Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   www.SilverHawkAuthor.com   
 
Artillery - Ireland, Coastal Defences, Fort Berehaven - Bere Island, Haulbowline Island, Fort Davis, and Fort Dunree

Artillery preserved in Ireland, 

Coastal Defences, Fort Berehaven - Bere Island, Haulbowline Island, Fort Davis, and Fort Dunree

Data current to 1 March 2020.

The aim of this website is to locate, identify and document every historical piece of artillery preserved in Ireland.  Many contributors have assisted in the hunt for these guns to provide and update the data found on these web pages.  Photos are by the author unless otherwise credited.  Any errors found here are by the author, and any additions, corrections or amendments to this list of Guns and Artillery in Ireland would be most welcome and may be e-mailed to the author at hskaarup@rogers.com.

Coastal Defence Artillery in Ireland during the Second World War

(Data from "Ireland’s Emergency Fortress, Fort Shannon, County Kerry", by Pat Dargan, IMS8 Winter 2017-2018).  Article kindly shared by Brigadier-General Paul A. Pakenham (Retired), President, The Artillery Club.

During the Second World War the Irish government, built a large-scale military installation, Fort Shannon on the County Kerry side of the Shannon Estuary, for defence against a possible invasion from either the Axis or Allied powers. As Ireland took a neutral position in the war, the Irish government was concerned that an invasion force could strike up the Shannon to Limerick and quickly reach the interior of the country. 

Coast Defence Artillery - The government established a number of coastal defence forts around the coastline, but these were essentially the nineteenth century structures that the British authorities had kept under the Anglo/Irish Treaty.  The forts had been handed over to the Irish government in 1938.  When the Second World War broke out, these coastal defence installations became vital to the defence of Ireland’s deep-water ports. 

There were five Coast Defence Artillery installations in the Southern Command and two installations in the Western Command.  Manned by the Artillery Corps, Coast Defence Artillery Detachments were deployed as follows:

Southern Command - Forts Westmoreland, Carlisle and Templebreedy in Cork Harbour, Co. Cork.  Fort Berehaven in Bantry Bay, Co. Cork.  Fort Shannon on the Shannon estuary, Co. Kerry, from 1942. 

Western Command - Forts Dunree and Lenan in Lough Swilly, Co. Donegal. 

Armaments varied between installations.  They included some 26 coastal artillery pieces: 9.2-inch guns, 6-inch guns, 4.7-inch guns, 60-pounder guns, along with a number of naval 12-pounder guns and Hotchkiss 3-pounder guns.  The forts and their guns were manned 24/7 all year round.  Their primary role was the defence of their respective harbours.  In addition, these harbours were deemed ‘controlled ports’.  This gave the Coast Defence Artillery units a secondary role of ‘Control of Examination Anchorage’, which meant that all ships entering the harbours had to be searched and deemed ‘Safe’ by the Examination Service. 

The Coast Defence Artillery installations were supported by the Corps of Engineers Coast Defence Company.  With its Headquarters at Fort Camden in Cork Harbour, the unit consisted of 232 all ranks.  Its main task was the engineering support of the coastal defence installations and the provision of seventeen searchlights.  The engineers were deployed to all coastal installations except Fort Lenan which had no searchlights.  The installations were further augmented by detachments of the regular Army, Local Defence Force and the Marine Service/Marine Inscription Service.

Fort Shannon - In 1941, it was decided that the Examination Service for the Shannon estuary, based at the port of Cappa on the Clare side, would need artillery support.  A five-acre site near Tarbert in Kerry was chosen for the new Coast Defence Artillery installation to be named Fort Shannon.  It was to be armed with a battery of 6-inch guns, a machine gun platoon and a searchlight detachment. 

Commandant Mick Sugrue came from Fort Carlisle (now Fort David) to assume command and oversee the construction. Gunners were dispatched from Kildare Barracks and the Cork Harbour Forts.  Land was bought and leased.  Communication by day and night across the estuary was assured by the building of Look Out Posts (LOPs), and augmenting these with wireless and telephone.  Thus, Loop Head, Kilcraudaun Head and the Examination Service on the north shore were linked with Doon Head, Scattery Island and Fort Shannon.  Close liaison was maintained with the Harbour Master at Limerick, who held a naval rank of Lieutenant Commander.  He was responsible for movement of all shipping in and out of the estuary.

