The Coastguard Cutter Vol1 No11

November 2003
Vol. 1 - No.11.

The "Lady Margaret"

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Portrush C.G. Station
Tenement and boatmens houses. Lease 1817. House premises. Lease 1887.

Boat-house erected by Dublin Board of Works 1867. Flagstaff and Signal station.

Ballyheigue Coastguard Station, Co. Kerry.

Inspecting Chief Officers house containing on the basement floor Kitchen, larder, scullery, store and servants room. Ground floor, parlour, pantry and drawing room (the drawing room is 20ft. by 13ft.)

Bedroom floor, 4 bedrooms, dressing room and water closet.

Out-houses to Inspt. Chief Officers house: coach-house with man-servants room. Stable with hay-loft over. Chief Boatmans house has 4 bedrooms, kitchen, living room and scullery. Five cottages for the men containing 5 rooms each. Defence tower contains watch-room, 2 of the Chief Boatmans apartments.



I would be glad to receive any coastguard information, stories or general snippets and pass it on in to our readers.

"The lands under tillage are rendered fertile by the abundance of sea manure (sea-weed and sand) which is procured along the coast. The Bay affords no shelter for vessels and has been frequently mistaken for the Shannon. A coastguard station is placed here forming one of the five which constitute the district of Listowel" (3)

Irish Times 28th. May 1920.


Co.Kerry : At 2 A.M. on the 26th. a party of armed and disguised men surrounded the Ballyheigue Coastguard Station, and compelled the crew, numbering four, to surrender. Some revolvers,arms, and a quantity of private property were taken away, after which the station was set on fire.

Two revolvers and 150 rounds of ammunition were left intact. Paraffin and petrol were used to burn the building.

More below....

Dear Friend,

Welcome to the November edition of  "The Coastguard Cutter".

Two main topics this month;
Signalling, Killybegs reconstruction & Ballyheigue CG Station snippets, and as usual a few bits and pieces you may find of interest.



In isolated coastal stations it was imperative that information could be relayed from station to station, and from stations to vessels at sea. The coastguards became so proficient at various modes of signalling that after the heavy loss of life of coastguards at sea, called up as Naval reservists in early 1914 it was felt that they could resume their earlier landbased duties to better advantage. A coast watch-out, signals sent to Naval vessels off-shore, sightings of submarines, mines near the coast, or possible attempts at German landings were their war-time duties.

In order to avoid confusion and indiscriminate firing of signals, Coastguards were given a regular code. One blue light fired was a signal for assistance or a notification that suspected smugglers had been sighted. Two lights fired from head-quarters was the signal for all men to return to their guards, while three lights was an urgent signal for the help of the whole station, as smugglers were running a cargo in force.


On the 3rd. December 1863 the schooner, a fore-yard and sails missing, was observed attempting to enter the Skerry Roads in a north-westerly gale. She anchored, but being in obvious distress, two boats put out from Portrush; the schooners crew were unable to jump aboard the rescuing craft as they bobbed and yawed alongside, and by early afternoon the Providence had dragged to within 500 yards of the beach. The boat manned by local coastguards cast off again, but capsized in the surf and John Winter, an Englishman, was drowned. Inevitably the battered collier touched the bottom, was rolled over and quickly broken up, drowning three of the five crew. (1)


In 1804 and 1805 a line of signal stations was built from Dublin south along the east coast, around the south and west coast to Malin Head. These were intended to give warning of enemy shipping to the naval and military authorities. At each station a signal mast was set up close to the tower, it consisted of a shop’s top-mast of fifty feet, with a cap and crosstrees to secure the thirty-foot flagstaff above while below the crosstrees was a thirty-foot gaff or inclined spar. A similar arrangement can be seen at Naval establishments and yacht clubs today.

The advent of the telegraph service improved the communications between stations, so that the Service gradually began to provide the police authorities with information on the activities of persons suspected of being involved with subversion. This latter role had the effect of alienating the personnel at local level, and this led to boycotts being placed on them as well as anybody who helped them with provisions or services. The worsening political situation after 1919 led the British authorities to consider some way of defending the Service, which was becoming the target of attacks. Because of the number of stations, and their remoteness, it was decided that withdrawal of the personnel was the only remedy. As this policy was being implemented the number of attacks on premises increased and were common all along the coast.



