The Coastguard Cutter Vol1 No2

February 2003
Vol 1 - No.2.

The "Lady Margaret"

 |M@il Me | Visit the Website |



Ballycleary Co. Galway



Laytown, Co. Meath





Smugglers often disguised their ships. The complete system of disguise was adopted by the "Sarah Jacobe",a Dutch smuggling cutter of 70 tons. It was captured in October 1843, off Ardglass, Co. Down, by the "Chance" revenue cutter cruiser. "Chance" was a captured smuggling cutter which was taken into the revenue service. She was stationed at Westport Co. Mayo in 1835





Dear Friend,

Welcome to the Feb edition of "The Coastguard Cutter". Included in this Issue are some descriptions of smugglers at work, evading Customs Officers and payments of taxes. This smuggling brought about the need to organise a land and sea-based force to counter these illegal activities. The Preventive Waterguard and later Coastguards were the answer to the problem.
I would be glad to receive any coastguard information and pass it on in to our readers and hope to be able to send out the newsletter on a regular basis.




Up to 1820, smugglers enjoyed considerable freedom to pursue their activities in and around Cork Harbour. Even before that time, from around 1800 or earlier, smuggling of spirits had declined due to changes in excise regulations. Trade in tobacco was profitable, however and it was the smuggler’s staple product.

If the response of the Revenue Officers of the period is anything to go by (they had coastguard houses built at four locations: Inch, Roche’s Point, Garryflip and East Ferry) the level of smuggling must have been high. Penalties, for those caught, were serious. A Cork Smuggler was sentenced to seven years transportation in 1822 and to be sent away for five years on His Majesty’s fleet was a common sentence. Newspaper reports from the 1820’s give an insight into some of the "goings on" around the harbour.


"Whereas, on the night of the 29th of September 1824, as the Inspecting Commander and crew of the coastguard, stationed at Poor Head, in the county of Cork, were conveying some bales of smuggled tobacco on board a hooker at Whitegate, to be taken to the King’s Store at Cork, a large mob assembled, and several shots were fired at the men in the boat which brought the tobacco from shore to the hooker, in consequence the lives of the persons in the boat were much endangered.

Now we, the Commissioners of his Majesty’s customs hereby offer a reward of Fifty Pounds to any person or persons who shall, within six calendar months from the date hereset, prosecute to conviction any of the persons concerned in said outrage …….."

Another account of the same incident informs us that 129 bales of Tobacco were seized at Whitegate by Robert Blake, Chief Officer, Poor Head and that a large party of country people, to the amount of between 200 and 300 fired several shots at the revenue officers, without any effect

Co. Cork newspaper report.

In the ‘Cork Constitution’ of 26th September 1823 we read; On Wednesday night, Messrs. Cole and Seymour, surveyors of H.M.’s Customs at Cove… proceeded to Ringaskiddy and succeeded in discovering an extensive cave, newly and most artfully constructed, in which they found 120 bales of tobacco." The contraband was conveyed to Cobh and lodged in the King’s Stores. James O’Regan, on whose lands it was found, was committed to the County Gaol.

Spike Island was a noted place for smuggling, where small vessels could steal in unseen by the officers of Cork. At the eastern side of the Island was "Gold rock" where smugglers were said to have buried a crock of gold, and a black man – whom they had slain –to watch over it.



The 6th January 1839 was remembered in Ireland as the night of a devastating storm of hurricane intensity. To walk the street of any town or village was to venture out into a deluge of loosened tiles, bricks from chimney stacks, tree branches and about any object not solidly attached to the ground. At the beginning of the 20th Century, when the Government were trying to ascertain the ages of uneducated town and country applicants for a new Old age Pension a question as to did they remember the "Night of the Big Storm" could help as it was a night remembered by old and young alike.

On the ‘Night of the Big Wind’ the 6th. January 1839 the Revenue Cruiser Diligence, manned by a forty-one crew, and also had aboard a coastguard officer, his wife and family, who were being taken from Glenarm to Donegal where the officer had been posted. Nothing was seen or heard of the vessel after leaving Glenarm, but it was deduced that she must have foundered somewhere off the Giant’s Causeway, as items of wreckage ‘with the Queen’s mark upon them’ were washed ashore at Ballycastle. (3)

As can be imagined this night at sea would have been horrendous in the extreme and disaster would have been inevitable. Is it any wonder that fifty people and a strongly built Naval Cruiser could vanish from the sea leaving only a few meagre items of wreckage

*Any input to the sinking of the ‘Diligence’, crew and Coastguard passengers, would be appreciated.


The wreckers had a frightening experience early in the nineteenth century when the firs steam-ship appeared off the coast and lay to for some reason. Seeing smoke issuing from her, and knowing nothing of steam power they assumed she was on fire. Boats and currachs were put to sea at once and the race was on to get to her with all speed – not to give assistance to the unfortunate crew – but to rob her of everything on board. Just when they were close to and about to board her she suddenly dashed forward against wind and tide and moved so rapidly that they turned around and rowed homewards for their lives, even faster than they had come, shouting Long si! Long si! (Fairy Ship). Some educated people back on land had read about steam-power, but could not convince the would-be pirates that they had not seen a fairy ship. (4)

British Coastguard Records by Alfred Collins. Pages 1 to 4. At.
For U.K. researchers the best source is the PUBLIC RECORD OFFICE. At Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU, England.
Record Leaflets of HM Coastguards are on the Internet at
All Royal Navy Coastguard records were taken by the Admiralty when the coastguards left Ireland in 1922.
IRISH RESEARCH  (some suggestions);
National Library of Ireland. Kildare Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. Has large number of British NAVY LISTs from 1838 to 1924 where you can trace Navy Officers postings.
National Archives, Bishop Street, Dublin 8, Ireland. Selection of Office of Public Works Lease books, Station building plans etc. Also 1901 and 1911 Census Returns for thirty-two Counties of Ireland.Plus some Church of Ireland records on Micro-film.
R.C.B.L. Representative church Body of Ireland. Braemor Park Churchtown, Dublin 14. Have many original Church of Ireland Baptismal, Marriage and Burial records containing Coastguard family entries. 

You can also find more relevant links here

References :
  1. "Down paths of Gold" by Pat. Fitzgerald 1992
  2. "Down paths of Gold" by Pat. Fitzgerald 1992
  3. ‘Shipwrecks of the Ulster Coast’ by Ian Wilson. p.146
  4. ‘Within the Mullet’ a history of Belmullet in Co.Mayo.

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0 Comments · 10647 Reads · Print  -> Posted by Tony on June 17 2007


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