20 Jul 2012
Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 19 July 2012
Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 19 July 2012
Technical Memories (Part 25)
The Uncertainties of War
“Many of the citizens of Cork were given a sidelight on Sunday of the horrors of war as they watched the arrival of refugees from Belgium by the Cork Steam Packet Company, SS. Inniscarra…every detail of every happening in the conflict is eagerly sought, the development of affairs closely watched, and the significance of every move fully weighted” (Southern Star, 3 October 1914, p.7).
The 53 Belgians, who arrived to Cork in October 1914, numbered six groups of families-grandfathers and grandmothers, fathers and mothers and children. There were 12 men, 24 women, and 17 children. They came from small towns about Louvain, and spoke Flemish-only three of them, spoke French. They were only a small portion of thousands who came to the refugee centre at Alexandra Palace, London. Those that came to Cork were escorted by a Belgian lady named Lily Coulier. This young lady was engaged in the north of England as a governess, and hearing of the stress of her fellow country mean and women, with the permission of her employer, she offered her services to one Emile de Cartier, a Belgian diplomat and envoy in China and Siam. He resided in London at the time and was Director of the Relief Committee in England. Lily’s knowledge of English made her invaluable as an escort.
In the Cork context, Lily joined her group, 53 in number, at Paddington station and travelled with them to Fishguard. There, two nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor, Montenotte, Cork, met her and helped her to escort her group to Cork on the SS Inniscarra. Miss Coulier told a representative of the Cork Examiner that she was to bring circa eighty refugees to Cork, but some of them hid themselves so as not to come. They did not want to be too far away from home. The City of Cork Steam Packet Company gave their premises at St Patrick’s Quay to house the 53. Whilst in Ireland, they were not allowed seek employment. The Southern Reporter reported; “Cork will not see these Belgians want for food. This may be expressed in the enthusiastic reception given them yesterday morning…the wharf was thronged, and with fresh accessions to the crowd to about nine o’clock, when the SS Inniscarra berthed there was a dense throng on the quayside, and hearty cheers greeted the exiles”.
The SS Inniscarra, which had a gross tonnage of 1,412, was built at Newcastle by Wigham Richardson, and Co. in 1903.On 12 May 1918, the SS Inniscarra, on a voyage from Fishguard to Cork with a general cargo, was sunk by a German Submarine, 10 miles to the south east of Ballycotton Island. A total of 28 people lost their lives on that occasion. It was one of many ships targeted by the German Navy during World War I.
The targeting of food supplies is discussed in the Journals of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for 1914-1915. Dr. Denis Kelly, Bishop of Ross, in an address to the Department, and in view of the uncertainties of war, made a number or arguments for the retention in Ireland of as many food supplies as possible. He gave a warning against the sale of breeding stock, and recommended the retention of sufficient seed to sow a greatly extended area of grain crops. He argued as well for the economising of grain and other concentrated feeding stuffs by sowing crops suitable for soiling in spring, and the saving of flax weed in districts where the crop was grown.
Dr. Denis Kelly (1997-1924, from Nenagh, Co. Tipperary) impressed on the Department that farmers, labourers, and all those having land suitable for the purpose, should make provision for growing for household purposes cabbage and other vegetables suited for winter cultivation. He also asserted that occupiers of land had a duty to make immediate preparation in the national interest as well as their own, for a largely-increased area of tillage crops, especially grain and potatoes, necessary for the food of our people. Noting in his address to the Department: “if war be accompanied by want of food, or even by scarcity of food. in order to feed our own people, we would require three-quarters of a million acres of wheat, When I was a child this country did sow half a million acres of wheat, but the sowing is now down to 37,000 acres. The area under oats should be increased to one million acres. The area under potatoes is now 383,000 acres. In 1861, Ireland grew over one million acres”.
Ireland depended largely on the exportation and sale of its crops from the tilled land. Asking a what if question, “what would happen if the fleet of the German Navy succeeded in getting control of the Atlantic Ocean, even for a short period?” He noted: “there will be undoubtedly be great suffering and great shortage of food. We ought to get that fact well into our minds. We saw the other day that two large German food ships were seized by our navy as prizes of war. That food has not reached Germany and never will”.
To be continued…
650a. SS Inniscarra berthed at Penrose Quay, c.1915 (picture: Cork City Library)