Rebuilding Work commenced on rebuilding part of the Coastguard Station in 1998. The extensive work is on-going but they have now reached the internal stage. Funds were awarded from the Heritage Council for this worthy project.

The owner* was born in Cottage No.1 and having lived in England for some years is looking forward to returning to the former home. The station consists of the Watch-tower and five cottages. Restoration projects in general are costly (budget over-run), Time consuming, hold-ups of every sort but, the rewards are so gratifying, putting a soul back in an old building, enjoying a fabulous view across the Bay. Home again


* - Name withheld by request

The Burning of Ballyheigue Coastguard Station

In the 1860's, an impressive new Coastguard Station was built in Ballyheigue with a slip way opposite. Its aim was to stamp out smuggling. It stood proudly beside the sea for almost sixty years, until the War of Independence from 1919-1921. In May 1920, one of the biggest operations in North Kerry took place when the great building was burned to the ground.
Thankfully, no lives were lost in the blaze, but the sequence of events were bizarre to say the least. During the attack, the leader, Michael Pierce, briefly suspended operations to allow one woman into the building to retrieve a valuable ring.
The arsonists did not burn the building to the ground. They let this job to the Coastguards, who were at sea at the time! Pierce instructed his men to fill the water tanks with petrol and oil. When the unfortunate victims turned on the hoses, well you can guess what happened! (4)



Coastguards were generally men who had served in the Royal Navy, and many came from the southern ports of Britain. Ireland was not a popular posting with members of the coastguards; stations were of necessity in remote areas, there were few opportunities for recreation or socialising, and the normal tensions between English and Irish affected them. Moreover, in Ireland they had special duties which were guaranteed to make them unpopular, they were expected to help the R.I.C. (Royal Irish Constabulary) in stamping out poitin stills (Illicit whiskey). These activities took them far inland, but were conspicuously unsuccessful. When the Congested Districts Board was set up in 1891, the coastguards were involved in helping to promote the fishing industry in some parts of the west of Ireland. They were seen as an arm of the British administration, and tensions probably increased during World War One, when for security reasons, coastguards and their families were ordered not to fraternise with local people. The upsurge of Irish Nationalism in the first decades of the Twentieth Century undoubtedly affected the position of the coastguard.

Nevertheless, relations between the Coastguards and the local people in Ballyheigue seem to have been cordial, and there are no records of violence or intimidation against them. The heroism of men involved in helping ships in difficulty, and their assistance in other drowning tragedies would have earned them the respect of many. This was certainly true in the case of Captain Fletcher, who was transferred from Ballyheigue in 1907. The Kerry Evening Post wrote that he and his wife had become very popular in the area "by their extreme kindness and courtesy to all… especially Mrs.Fletcher who was indefatigable in her attendance on the sick of the locality, her medical knowledge being of great assistance to patients."

It seems that there were normally about six men in the Ballyheigue station along with wives and families, but during the war, this was reduced to one.

Accounts from Horgan’s bar/grocery show that the following coastguards were customers in the early 1880’s: Thomas Billet, John Crawley, Henrt Loader-Bourne, Harrington, Herity and Ash. George Robertson was a coastguard officer in 1886, and Edward Johns in 1894. The Census of 1901 shows that there were six officers and each had a wife and children, who lived in the houses behind the station. All six were English. They were John Fletcher, Frederick Dodridge, George Cole, George Dennis, Henry Gage and James Hunt. In 1911, there were five men: one named William Sullivan came from Cork, and the others were English. They were George Stokes, William Agland, Samuel Strain and Charles Spiller.

N.B. Corrections to above. John G.Fletcher was born in Scotland. Samuel Strain was born in Co.Down, Ireland.

Please note
: The December edition of "The Coastguard Cutter" will be a Christmas Edition. Therefore, it will not be sent out on the first of the month as usual. It will be sent out closer to the season of goodwill & Yuletide merriment, etc.

References :
  1. ‘Shipwrecks of the Ulster Coast’ by Ian Wilson. p.149
  2. The Coastguard Service in the Parish of Kinglass’ by Paddy Tuffy, Enniscrone.
  3. "A Topographical Directory of Ireland" by Samual Lewis. 1837
  4. 'History of Ballyheigue' by Jamie Casey
  5. Local History

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0 Comments · 15448 Reads · Print  -> Posted by Tony on June 17 2007


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