Fort Shannon was not a fort in the strict military sense, but a pair of coastal defence guns positioned at Ardmore Point, overlooking the Shannon estuary, a short distance down river from Tarbert.  The site is roughly oval in plan, set on a broad ledge high above the estuary, with the largely undefined boundaries swinging along the southern inland boundary. The terrain rises sharply from the water to an approximately level position - although it could easily be scaled in an assault - and rises slightly again a little further inland; with a farm-style gateway on both the east and west sides.  The site for the fort was, however, carefully chosen.  Ardmore Point projects into the estuary and faces downstream to cover a point where the width of the navigable channel is limited between Scattery Island on the north bank and Carrig Island on the opposite side. Consequently, an enemy vessel seeking to pass between the islands is forced to present its bow, or front, directly to the fort so that it can engage only its forward armament in an attack.

Today Fort Shannon is very overgrown with trees and shrubs.  Nevertheless, it is possible to identify the main military elements. The two gun emplacements can be seen overlooking the estuary: one near the east side of the oval, the other in a more central position. West of these is a pair of searchlight enclosures near the river edge, with the Power House and Communications Building on the higher level behind, while three machine gun pillboxes can be seen stretching along the curved southern boundary.  The Power House and Communications Centre is a single story domestic looking stone-built building with a galvanised steel hipped roof and four large rectangular windows facing the estuary. The doorway to the interior is on the landward side.

Gun Emplacements - The two gun emplacements in the centre of the site are the most obvious features of the fort.  Each consists of a gun chamber, behind which an underground passageway provides a link to the magazine.  The gun emplacements in both cases were built with mass concrete sides and roof, inside which the gun chamber was open to the estuary, except for a low parapet behind which the gun was positioned.  Overhead a heavy metal beam remains built into the underside of the roof, which allowed the gun to be manoeuvred into position on its mounting that still remains.  There are two stores at the rear of the gun chamber with the entrance to the magazine access passage between. The dogleg route of the access passage leads to the magazine.  This was also provided with an external concrete stairs leading to ground level near, the doorway to the magazine chamber.  The inclusion of the dogleg was presumably to minimise the force of a blast from an artillery or air strike, on either the gun chamber or the magazine.  Both magazines were of mass concrete construction and were completely underground.  They were given no windows, but each had small roof apertures to provide some degree of ventilation.  During the construction period it seems as if the top soil of the site was stripped away and once the concrete structures were completed the soil was returned to partially cover the sides and roofs of the emplacement and magazine for camouflage purposes.

The Guns - Both guns were 6-inch Breach Loading (BL), Mk. VII, coastal defence guns, manufactured by Vickers between 1902 and 1903.  Although the manufacture of these guns dates from the early twentieth century, they were the standard British coastal defence weapon of the period and remained so for the duration of the war.  Initially each of the Shannon guns was supplied with 120 rounds and it took a ten man crew to load, operate and fire each gun with a capacity of eight rounds per minute.  Today the Shannon Fort guns are no longer present, but seem to have been transferred to Fort Dunree Museum in Co. Donegal where they have been partially restored and are on display.

Searchlights - The two anti-aircraft searchlights were housed in a pair of flat roofed concrete structure, each with a wide aperture that allowed the searchlight to be directed across and down the estuary.  The positioning of the lights would have provided sufficient scope to illuminate any would-be attacker attempting to sail up the estuary, under the cover of darkness.  Today the concrete structure, the rusted metal drum of the lamp, and the parts of the concrete housing is all that survives.

Pillboxes - The three flat roofed mass concrete pillboxes placed on the raised ground around the landward perimeter overlook the site.  Each of the boxes is set into the ground with a square plan a small entrance doorway and narrow vertical slot on each of the four faces.  The purpose of the pillboxes was presumably to provide machine gun cover against a direct assault from either the river or the landward side. In the case of an attack, the defence capabilities of Fort Shannon would have been restricted, not least by the limited stock of ammunition held.  Furthermore, the rate of fire of the two guns would have been slow and the concrete structures would not have been sufficient to withstand a concentrated bombardment. 

Called into action - Throughout the Emergency years the gunners and engineers of Fort Shannon guarded their posts.  The only shots fired were during practise.  Its personnel were called out on one occasion however.  According to an article on Coast Defence Artillery in An Cosantóir, November 1973, by Commandant J. E. Dawson and Lieutenant C. Lawler, the men of Fort Shannon went to the rescue of the Merchant Vessel E.D.J. after it went aground near Cappa during a gale.  Thankfully no lives were lost. 

The fort closes - The fort experienced only a limited lifespan. It was abandoned at the end of the Emergency in 1946, when Commandant Mick Sugrue evacuated the fort on May 31st, 1946.  Only a small skeleton crew remained behind for a short period after. Today the fort lies abandoned and derelict. Whatever wooden support buildings that originally existed have now disappeared.  Fortunately, a restored example of the Fort Shannon gun-types can be seen in Fort Mitchell (Fort Westmorland) Museum on Spike Island, while in Grey Point Fort Museum in Co. Down, a pair of similar guns is maintained in working order, one of which was successfully test fired as recently as 2014.  Nevertheless, Fort Shannon remains an important feature of Irish military history and today the dilapidated and neglected state of the site reflects poorly on the authorities responsible for its upkeep.  This is particularly so, when contrasted with other similar fortifications around the Irish coastline, such as the museums at Fort Dundee, Fort Mitchell and Gray Point Fort, where restored and heavy and light weaponry are clearly and attractively presented to visitors.

