ith over half the world currently in lockdown mode, it would be easy to see these strange days of Covid-19 as unprecedented.
In many ways though, the world has been here before, as Rosemary Raughter pointed out in her fascinating piece on the Spanish Flu epidemic.
And now, another local historian, Gary Paine, recalls Greystones being put into lockdown back in 1918, as Ireland’s coastal towns were ordered to go dark every night, in order to avoid German U-boats cutting through Irish waters.
Told in more detail in Gary’s latest historical archive of the town, A Pictorial History Of Greystones & Its Coastal Environs 1760 To 2018, you can get the full story in his glossy, 296-page beauty right abouthere.
The bould Gary is brought to books
In the meantime, kettle on, feet up, and teeth out, as we jump back to Greystones in preservation mode 102 years ago…
The ongoing lockdown is a reminder of a time just over a century ago when restrictions were placed on householders all along the coast of Ireland.
Back then the threat was very different, German U-boat activity. for most of 1918, the householders of Greystones were required by order not to permit any lights to be visible from the sea during the hours of darkness.
SS Tuscania goes down…
It was the sinking of the SS Tuscania off Rathlin Island in early February 1918 – the first ship carrying US troops to be torpedoed and sunk during the war – that lead to the good folks of Greystones having to endure restrictions for the remainder of the war.
The front page of The Wicklow Newsletter, dated 9th February 1918, contained a copy of The Lights (Ireland) Order of 17th January 1918, issued by Admiral Lewis Bayly. This came into force the following day and placed a prohibition on lights in ‘all places in Ireland within five miles of the coast’. The Order gave powers to naval, military and police authorities to ensure that it was strictly complied with.
The Wicklow Newsletter 5OCT18
The clipping here from The Wicklow Newsletter, dated 5th October 1918, reported on proceedings at Bray Petty Sessions Court. Under the sub-heading Lights In Houses, a witness was quoted as saying “they were getting any amount of trouble in Greystones”. The report carried details of a number of fines imposed on householders for consistent breaches of the Order. Initially, the District Inspector, Mr Molony, had been content to issue a number of cautions regarding lights being visible, but the flagrant breaches led to proceedings being brought against a number of property holders.
One of those was prosecuted was the proprietor of The Braemar Hotel (later destroyed by fire), which was situated on the corner of Trafalgar Road and Sidmonton Place. Despite the proprietor reminding guests about the importance of ensuring no lights were visible, coast guard Buchanan gave evidence of finding a light visible from the sea and further noted that “he had personally cautioned the defendant on four occasions as to lights”. Furthermore, “it was the owner’s responsibility to ensure that blinds were in the windows”, and accordingly, the proprietor was fined £1 and costs.
William H. Dann
The need for the property owners of Greystones to accept the imposition regarding lights was brought all too close to home, just three weeks earlier. On 14th September 1918, the sailing schooner Joseph Fisher (owned by William H. Dann, left, coal importer and then proprietor of the Beach House) departed Garston on the Mersey.
UB 64 submarine sinking
Early the following morning, when within eyesight of Greystones, at a position located 16 miles east-north-east of the Codling Bank Lightship, the crew of the Joseph Fisher spotted a periscope of a submarine. They immediately took to the ship’s lifeboat and watched on as the German Navy U-boat, UB 64, under the command of Sub-Lieutenant Ernst Krieger torpedoed the Joseph Fisher, sending her and her cargo of coal to the bottom of the sea.
Fisher’s final entry
The final entry in the register for the Joseph Fisher noted her fate; ‘vessel sunk in Irish Sea by enemy submarine on 15th September 1918′. She was one of ten vessels sunk by UB 64 in the Irish Sea during a 10-day period, with a combined loss of 70 lives. Less than a month later, another U-boat sank the mail boat, the RMS Leinster en route to Holyhead.
With more than 500 lives lost, it remains the greatest loss of life ever in the Irish Sea.
The above is just one of a number of stories told in Gary Paine’s fascinating book, which is still available to order for €35 plus postage online. Contact Gary on firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the website here. And check out our 2018 interview here.
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