danger of a French Invasion, before and during the Napoleonic Era the British Authority started on a huge programme of fortifying the vulnerable South coast, in the early 1800`s. Those well- known  landmarks, the  signal towers, such as at Roberts Cove, the Martello towers, as at Ringaskiddy, the refurbishment and re-equipment of the harbour forts, such as Westmoreland Fort(Spike Island) and Carlisle Fort(East  Cork Harbour)and Charles Fort(Kinsale) date from those years. Another defence system set up in 1804 was called the Sea Fencibles. This was a gunboat flotilla which was to be manned by fishermen and merchant seamen. District No 15 was from Galley Head to Cork Head, its headquarters was in Kinsale, and the overall- captain for the local fleet was Samuel C. Rowley. The numbers of boats and men involved would both have been in the hundreds as the south coast was deemed particularly vulnerable to French invasion.

However it was as a result of re-organising existing services which were aimed at countering the smuggling industry which continued and grew into the 18th. And early 19th centuries that the service known as The Coastguard was established by the British Power in 1822. Until then, the Royal Navy and The Board of Customs were in a losing battle with the smugglers.

The new body was under the control of the Board of Customs. Coastguard personnel served on Revenue Cruisers, on inshore boats and in the newly built stations around the British and Irish coastlines. Those serving ashore were stationed far from their native places for fear of collusion with the smugglers.

The effectiveness of the Coastguard was considerably diluted because the local landowners and natives were often in league with the smugglers. The original owner of Walton Court, Thomas Walton, was reported to do an extensive trade in contraband goods with France, especially silks. Allegedly, there is still in existence in the hallway of the house, the entrance to an underground passage to the shore, which was purposely built to facilitate this illicit trade.

A similar legend exists in regard to the Kennefick family, who built  Ballindeasig House, now known as Tabor Lodge.

Locally the coastguard stations were at Crosshaven,  Myrtleville, Ringabella, Roberts Cove, Pallis (Oysterhaven), Howe`s Strand Summercove, and the Old Head of Kinsale. Roberts Cove was the most westerly of the eight stations which constituted the district of Cove, while Pallis, Oysterhaven was the most easterly of the group of eight managed from the Old Head in the 1830`s; this management had shifted to the Station at Upper Cove(Charles Fort) by 1858.On the night of the census, March 31st.  1901, there were eleven appointed officers present in the Crosshaven Station reflecting its strategic and operational importance. The station was situated across from the present Yacht Club. Part of it is now used as the Garda Barracks. It was built in the  1880`s, replacing the old station which was in the old square. The back cover picture features the Myrtleville Station  built in the mid- 1800`s,which replaced the earlier coastguard station, which is still in existence on the right side of the slip, and is now the home of  Mrs. Heather Hobson. The boathouse for the earlier and replacement stations is on the left of the slipway, it is recalled locally that the stone to build it was brought by horse and butt from Rocky Bay. This boathouse is now the workshop of Dermot Long, carpenter, of nearby Ballinluska.

The building is substantial and when this photo was taken in the early 1900`s, it stood in splendid isolation. There were four members of the coastguard in the station at Ballinluska according to the census of March 31st.  1901,Alexander Mudie, William Day, Richard Curtis, and William Parker, who was the station Officer. Curtis and Parker and their families belonged to the Wesleyan Church. The station at Ringabella  consisted of three cottages which the new owner, Dan O`Riordan regretted having to demolish to build his new home, Heathfield House,  but the buildings had deteriorated beyond salvaging. The station had apparently ceased to function before the 1900`s as there are no listings of officers in Ringabella for March 31st 1901.There is a local opinion that Ringabella was a temporary station set up during the Emergency years.

In  Roberts Cove George W. Baker was Station Officer at the substantial station which is now the home of Adelheid Monaghan. He was  English, his wife, Nelly was also English, their son, George William, was born in Co. Wicklow and their daughter, Lily, was born in Co. Wexford, reflecting that the officers were frequently moved around from station to station. Of the six other officers present on that night only one was Irish born, he was Jeremiah Regan, a widower.The boathouse at Roberts Cove is now the converted property of Peter McCarthy.

In Kinure the chief officer was R. I. Grant, aged 51. His occupation is listed as scholar, as is that of another officer, William Hill, a widower with eight children. Presumably both men were on training courses at the Kinure station. Whereas the religion of most of the residents of the stations was Church of England, interestingly, Annie,  the wife of H. Watt, boatman and boiler-maker at Kinure, belonged to the  United Church of Scotland In 1819 the Rev William Evanson was the curate nominated to Tracton parish by the Commissioners of First Fruits and The Earl of Shannon, the major landowner. He was concerned that the thirty or more children of the custom officers at Kinure were in want of a resident Protestant schoolmaster and he made representations to the collector of customs at Kinsale, the regional custom-headquarters, for the appointment of a master, with a salary payable like that of a boatman and a residence with a schoolroom attached in Kinure station.The custom headquarters in Kinsale had been moved from Desmond Castle in Cork Street to the New Custom House(now the Museum) in 1641.Desmond Castle was purpose- built as the Kinsale Custom House in the late 15th/early 16th century. The Old Head station was situated in the townland of Lispatrick, Ballymacus and had five appointed officers,the Station Officer being George Mitchell.