Fort Berehaven, Bere Island, West Cork, Ireland

Bere Island fortifications.  In 1898 the British Military raised a compulsory purchase order on the eastern end of Bere island, West Cork.  Tennants were cleared from the land in order to construct fortifications. The purpose of these fortifications was to protect the British Fleet at anchor in the bay while routine maintenance was carried out. Seven gun batteries were constructed at the Ardaragh Battery and the larger Lonehort Battery. The Ardaragh battery pointed northwards towards Castletownberehaven bay while the Lonehort battery faced eastwards towards the eastern approach to the bay.

Three batteries were also built to defend the western approach to the bay, Reenduff, Derrycreveen and Ardnakinna.  All of these batteries were modest constructions compared to the site of Lonehort battery. The Lonehort battery consisted of two 6" guns and one 9" gun. Over time the battery developed into a fort with ammunition stores, barracks and watchtowers with high powered searchlights. A 15 foot dry-moat was built surrounding this fort and this could only be crossed at one point by a small iron bridge. This fort became known as Fort Berehaven.

Berehaven remained in the hands of the British during the first World War. Ireland became a free state in December 1922 due to the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922, however a clause in the treaty meant the harbour defences at Cork, Berehaven and Lough Swilly were to remain in control of the British government and became known as the Treaty Ports. The defences at the Treaty Ports could not be extended or repositioned without the consent of the Free State government and whether they could be used during hostilities depended on that government's attitude at the appropriate time.

During the inter war years the value of maintaining the Treaty Ports was considered on a number of occasions by the British Defence Chiefs. In a potential war with Germany, the Royal Navy required Cork Harbour as a base for anti-submarine units and minesweepers to cover the western approaches. If Cork Harbour was not available for any reason, anti-submarine units could be used from existing bases in England, but because of the extra distance to be covered, would only be able to patrol for a shorter time and distance as compared to operating out of Cork. If the potential enemy was France, Cork Harbour and Berehaven were required as bases for the fleet.

With their advent to power in 1932, the Fianna Fail Party, with de Valera as prime minister, adopted a policy of severing ties with and distancing the Free State from the United Kingdom. This resulted in a period of strained relations between the two governments. A new constitution was introduced in 1937, whereby the Free State, now called Eire, became a republic in all but name. As de Valera laid claim to the Treaty Ports, as well as Northern Ireland, he was not prepared to enter into any defence agreement with the United Kingdom. The most that he was prepared to offer was a declaration that Eire would not allow itself to be used as a base for attacks on the United Kingdom.

The impasse was broken in March 1938, when the British government announced that the Treaty Ports would be returned to Eire unconditionally by the end of the year. In May, the British and Irish military authorities met to discuss what equipment was to be handed over. This reclamation of the treaty ports allowed Ireland to claim neutrality during the Second World War.

During the Second World War, Churchill threatened to take back the treaty ports by force if necessary to use as refuelling bases for the British navy. Ireland set up defence forces at Berehaven fort at this time and these defence forces remained at the fort until 1945 when the war ended.

The Batteries on Bere island, including Fort Berehaven are currently abandoned and in various states of decay.

 (Colin Stone Photos)

Breechloading 6-inch Mk. VII Gun on Mk. II(L) CP Garrison Mounting, No. 1 of 2, on its original gun mounting facing the sea.  The BL 6-inch gun Mk. VII is a British naval gun dating from 1899, which was mounted on a heavy traveling carriage in 1915 for British Army service to become one of the main heavy field guns in the First World War, and also served as one of the main coast defence guns throughout the British Empire until the 1950s.

 (Colin Stone Photos)

Breechloading 6-inch Mk. VII Gun on a Mk. II(L) CP Garrison Mounting, No. 2 of 2, on its original gun mounting facing the sea.

Haulbowline Island, Cork, Ireland 

Haulbowline Island lies in Cork Harbour.  The western side of the island is the main naval base and headquarters for the Irish Naval Service, with the eastern side previously used for heavy industry.  Since 1966 the island has been connected to the mainland by a roadbridge.

 (Colin Stone Photos)

QF 12-pounder 12-cwt Mk. I Gun on Mk. I Garrison Carriage, Haulbowline Square.  The QF 12-pounder 12-cwt gun was a versatile 3-inch (76.2 mm) calibre naval gun introduced in 1894 and used until the middle of the 20th century.  It was produced by Armstrong Whitworth, Elswick, and used on Royal Navy warships, exported to allied countries, and used for land service.  In British service, the "12-pounder" was the rounded value of the projectile weight, and "12 cwt (hundredweight)" was the weight of the barrel and breech, to differentiate it from other "12-pounder" guns.

