War off the West Cork Coast

Posted on: 5th May, 2015

Category: Highlights

Contributor: Patrick J. Mahoney

Patrick J. Mahoney studied cultural history at NUI Galway's Centre for Irish Studies, and now teaches in the department of history at Sacred Heart University, Connecticut. He is interested in the study of emigrant narratives, and the Irish historical experience as it relates to those in the United States and Britain. This column will highlight the stories of significant people and places with West Cork connections, throughout the world.

Midway across the Atlantic on a recent Aer Lingus flight, as I stretched my legs and switched my headrest touchscreen from an array of recent films and past Oasis hits to the flight status screen, I noticed an unusual marker on the approaching map of Ireland. There, listed off the southern coast wasn’t Cape Clear or one of the many other smaller islands that one might expect to see. Rather, the title ominously listed the final resting place of the RMS Lusitania on the ocean floor. The Tipperary man next to me, heading home on holidays with his family from their adopted home in Boston, humorously remarked that the inclusion wasn’t exactly the most reassuring historical reference for us to consider as we soared high above the Atlantic! However, the story of the Lusitania is one that has always held a personal sense of intrigue and wonderment for me. While growing up, I heard many a near mythic retelling of accounts from earlier generations of family, who had relayed that the torpedo blast had shaken the windows as far as Goleen school and that, in addition to their standard catch of mackerel, while fishing on that fateful day, my grandmother’s cousins had also taken in one of the pivotal events in the history of maritime warfare when they reportedly saw the distant outline of the ill-fated liner cut through the morning fog, and later heard the loud boom of the explosions reverberate down the West Cork coastline.

Now, during the decade of centenary commemorations in Ireland, the sinking of the Lusitania has gained a renewed sense of interest on both the national and local levels. The diverse list of commemorative events in the coastal communities of Kinsale, The Old Head, Cobh, and Courtmacsherry will range from reenactments, lectures, and street fairs, to more formal dinners and wreath laying ceremonies that will feature dignitaries including President Michael D. Higgins. Rightfully, the events will focus on the memories of lives lost and the heroic actions of locals in both the immediate aftermath of the tragedy and in the weeks that followed. However, when placed against the complex political backdrop of the historical period, the story of the liner’s sinking, and particularly that of the man whose action had sent the 32,000-ton ship to its end, speaks to the importance of perspective in acts of commemoration and historical memory.

Raimund Weisbach (left) commander of U-19, arrives at Dublin Airport for the 50th-Anniversary of the Easter Rising, accompanied by Otto Walker, who served as the watch officer on U-19 (Irish Times)

Raimund Weisbach (left) commander of U-19, arrives at Dublin Airport for the 50th-Anniversary of the Easter Rising, accompanied by Otto Walker, who served as the watch officer on U-19 (Irish Times)

In the spring of 1966, a personal invitation from the Irish government was delivered to the home of then 79-year old Raimund Weisbach in Hamburg, Germany requesting his presence as a part of the 50th anniversary commemorations of the Easter Rising. As a young torpedo officer on the morning of May 7, 1915, Weisbach was beneath the West Cork waves at the periscope of German U-boat SM U-20, watching the aftermath of the attack he had just carried out on the RMS Lusitania. As death tolls soared and eyewitness accounts emerged in the weeks and months following the luxury liner’s sinking, Weisbach and his crewmates were condemned in the Allied media for the destruction of what was deemed a civilian ship. Britain saw the geographical proximity to Ireland’s coast as a useful opportunity for recruiting campaigns, which sought to draw outrage from the general Irish population, and inspire additional Irishmen to take an active role in the war effort.

However, Irish nationalist reactions to the ongoing war off the West Cork coast were varied, and certainly speak to the saying that politics makes for strange bedfellows. Constitutional nationalists, who had supported the allied cause since John Redmond first called upon them to defend “the coasts of Ireland from foreign invasion”, were in agreement with the revamped British recruitment efforts, as evidenced by a statement in the Redmonite organ the ‘Freeman’s Journal’ that the Lusitania marked the “last great violation of the laws of humanity”. However, physical force elements in the nationalist movement were in the early stages of planning their own uprising on Irish soil, and were thus willing to overlook the media’s vilification of their potential German allies, who might yet help to further their cause. Within such circles, Weisbach and his U-boat comrades stood as an embodiment of the historic dictum ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’.

Beyond indirectly helping the Irish cause through his role in the German war on British shipping lanes in the Atlantic, Weisbach made a much more direct contribution. On the night of Holy Thursday, 1916, Weisbach was again off the Irish coast. However, this time, amongst the cargo of his U-boat were three Irish revolutionaries, including Roger Casement. In his personal recollection of the event, Weisbach noted that when the trio came aboard the U-boat, his only order or knowledge of a plan was that he was to land them safely in Ireland. However, the journey was a central part of a scheme to land some 20,000 German guns, ten machine guns, and several million rounds of ammunition into Ireland for the impending insurrection. Ultimately, the plan to land arms failed. However, the capture of Casement and his associates not long after landing near Banna Strand, and the subsequent execution of Casement and the other leaders of the Dublin Easter Rising in the coming months helped to turn the tides and shift public opinion in favour of physical force nationalism.

