On May 4, 1917 the American Navy arrived in force in Cork Harbour. Five thousand sailors with the task of protecting the southern waters off Ireland from German submarines. The United States had entered the First World War in support of Britain against Germany which had started unrestricted submarine warfare around Ireland, then part of the United Kingdom. The Americans joined the big Royal Naval Base at Cobh, then called Queenstown. Over five thousand sailors was a huge influx.
Apart from the military and naval aspects, there were huge social effects. The Americans had dollars to spend and came from a developed nation. Ireland and Cork Harbour of the time were well behind that level. Damian Shiels, an archaeologist and specialist in military history, is Director of the Rubicon Heritage Company in Midleton and has been researching the social effects, which he tells me about on this edition of THIS ISLAND NATION radio.
It is a fascinating story. There was fighting between local men in Cork City and Cobh and the American sailors over the latter’s interest in Irish women.
The centenary of the US Navy’s arrival will be commemorated in ceremonies next month. There were some recriminations in later years over the violent confrontations between Corkmen and the American sailors. Apparently when
Eamon de Valera went to the US in later years seeking to raise money for the Dáil and the emergent Free State, there was some resentment expressed about the way local men had treated American sailors in Cork and Cobh.
The story is also told that on the day when the Americans arrived their flotilla Commander was asked by the British Royal Navy’s Admiral in command in Cobh, how long it would take to get their ships ready for sea operations? “We are ready now, Sir,” the American was reported to have replied, a remark that has become enshrined in United States Naval folklore.
Many sailors were lost at sea during that war. The sea has left many tragedies in its wake and I play on THIS ISLAND NATION this week a song I heard aboard the Dunbrody famine ship replica at New Ross in County Wexford, “DON’T KEEP HIM…” about a girl pleading to the sea not to take her sailor’s life.
There’s much more of maritime interest on the programme, including news of trained dog ‘fish-sniffers’ being used to counteract poaching on the rivers. There is also the latest news from the islands.
Listen below to the podcast: