Being a coastal county Wexford has a rich maritime heritage stretching back several centuries. The remnants of former coastguard stations that once dotted its coast form part of this heritage, some of which were targeted during the Irish War of Independence.
History of the Coastguard in Ireland
Established in 1824 the initial purpose of the Coastguard service in Ireland was primarily that of revenue protection. However, by 1856 it was transferred into the Admiralty and effectively became part of the Royal Navy. It undertook a range of duties including sea rescues, the distribution of famine relief, control of smuggling and from the mid 1850s defense of the coasts in times of war or emergency. 200 coastguard stations dotted the Irish coast by 1860. Up to the late 20th century these were generally comprised of a terrace of cottages/houses, a boat house, a watch tower and other ancillary buildings. Senior officers generally had larger houses built separately or at the end of a terrace. From the mid 1800s the board of works (OPW) became responsible for the construction and maintenance of coastguard stations and buildings became more substantial, generally consisting of a terrace of stone or brick built houses, usually two storey with a watch tower located at one end. Some had defensive features such as oriel windows with gun loops, strong exterior doors and iron window shutters. In the 1920s many stations were raided by the IRA for arms and ammunition.
Raids on coastguards stations
In June 1920 Bar of Lough station, near Carrig on Bannow, was attacked and the coastguards taken captive. They were relived of their revolvers and ammunition together with a quantity of rockets which were used for rescues. Being aware of the importance of the latter though one rocket was left behind in case it was needed for such an emergency. The station was raided again on Sunday the 8th of May 1921 with its doors and windows broken. Canvass candles and bunting was reported stolen with the raid presumably undertaken to procure weapons and ammunition.
On Sunday the 12th of June 1921 Courtown Coastguard station was raided shortly before midnight. Unfortunately for the raiders any arms and ammunition had long since been removed from the premises. Telegraph and telephone wires in the locality were cut as part of the operation.
Burning of Coastguard Stations
In July of 1921 just before the truce came into place three stations were burned in county Wexford; Kilmichael, Bar of Lough and Morriscastle. The latter two occurred close to the truce on the 11th and may have been deliberate final acts of defiance by the local IRA companies.
Bar Of Lough
On July the 10th the coastguard station at Bar of Lough, together with with the officer’s house and boathouse were purposely destroyed by fire. The ruins of the buildings were visible until several years ago before being completely demolished.
On the 8th of July Morriscastle coastguard station was burned by members of Kilmuckridge and Ballygarret IRA companies. Telephone wires were cut in advance. The station was comprised of a row of terraced houses, similar in appearance to Courtown coastguard station and was described as a ‘fine cut stone building’. The coastguards still occupied it at the time and were ordered out before it was set ablaze. Furniture belonging to five of the coastguards was taken out while that of a sixth, who was on leave, remained in his locked room and was lost to the fire. They remained in Gorey that night, leaving for their homes the following morning. £7000 compensation was later awarded for the stations destruction and a further £300 for lost stores. The monies was awarded to the admiralty, who leased the building from a colonel Loftus Bryan, but on the condition that the former was bound to reconstruct the building. The station today is a private residence.
One of those involved in the burnings, Laurence Redmiond, recounted the event several decades later to the Bureau of Military History:
During the first few days of July, 1921, theBattalion 0/C, Myles Breen, visited Kilmuckridge Company and gave instructions to burn Morriscastle Coastguard Station, and to co-operate with the Ballygarrett Company to carry out the job. It was decided to do the job on the night of the 6th July, 1921. The station was occupied by one officer and five coastguards and their families. Patrick McCreavy, Captain of Ballygarrett, took charge of the men from that Company. Joe Quinsay was in charge of the men from Kilmuckridge Company. There were about fifteen men from both Companies. We cut the telephone wires. We knocked on the doors. Some of the occupants did not answer. It was necessary to fire a few shots in the air to let them know we were determined they should come out. When they were assembled outside, they were told we were going to burn the station. They were given half an hour to take out any private property they might have. We collected a quantity of gun-cotton, detonators and rocket Verey lights. We then put the coastguards and their families in the Rocket House, which we considered vas a safe distance from the main building. We obtained a quantity of hay from an adjoining field, spread it on the floors, sprinkled it with paraffin oil and then set it alight. The station was completely destroyed. The following day a gun boat came to take the coastguards and their families away. I went down to see the last of them. (Bureau of Military History Witness Statement: Laurence Redmond #1010 p5 & 6)
Kilmichael coastguard station was a fine stone built two story building constructed around 1870. Its architecture is characteristic of the period and includes defensive features, being box oriels that protrude from the sides and gables of the building with gun loops visible on their sides. On the 4th of July the building was completely gutted after being set a fire by a group of armed men. The coastguards and their families still resided in the station and before it was set ablaze were removed to neighboring houses by the strangers who were described as being courteous. £5200 compensation was later awarded for its destruction.
Mayne, D. (2016). Fortification as an element in the design of Irish coastguard Stations, 1867-1889. The Irish Sword, The Journal of the Military History Society of Ireland (Vol XXX, Number 121), p275.
O’Sullivan, M. and Downey, L. (2013). Coastguard Stations. Archaeology Ireland Vol. 27, No. 4 (Winter 2013), p30-33, Wordwell Ltd.
Courtown Coastguard Station Raid
Enniscorthy Guardian 18 June 1921, p5
Bar of Lough Coastguard Station Raids and Burning
Enniscorthy Guardian 16 July 1921, p5 – Burning of Station
New Ross Standard 25 June 1920, p3 – Raid
New Ross Standard 18 November 1921, p8 – Compensation claim
Kilmichael Coastguard Station
Enniscorthy Guardian, 16 July 1921, p5 – Burning of Station
The Irish Times, 12th Nov 1921, p8 – Compensation claim
Morriscastle Coastguard station
Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, Laurence Redmond (#1010) p5-6 Description of Burning the station
Enniscorthy Guardian, 16 July 1921, p5 – Burning of Station
New Ross Standard 18 November 1921, p8 – Compensation Claim