Looking back upon the presence of Raimund Weisbach arriving on the tarmac at Dublin Airport for the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising, one is left to consider one of the difficult questions involved in acts of commemoration: Where do the historical legacies of complex characters like Raimund Weisbach lie? In his particular case, is it in the often romanticized image of the U-boat officer who, acting as a commander on U-19, helped change the course of Irish history when he delivered the soon to be captured Roger Casement into Tralee Bay? Or is it in the image of the young torpedo officer who only a year earlier, was responsible for the death of over 1,190 civilians in an act that turned public opinion against Germany, and ultimately led a then-neutral United States to enter into WWI?

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Wave to Mary! 65-year-old Mary Nolan Hickey is running around the entire coast of the Island of Ireland to raise funds & awareness for the RNLI and is currently running the roads of West Cork.

Mary is the only woman to have completed every single Dublin Marathon (all 38 of them). She’s also completed the grueling Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert, known as the ‘toughest foot race on earth’.

To mark her 50th year involved in Athletics Mary is taking on her biggest challenge yet (even though she thought she’d already done that when completing the Dublin Marathon when she was over six months pregnant!) She wants to raise as much money as possible for the RNLI.

Mary started her epic journey in Arklow, Co. Wicklow, on New Year’s Day. She aims to cover up to 5000 kilometers, using coastal routes, over the next five months. She hopes to get back in time to get her first pension payment in June when she turns 66.

Mary will stop off at as many RNLI stations as possible, on her once in a lifetime adventure. As far as she knows no other woman has ever taken on this challenge.

Speaking about her journey Mary said:

“I wanted to prove that age not a barrier. Coming from a coastal town I have a deep affinity with our local RNLI station & volunteers and have huge admiration for the brave men and women who risk their lives to save lives at sea”.

Mary, who’s depending on the goodwill of communities along her route for accommodation, has been astounded by the response so far. “The support has been overwhelming,” she said. “I have met the most amazing and encouraging people along the way”.

To see more about Mary’s adventures, and to pinpoint her location today, check out her Facebook page - rnlilapofthemap2018.

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20th March, 2018  ·  


This Saturday the 10th March, will see some magically curious activity as local Bandon national schools compete in a Wizarding Harry Potter Quiz. The prize will be the beautiful Bandon Banshee Perpetual Cup.

As any Harry Potter enthusiast knows, Bandon has the unique honour of having a character named after the town. The Bandon Banshee, was referred to as the nemesis of Gilderoy Lockhart in the Chamber of Secrets. The book grossed €60 million in sales and was the 7th highest earning film of all time.

Locals, looking to enhance the town for young people, saw the quiz as an ideal way promote the connection. The universally absorbing book series brings young readers on a huge adventure of magic, adversity and triumph. It is also an exploration of loyalty and friendship, good and evil – so it is not only popular way to engage young people, it is a hugely positive connection.

Zoe Tennyson, one of the organisers said they were delighted with the response from schools who ran a qualifying quiz as part of World Book Day. On Saturday Bandon Town Hall will be transformed into Hogwarts Great Hall, with proceeds going Bandon Playground Group, and to cover costs of the event.

Bandon Books will be rewarding the winning team with vouchers to each of the five members. The Bandon Banshee, or Bean-sidhe na Bandaan Perpetual Cup will be hotly contested – but which school will the Banshee go to??

If you have any questions please call Marguerite McQuaid on 087 900 9494
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8th March, 2018  ·  

Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition 23 February 2018

The inaugural Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition will take place in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen this Friday 23rd February. As part of Engineers Week 2018, leaders and members of Ballineen Foróige Club have organised an exhibition which will showcase a diverse and exciting range of engineering projects that have been undertaken by members of the club over the last few weeks, with the aid of leaders and a number of local engineers.

With the aid of local pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, along with the support of STEAM Education, a UCC based company focused on promoting science, technology, engineering, arts, and maths subjects in primary schools, Ballineen Foróige has been engaging members and leaders in all things engineering over the last six weeks. From researching, designing, and prototyping a project based on local problems, to participating in various workshops on coding and careers in engineering, Ballineen Foróige have been extremely busy in preparation for the exhibition this coming Friday night.

On the night itself, Michael Loftus, Head of Engineering at CIT, Fintan Goold, Manager at Eli Lilly and All-Ireland Cork winning Footballer, along with Geraldine Coughlan of GCA Architects & Designers, a local business, will act as judges on the night, evaluating the different engineering projects and offering some advice to the members of the club. Also in attendance will be the CEO of Foróige Seán Campbell, along with a number of local councillors, TD’s and Senators.

Leading the team of Ballineen Foróige leaders organising the event, is Rebecca Dwyer, a bioprocess engineer at Eli Lilly. Rebecca recently became a leader in the club and says that Ballineen Foróige Young Engineer Exhibition 2018 “promises to be a fun, challenging and rewarding experience for all involved and we look forward to welcoming parents, relatives, friends and members of the public to the exhibition and film screening on the evening of Friday 23rd February.” Overall, there are twelve projects entered in the exhibition. One project, led by Cian Kennefick and Charlie Nolan, members of the starting out club, examines the possibility of installing speed ramps on the road near local primary school. Fourteen-year-old Charlie says he got involved in the project as it was something to do and it gets you thinking. Cian says the most exciting part of the project was the building of the prototypes.

Both Cian and Charlie, along with thirty other members of the club will display their projects this coming Friday 23 February in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen. Doors open at 8pm and the event runs until 10pm. All are welcome to attend, and admission is free. Catering, including tea and coffee, will be provided on the night.
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20th February, 2018  ·  

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Main course

17th February, 2018  ·  

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