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The Coastguard Service

Ardmore Memory and Story - The Sea

6. The Coastguard Service
The Coastguard Service, as such, dates from January 1822, when a number of earlier anit-smuggling agencies were reformed and renamed as the Coastguard. These earlier agencies were:

(a) The Preventive Waterguard (formed in England in 1809, apparently as a sea going force though functioning as a land based force). The Preventive Waterguard had spread to Ireland and Scotland c 1819, commanded by Sir James Dombrain.
(b) The Riding Officers, (renamed the Mounted Guard, recruited from the Police and Cavalry regiments.)
(c) The Revenue Cruisers.

The Coastguard ranks were
1. Boatman.
2. Commissioned Boatman.
3. Chief Boatman.
4. Chief Boatman-in-charge.
5. Chief Officer.

In 1856, the Royal Navy took over control of the Coastguard Service. During the Crimean War 1854/56, large numbers of coastguards had been called into the Royal Navy, but presumably their places (as coastguards) were kept open for them.

Smuggling was carried on extensively around the Irish coast, tobacco being the principal commodity involved. Sir James Dombrain in giving evidence to a Select Committee on Tobacco Trade in June 1844, says “smuggling was of tobacco principally and by means of large armed cutters and luggers. A great number of vessels were from America, but principally from Holland and from Flushing”. The coastguard has always had many duties, originally largely against smugglers, but gradually, rescue and other functions became important.

For family history purposes, the Coastguard Force is unique in that the families lived with the men in either Martello Towers or coastguard cottages. They were never recruited from the district in which they served in order to reduce undue fraternisation with the community whom they effectively policed.

All the foregoing information is from Parliamentary Papers relating to Sir James Dombrain, researched by Mrs Eileen Weston at Kew Archives.

The first Ardmore coastgurad Station was established in 1836, and there was a Whitingbay detachment from Ardmore. It is interesting that a Grand Jury map of 1818 shows a ‘telegraph station’ on the cliffs near Ram Head, but no coastguard station existed at this time.

There are houses still occupied at the Goilin in Whitingbay, which are still referred to as the coastguard station. These began as “Whitingbay Watchroom”. An official account from the National Archives, Bishop St., Dublin provides the following description: "Room in a boatman’s house, occupied as a watch-room. Held at will from William Jackson, Boatman at an annual rent of £1 from 10th October 1844, the room used exclusively as a watch-room, B.O. 15th October 1844. No. 470”

There are a few pathetic headstones at the western gable of Ardmore Cathedral, which bear witness to the presence of coastguards in Whitingbay.

Eliza Tiddy, wife of William Tiddy Who departed this life, May 3rd 1847 Aged 37 Also to their daughter, Henrietta Aged 9 months.

To the memory of Jenny Wills Wife of Sampson Wills, coastguard Whitingbay Who departed this life May 14 1838 in childbirth Aged 25 years and 5 months.

Erected by Samuel Pile, Chief Boatman of Coastguards To the memory of his daughter Elizabeth B. Pile Died March 17th 1849 Aged 18 months Also to Ellen T. Pile Died May 22nd 1849 Aged 16 years. And his infant son, born and died on 22nd November 1849.

Erected by Lt. Hungerford R.N. and the Waterguards In memory of the crew of the sloop Lord Collingwood of Penzance Lost in Whitingbay, December 15th 1820.

What poignant memories of people who were far from home, in a strange land, surrounded as they would have been, at that time by people who spoke a different language and were of a different faith.

Judging by the dates of the inscriptions, specially that of Jenny Wills, coastguards were in residence in Whitingbay before the 15th October 1844 arrangement, already quoted.

The first Ardmore Coastguard station was at Ardmore strand on land now washed away by the sea. The official description says:- (also from the National Archives, Bishops St.,)

Description of Premises: Two rooms as a watch-room over a watch tower.
Terms under which held: Held at will from James Terry at an annual rent of £4.12.4 payable quarterly at the period established by the customs - Terry to keep the rooms in repair.
Not Underlet: not insured; no rates paid; not inhabited.
General observations: B.O. 12th May 1836 No. 267
Rent to be paid to Mr. Edward Odell, Terry's lease having expired.
B.O.. 9th February 1853 No. 24.
W.R.H. Roberts appointed Mr Odell's agent.