The coastguards were unpopular with the local community. They were mostly British born, and were regarded as another arm of the hated British law, spoiling the traditions of generations, illicit stills for poiteen, and  foiling the natives  efforts to profit from   wrecks.The local coastguard was also the representative of the Congested Districts Board, which had the laudable objective of helping the poor. One scheme operated along the coast was the provision of a free boat to enable a family to earn a living by fishing. However, because the boat was provided by the hated British Authority, via the local coastguard, the gift was not appreciated and these free boats were often burned. This antagonistic relationship is further exemplified by  the tragic story of The Killarney, a paddle steamer which sailed from Penrose Quay on Friday 19th. of January 1838 under the command of a Captain Bailey. She carried fifty passengers and a cargo of  pigs. After a series of mishaps she struck a pinnacle of rock at The Rennies about 3 p.m. on  Saturday. The ship was wedged under the high cliffs west of Reenies Point. Some of the survivors managed to scramble onto a fang of rock. News of the wreck spread quickly and locals arrived on the scene. However their priority was to salvage the pig- harvest. It was not until Sunday that the coastguard and some local gentlemen were able to try and  save the dwindling number of those still clinging to the rocks. Ultimately, only fourteen of the total on board were saved. This event was reported in both The Cork Constitution and in Guy`s Remembrancer. The plight of the ordinary people in the early 1800`s was near starvation. Wrecks were eagerly welcomed as they often provided food, or goods  which could be bartered for food, to the very numerous and   near- starving indigenous population.

To counterbalance this sobering story many heroic rescues were attempted and effected along the coast.

In past issues, this Newssheet has detailed numerous tremendous efforts by the local coastguard; we recalled  the bravery of Oysterhaven man, Jack The Rock Carthy in saving a boy from the wreck of the smack,  The Sylvan which occurred on the Sovereign Island in 1818. The captain, Nicholas Hurley and crew of the Jessie, a Cork Colliery vessel were all  saved at Nohoval Cove on the 9th. February 1858 by the coastguard. The coastguard rescued all of the crew of the Glaramara, an iron barque which wrecked between The Sovereigns on 22nd. February in 1883.

We also told the tale of The Idomea, wrecked on The Sleveens at Rocky Bay on 20th of  October in 1881. The  Robert`s Cove coastguard, led by O` Mahony, and   local heroes, Carthy and Saunders made heroic attempts to save some of the crew. On Carrigfhada, the Long Rock, the Victoria Cross came to grief on September 17th. 1886. Her Captain, Mr. Robertson was an extremely experienced seaman and it amazed many that she struck Daunt Rock and foundered in Rocky Bay. Though the Roberts Cove coastguards arrived and shot a lifeline over the stricken vessel, it was not availed of as the crew had launched their own lifeboats. Another rescue of major proportions was that of the 360 passengers and the crew of the City of Chicago, which went on the rocks west of the Old Head on the 22nd. of June in 1892. The coastguards from the nearby station at the Old Head affected the rescue, climbing the steep cliffs to safety with all of the survivors.

During World War One and in the years leading up to Irish Independence the men serving in the Coastguard Service came under increasing and life-threatening pressure. It was related in the first article on the Coastguard, (June issue 2002) that the relationship between the indigenous Irish and the Officers who lived in the Stations with their families, was uneasy at best and often hostile. During the Fenian unrest in the 1860`s, the Stations had come under sustained attack from rebels trying to get their hands on the armaments and ammunition  held by the Officers. Ireland had always been an unpopular posting for Coastguard Personnel. Accommodation was poor for those with families, facilities for education and recreation left much to be desired.  More and more English Officers were reluctant to serve in Ireland. Necessarily then a change was coming about with the recruitment of local fishermen, labourers and farmers to the service. As well some locals had traditionally served in the British Navy and would be regarded as very suitable men for the Coastguard service.

