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Mission to Return Remains of WB Yeats Revealed by Military Archive

14th June 2015
Mission to Return Remains of WB Yeats Revealed by Military Archive

#YeatsFinalJourney – Peter Murtagh of The Irish Times writes of a long forgotten record of the return to Ireland of the remains of WB Yeats.

The records emerged from the Military Archives and is available online to coincide with the 150th anniversary on Saturday of the poet's birth.

The body of the poet, who died in January 1939 and was buried at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in south-eastern France, was brought by sea from Nice to Galway in September 1948 for reinterring in Drumcliffe Churchyard in Co Sligo. It was transported by the LE Macha, the first overseas deployment of a ship of the Naval Service.

The operation was overseen by the then minister for external affairs, Sean McBride, son of Maud Gonne-McBride, the subject of unrequited, but poetically inspiring, amour from the poet.

The rediscovered record of the repatriation includes just over 30 minutes of film - silent, grainy and mostly black and white footage of the Macha's mission; more than 80 black and white photographs; the ship's log; and five informal letters to the first head of the Naval Service, Captain HJ Jerome, from an officer on board the Macha, Commander Thomas McKenna, who in due course succeeded Capt Jerome to lead the service.

To this has been added a recording of the only surviving member of the crew, former Petty Officer Patrick Campbell, who is now aged 90 but has a clear recollection of the mission.

"When we docked in Nice there was great excitement because it was the first Irish ship [there flying the] tricolour. We did get a good reception," Mr Campbell told a researcher at the Archive after his daughter, Antonette, contacted the Defence Forces earlier this year saying her father had a story to tell.

For much more, The Irish Times reports here.

Published in Naval Visits
Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore is a marine correspondent, researcher and photographer, specialising in Irish ports, shipping and the ferry sector serving the UK and directly to mainland Europe. Jehan also occasionally writes a column, 'Maritime' Dalkey for the (Dalkey Community Council Newsletter) in addition to contributing to UK marine periodicals. 

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Naval Visits focuses on forthcoming courtesy visits by foreign navies from our nearest neighbours, to navies from European Union and perhaps even those navies from far-flung distant shores.

In covering these Naval Visits, the range of nationality arising from these vessels can also be broad in terms of the variety of ships docking in our ports.

The list of naval ship types is long and they perform many tasks. These naval ships can include coastal patrol vessels, mine-sweepers, mine-hunters, frigates, destroyers, amphibious dock-landing vessels, helicopter-carriers, submarine support ships and the rarer sighting of submarines.

When Naval Visits are made, it is those that are open to the public to come on board, provide an excellent opportunity to demonstrate up close and personal, what these look like and what they can do and a chance to discuss with the crew.

It can make even more interesting for visitors when a flotilla arrives, particularly comprising an international fleet, adding to the sense of curiosity and adding a greater mix to the type of vessels boarded.

All of this makes Naval Visits a fascinating and intriguing insight into the role of navies from abroad, as they spend time in our ports, mostly for a weekend-long call, having completed exercises at sea.

These naval exercises can involve joint co-operation between other naval fleets off Ireland, in the approaches of the Atlantic, and way offshore of the coasts of western European countries.

In certain circumstances, Naval Visits involve vessels which are making repositioning voyages over long distances between continents, having completed a tour of duty in zones of conflict.

Joint naval fleet exercises bring an increased integration of navies within Europe and beyond. These exercises improve greater co-operation at EU level but also internationally, not just on a political front, but these exercises enable shared training skills in carrying out naval skills and also knowledge.

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