When I started writing this story (September 2013), I hoped that people with knowledge and/or memories of lightships in general and Cormorant in particular, would get in touch and add to the story. I post each chapter on this blog and on three nautical-type websites. Over 1,000 people view each weekly chapter on the four sites and the 21 month total has passed 74,000. In spite of this interest, the feedback has been rather sparse, but then I suppose that people with knowledge and/or memories of lightships prior to WWII must also be very sparse! I am very grateful to those who have responded. However, researchers and historians are continually delving into the past and unearthing previously lost or forgotten facts, which may or may not be relevant to their field. I did wonder when I found the Trinity House record of Winston Churchill being fined one shilling for smoking at a board meeting, whether any of his biographers knew of the incident.
Well, out of the blue, I have been contacted by Dr Eoin Kinsella of the University College Dublin. He is currently working for the Commissioners of Irish Lights, putting together a history of the Commissioners during the revolutionary decade in Ireland (c.1912-22). It seems that, in 1916, Cormorant was requisitioned by the Royal Navy to temporarily house some rebel prisoners. It was for only one night and they were taken off to Dublin the next day. It does seem a lot of trouble to go to and I wonder if they were rebels of importance. The documentation found by Dr Kinsella was in the very formal style of the time – I wonder if anyone today uses the phrase “I am, Sir, Your obedient Servant” !
Photo 101 shows one of the original documents and as it is quite faded I have transcribed it below.
Irish Light Stores
Date 3rd May 1916
I beg to report that on the afternoon of 1st inst, I received a visit from the Naval Commander here stating that the Captain in Charge of the Naval Base at Kingstown required the use of one of our Lightships in the Harbour here for purposes of their own services.
I took the Officer over to the “Petrel” and “Cormorant” and he decided on the latter vessel and asked that a few small matters such as securing latches and putting some loose material away should be carried out which I had done. Some few men were sent on board during the night in charge of a Guard from the Naval ship in the Harbour, and next day the Prisoners were removed and the vessel was not further required as will be seen by the enclosed letter.
Your obedient Servant,
Irish Lights Office,
The enclosed letter referred to by Mr Foot is a letter from the Navy saying they have no further use for Cormorant as the prisoners have been moved to Dublin (Photo 102).
Next year is the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising and there will no doubt be a great deal of interest in that era which, I hope, will yield further revelations on Cormorant’s past. I intend to approach the Admiralty to see whether any records of that period still exist and whether the names of those special prisoners can be ascertained. A long shot? Yes it is, but who would have thought that I would be able to find out the name of the tugboat skipper who towed Cormorant from Dublin to Belfast in 1943 ? (Mr John Cooper).