Timothy Kiely, born in 1863, four years before the Fenian Rising of `67, had enrolled  in 1875, as a youth of 12 years at the Oysterhaven Station. Timothy, listed at twelve as a fisherman, was still listed in the records of 1923, when all of the Irish Coastguard Stations were re-established under the aegis of the Irish Dept. of Industry and Commerce. By then, he was the longest serving member of the fifteen- man team of the Pallis Coastguard Service and would have witnessed the burning of the Coastguard Officers` living quarters in Oysterhaven, by the Sinn Fein rebels in the 1920`s.The residence of the Chief Officer was not burned out, but it is not known if this was a deliberate decision or an oversight in the confusion of the attack.The preceeding few years had seen increasing attacks on all coastguard stations, leading eventually  to the evacuation of women and children for their own safety. At some stations Royal Marines were drafted in to support the officers in defending their headquarters. Another onerous duty had been added to the workload of the Coastguard, the apprehension of Sinn Fein gun-runners, making them even more unpopular with Republican-minded people.

Other stalwarts of that 1923 team was Daniel Scannell, fisherman, who had first enlisted in 1883.There was also,Timothy Goldspring, labourer.Timothy, born in 1873, enlisted under the Board of Trade in 1904 and re-enlisted under the Irish-governed Dept. of Industry and Commerce in 1923.He was an Industrial School boy who had first come to the area  as a farm labourer  for Tom Murphy, farmer at Ballybogey.Timothy at the  age of  60, was still listed as an active volunteer.The other members of the team were John Kiely, labourer of Annefield, who worked for the Davis`s. John was born in 1883 and first enlisted under the Dept. of Industry and Commerce in 1923. He was the father of Jim Kiely, Annefield, Oysterhaven. Jim followed in his father`s steps and served on the Coastguard service for 32 years, and was No 2 man for a time. He retired in 1976. Jim recalls the service being involved in retrieving numerous bodies, people lost from ships which had been torpedoed during the last war. Other members were John Buckley, fisherman of Annefield, Philip Connor, fisherman of Oysterhaven, Jeremiah Mehigan, fisherman of Oysterhaven,Jer lived in one of the now  demolished fishermens` cottages which once  lined the road across from the Coastguard Station. There was John Sullivan, farmer, of Oysterhaven, Denis Hennerty, labourer,of Oysterhaven, and  Daniel Hennerty, his son or nephew? The Sullivans lived in the farmhouse at Ballinaclashett Cross, the house is now the Oz-haven restaurant. A previous article on Oysterhaven recalled the Hennertys, who lived in adjoining cottages where John and Emily O`Leary`s house, Journey`s End, now stands. Thade Hennerty  was a shoemaker.The other members of that 1923 team were Patrick Hayes, labourer of Nohoval Cove, Daniel McCarthy, of Oysterhaven,(an uncle to Dan of Ballinwillin) Patrick O` Shea, labourer of Oysterhaven and his son/nephew, Patrick, and Daniel Cronin, labourer of Kinure.

The conditions of the enrolment of these local men as volunteers in 1923 included an undertaking that they shall do their utmost to prevent disorder and plunder at a shipwreck and to cause property to be reported and delivered to the Receiver of Wreck.

Number One man, then Philip Connor of Oysterhaven, was paid the princely sum of ten shillings for attending at quarterly exercises, while No. two man, Timothy Kiely, fisherman  of Oysterhaven was paid, 7/6 and the  assistants were paid five bob each. Members  had an opportunity to make a bit more cash by winning the prize for the best throw of the heaving cane a half-crown!  They would be rich altogether if they won the ten bob for proficiency in Morse or Semaphore Signalling! Finally there was the largess handed out by the Dept. of Trade and Commerce should they save a life - £1 to be divided between all of the team!

The list of equipment, kept in tip-top order at each station, brings home the changes which have come about over the past century,

There was the  cart, paraffin stove, oil for same, paraffin hurricane lamps, black lead, candles, grease, Semaphore flags, sail needles and seaming twine&.and much more. The explosive stores included rocket fuses, Maroons, illuminating lights and rockets. At regular times, the equipment and the expertise of the officers was put to the test when the Inspector form the Dept. came to review, to ensure that when a crisis hit the team was ready and trained to swing into rescue operations.

Just such an emergency hit the Oysterhaven Coastguard officers on the 16th January in 1903, when the Danish Schooner, Auguste bound for Morocco, under her captain, Edward Clausen, sought shelter from a fierce south-easterly gale, in Nohoval Cove.The schooner was driven full onto the rocks. The crew of four were some hours on the reef before being rescued by the coastguard officials while the poor captain never had any chance as his body had become entangled in the riggings. During  the same storm, the railway line between Bray and Greystones was swept away, and the Cork Examiner edition which carried the story of the  loss  of the Auguste, also  reported that the Thames in London was frozen over and there was skating on thick ice on the river Suir at Cahir!

Members of the rescue team on that day would have included Timothy Kiely, Daniel Scannell and John Sullivan.There was a verse composed about the rescue of the Auguste`s crew, which someone in the locality may still recall?

