Saturday, 13 June 2015


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


                                                                                  Co. Dublin

                                                                                        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.

                                                          I  am,


                                              Your obedient Servant,


The Secretary,

   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).