Fort Davis, County Cork, Ireland

Fort Davis is a coastal defence fortification close to Whitegate.  Together with similar structures at Fort Mitchell (Spike Island), Fort Camden (Crosshaven), and Templebreedy Battery (also close to Crosshaven), the fort was built to defend the mouth of Cork Harbour.  Though used as a fortification from the early 17th century, the current structures of the 74 acre site date primarily from the 1860s.  Originally named Fort Carlisle and operated by the British, the fort was handed-over to the Irish Defence Forces in 1938, and renamed Fort Davis.  The facility is owned by the Department of Defence, and is used as a military training site.

 (Colin Stone Photos)

Breechloading 6-inch Mk. VII Gun on a Mk. II(L) CP Garrison Mounting.

 (Colin Stone Photo)

Fort Davis guns facing the sea.

Fort Dunree, Ireland

 (Kittysoftpaws Photo)

Fort Dunree has an impressive collection of  Coast Defence Artillery fortifications, guns, equipment and documents.  The Irish for Fort Dunree is Dun Fhraoigh meaning  “Fort of the Heather”, indicating that that this site of the Fort has been an important defensive site down through history.  Fort Dunree Military Museum was first opened to the public in 1986 and attracts visitors and scholars from all over the world. Museum displays demonstrate life at Fort Dunree, showing its vital role in coastal defence, neutrality protection and a range of Coast Defence Artillery.  The underground bunkers also house a collection of artefacts that give meaning and insight into the day to day operation of the Fort.  The Saldanha Suite currently is home to the fascinating, “Rockhill Collection”. This exhibition represents a portion of an extensive private collection of military memorabilia on loan to Fort Dunree Military Museum. The exhibition displays numerous items of memorabilia belonging to the Defence Forces at home and abroad. It also contains examples of military equipment, uniforms and rank insignia of other nations who have served alongside Irish soldiers on UN, EU, ECMM and NATO led missions. 

 (The Artillery Club, Ireland Photo)

Fort Dunree, aerial view.

 (The Artillery Club, Ireland Photo)

Fort Dunre, aerial view.

 (Colin Stone Photo)

 (Patrick McKie Photo)

  (Andreas F. Borchert Photo)

QF 12-pounder 12-cwt Mk. I Gun mounted on a Mk. I Garrison Carriage, No. 1 of 2 facing north-west across Lough Swilly.

 (Andreas F. Borchert Photo)

 (Alistair Cunningham Photo)

QF 12-pounder 12-cwt Mk. I Gun mounted on a Mk. I Garrison Carriage, No. 2 of 2 facing north-west across Lough Swilly.

 (dingbat2005 Photo)

Breechloading 6-inch Mk. VII Gun on a Mk. II(L) CP Garrison Mounting, No. 1 of 2 facing out to sea.

 (Kenneth Allen Photo)

Breechloading 6-inch Mk. VII Gun on a Mk. II(L) CP Garrison Mounting, No. 2 of 2 facing out to sea.

 (Kenneth Allen Photo)

 (Colin Stone Photo)

Blomefield Cast Iron 12-pounder 34-cwt Smoothbore Muzzleloading Gun, No. 1 of 2, mounted on a concrete stand, below two Coastal Defence Guns.

 (Kenneth Allen Photo)

Blomefield Cast Iron 12-pounder 34-cwt Smoothbore Muzzleloading Gun, No. 2 of 2, mounted on a concrete stand, below two Coastal Defence Guns.

 (Michael Murtagh Photo)

Breechloading 6-inch Mk. VII Gun on a Mk. II(L) CP Garrison Mounting, facing out to sea.

 (Andreas F. Borchert Photo)

Naval mine in front of the memorial erected by the Inishowen Friends of Messinas.

 (Andreas F. Borchert Photo)

Searchlight, Fort Dundee.

 (Andreas F. Borchert Photo)

Rangefinder, originally located close to the position of the coastal defense gun and now exhibited in the underground bunker. The inscription reads: LOCATED: Close to the Gun Position at the same height above sea level.  ROLE: Records the changes in range and bearing to a moving target (Ship approaching Gun Position).  Two NCO's operate this instrument. One operates the telescope keeping the cross wires on the ship's bow water line while the other reads the range and bearing to the Target.  It is used for short range engagements up to 10,000 yds.

 (Colin Stone Photo)

17-pounder QF Towed Anti-Tank Gun.

 (Colin Stone Photo)

Ordnance QF 25-pounder field gun.