Another dramatic rescue involving the Oysterhaven men was recounted by Martin Collins in this Newsheet in June 1999.  The coastguard unit succeeded in rescuing the crew of the four-masted steel barque, The Falls of Garry, using the  breeches buoy, when she ran aground at Quay Rock, Ballymacus point on the 22nd of April in 1911.By that year Timothy Goldspring and Jeremiah Mehigan had enrolled in the Coastguard unit and would have been active on that day.

Over a four day period, from December 28th to Jan 1st in 1915, a violent storm, the worst for 40 years with 90-mile hurricane winds, lashed the south coast. The 6000 ton El Zorro had been torpedoed by a German submarine near the Old Head  of Kinsale and was making her way under tow, to the safety of  Cork Harbour, but in the storm the tow parted and she was driven ashore at Man O` War Cove. All lives aboard were saved by the bravery of the Coastguard Officials. Incidentially, the edition of the Examiner which reported the wreck of the El Zorro reported the death of Major Newenham of Coolmore, and that the four pound loaf of bread was increasing in price to 9d!

At a routine exercise at Oysterhaven  on 8/8/1924, one rocket fuze, one rocket, and one port fire was expended. The Inspector in attendance would most likely have been have been J. Morgan, appointed by the Dept. of Industry and Commerce, travelling out from headquarters in Victoria Road, Cork City. J. Morgan inspected the operation of the Rocket, and equipment at both Oysterhaven and  Roberts Cove between the years 1923 to October 1935, but unfortunately, records from 1935 to 1972 are not available so it is difficult to know who was inspecting and who was enrolled during those years. (If any reader should know the whereabouts of any further documentation regarding the local coastguard stations we would be very grateful if we could borrow it briefly, to record the missing details.)

The picture on the front  cover shows just such a test day in operation at the Rocket Field on Quinn`s farm in Kinure in the 1940`s. Included in this picture are the Inspector, (with hat, he is on his knees demonstrating life-saving techniques) Dan McCarthy has his back to us, on the extreme left, others pictured may  have included Tommy Geary, Din Corcoran, an O`Sullivan of  Ballinclashett, Jimmy Kiely,  Miah McCarthy, and at least one of the Quinn family of Kinure.(If any reader can identify any of those pictured we will be very grateful for their information) Part of the coastguard equipment, the triangle, the travelling block and  the breeches buoy are all on display in this picture.

The records show that Dan McCarthy was enrolled as 1st man in October of 1925, and that on the same day, Jeremiah Mehigan was enrolled as No 2 man. It was in October of 1928 that both Jer. Kiely and Tommy Geary were enrolled. October seems to have been a favoured enrolling month as Peter McCarthy, was recruited in that month in 1930.The final enrolment listed in the old records book was that of Bob Lewis in 1935.

The back cover picture shows a line-up of the  Oysterhaven crew, in the 1940`s/50`s, taken in the Rocket Field at Quinns, with the cart  harnassed to  Quinn`s two horses . Of the few positively identified are  from left to right, Dan McCarthy, John Kiely (father to Jim Kiely) W. Jeffers the Superintendant. Others are  Michael Collins,Ballyedmond, Denis Kiely, Din Corcoran, Tommy Geary and Miah McCarthy,(again if any of you can positively identify those pictured we will be grateful to you)

Martin Collins,Castletown the son of Michael Collins, Ballyedmond, has been a member of the Oysterhaven Coastguard Service since 1961.Vinnie Geary, a son of Tommy Geary, enrolled at the same time and they are both now the longest serving members of the present team.  Clearly there was a family tradition in being enrolled in the Coastguard team, and that is evident from the Oysterhaven records, where Geary,McCarthy,Kiely etc.are names that re-occur down through the years.In this News- sheet, in 1999, Martin recounted some of the rescues and searches in which the team was involved since the 1960`s.He also updated us on the improvements being implemented by the Dept. of the Marine, in Coastguard Stations around the country, and particularly about the changes at Oysterhaven. The most recent improvements, re-equipping  and  upgrading are now complete, and the  Official Opening day is imminent.

We hope to carry a report on the proceedings and perhaps if further information comes to us on the history of the Station we will return to the topic. Can anyone recall the dances held in the loft of the old building, on Regatta night, and organised by Jack Corcoran and others?

As well, there is another full story to be told in relation to the Coastguard Station at Roberts Cove.

I wish to acknowledge the help of the following without whose assistance there would be no story to tell!

Dan McCarthy, Ballinwillin, Jim Kiely, Annefield, Robert Cronin, Oysterhaven, Din Hayes, Oatlands Cross, John Leech, Irish Water Safety Association, John  O`Leary, Oysterhaven, Martin Collins, Castletown.