Later on evidently, there were coastguard cottages. Mr R. J. Ussher in his account of the discovery of the crannóg at Ardmore in 1879 says “Between the road and the escarpment stood a large school-house and on the landward side of the road was a range of coastguard houses. Within my memory, the sea has devoured the land here so rapidly that first the school house, then the road and then the coastguard cottages have been successively washed away.”

According to the Griffith Valuation of the 1850’s Rock House was occupied by Richard Ussher. At some period later than this, it is said to have been occupied by coastguard houses.

The contract for the fine building which became the next coastguard station on the cliff above St. Declan's Well, was given to W. B. Purser, Hermitage, Dungarvan for the sum of £1938.16.4, the work to be completed on the 1st July 1869. (Incidentally, W.B. Purser was father of the well-known Irish artist, Sarah Purser.) It was completed and handed over in 1870.(National Archives, Bishops St., Dublin)

From then on, the coastguard Station and its occupants were an accepted part of the life of the village. They took part in coast watching and life-saving and were involved in the episode of the Teaser ship-wreck; also the well-known story of following the phantom ship to sea.

The coastguard station people seemed to be on good terms with the local population. Kathleen O’Brien remembers herself and her elder sister, Rita going to children’s parties at Bates (Officer in Charge.) She also remembers Jackie Reynolds, a coastguard’s son who was in her brother, Jimmies class at school. Catherine Lyons says her grand-mother, Mary Brien (born 19020) talked also of children’s parties at the coastguard station.

In the early 1920’s at the time of the troubles the personnel at the coastguard station was augmented by 25 marines. They landed at the pier having come directly from England and practically all their provisions were brought to them by sea. Jimmie Rooney remembers the bags of coal having handles.

Kathleen remembers the marines coming in to the house (a pub); some of them used go upstairs and play the piano and sing ; one of them had a stringed instrument. Mr Smalley, Peter Merrit, Lofty Quinn, Captain Thornton are names she remembers. One of them used bring her up to Blackwoods and buy her sweets. Johnny Hallahan ran this shop for Blackwoods of Youghal, so it was generally referred to as Johnny Blackwoods.

The Marines can’t have occupied the station too long; there was no armed confrontation at any rate. It was empty when, to prevent the ‘staters’ taking possession, the ‘irregulars’ took over and ‘set fire to it’. Ciss Quain remembers the oil (or petrol) being carried up in buckets.

According to an article on 'The Rocket' by James Quain in the Ardmore journal of 1992. With the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the British coastguard service ceased. "Tom Casement, sea-faring brother of Sir Roger, the executed patriot, tried in vain to form a new Irish coastguard. His efforts did however result in the setting up of the Coast Life Saving Service. About fifty coast life-saving stations were initially set up around the Irish coast. Ardmore Head was number 23; to the east lay number 22, Helvick Head, and to the west number 24, Youghal." In 1980, the name was changed from Coast Life-Saving Service to Coast and Cliff Rescue Service and Jimmy O’Mahony is Area Officer.

A few of the coastguards from the pre 1922 period put down roots in Ardmore. Jim Eddy had joined the navy from Cornwall, in the days of sail. He married in Ardmore and lived in Coffee Lane in a house on the site of Jimmie O’Connors. He had a long beard and seemed to be always gardening. He had two sons and one daughter. One of his sons Jack took part in a memorable escape from Spike Island in 1921.

Eugene Redmond was son of a coastguard who went to school in Ardmore, as did so many other children of coastguards. He entered the Irish Civil Service, became secretary of Department of Finance and had his profile and signature on the Irish pound note. He was a constant visitor to Ardmore all his life and his daughter Maura still pays an annual visit.

My sister Eileen Colbert remembers a former coastguard (Mr. Griffin) coming to stay in Melrose - probably in the 1970’s and Pieerie Foley’s mother coming to meet him - he was very touched by her visit.

Author: Siobhan Lincoln

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