We will be discussing our recent excavation at the Ardagh Battery together with a wider look at the archaeology and history of the Napoleonic defences of Bere Island in Cork City tomorrow. The lecture is part of the Fortified Places of Cork City & County series at Cork City Library, and Karen Healy of the OPW will also be speaking on the British Army in Kinsale. In advance of the talk Damian gave a radio interview to discuss this vital time in Bere Island’s history which you can listen to by clicking here. Tomorrow’s talk takes place in Cork City library from 7pm, hopefully we will see some of you there!
Posted by Damian Shiels on December 7, 2015
Last week Rubicon funded an excavation at the site of one of the Napoleonic-era gun batteries on Bere Island. This artillery position is located in the townland of Ardagh, overlooking Lawrence Cove and Rerrin Village on the island. We decided to target this location based on the results of the extensive survey which we had undertaken into the early 19th century island defences in 2013. That survey, which was financially supported by The Heritage Council, combined archaeological fieldwork, detailed archaeological survey and historical assessment to produce the most extensive report on the origins of Bere Island’s military heritage yet undertaken. We will be bringing readers results of the excavation on this site in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we are delighted that we can now make the report freely available to those who wish to read it online by clicking on the link below:
The report runs to almost 18,000 words in length, with 31 figures and 118 plates, documenting every Napoleonic-era site on the island. Aside from the project background, aims, and methodology, the report explores the context of the Bere Island defences, the coastal defence of Ireland, the coming of the military defence to Bere Island and the armaments employed, before examining eight of the Napoleonic-era sites in detail. We hope this report will prove a valuable resource for anyone interested in military archaeology or the archaeology of Ireland’s islands.If you have any questions or queries about any aspect of the report or work please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Damian Shiels on October 29, 2015
We took the opportunity of Heritage Week in August to return to Bere Island and deliver a lecture discussing our survey work dealing on the Napoleonic defences. We are delighted to be heading back to the island next week, when we will be conducting a small trial excavation at one of the Ardagh Battery gun positions. This is the first time one of these important positions will be excavated on the island, and we hope to learn more about how it was constructed and operated. This position was one of the first military installations built on Bere, as the Royal Navy sought to defend the island from potential Napoleonic incursions. If you are around Bere Island next week why not pop up to see our excavation underway– the best time to visit us will be on Wednesday 21st October. After the work is completed we will update readers as to our discoveries!
Posted by Damian Shiels on October 17, 2015
There has been somewhat of a lull in posting on the site, but it is the intention to rectify that in 2015. In a recent post on another heritage blog we run, the Midleton Archaeology & Heritage Project, we looked at the records of some of the men from that parish who served in the Napoleonic Wars. Information on them had been recorded at the soldier’s homes of the Royal Hospitals in Chelsea and Kilmainham, through which they had passed. These have been digitized by Find My Past. We decided to take a look to see what records there may be relating to 19th century Bere Islanders. Historically Bere Island has been closely tied to maritime affairs, but many Islanders also served in the army. The Royal Hospital Chelsea records give us an insight into some of them, including the three islanders below, who saw varied service around the globe, from North America to Burma to the Australian Colonies.
Sergeant Denis McCarthy, Chelsea Pensioner
Denis was born around 1805 on Bere Island and was a mason by trade. He enlisted in the 2nd Battalion of the 60th Rifles at Cork on 18th January 1826 when he was 21-years-old. Denis was described as 5 feet 7 1/2 inches in height, with brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion. For most of Denis’s service the regiment was known as the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, the ancestors of the Royal Greenjackets. He was promoted to Corporal on 10th November 1830 and to Sergeant on 11th April 1832. Denis, whose character was described as ‘very good’, served for a total of eight years 265 days, being discharged on 6th October 1834 as a result of ‘disability arising from constitutional causes.’ By that time he had been in the General Hospital in Dublin for a month. He spent all of his military service period in Great Britain and Ireland.
Private John O’Brien, Chelsea Pensioner
John was born on Bere Island around 1810. He was a labourer by trade, and enlisted in the 12th (Suffolk) Regiment in Londonderry on 12th November 1829 when he was 19-years-old. John was described as 5 feet 7 1/4 inches tall, with brown hair, hazel eyes and a fresh complexion. He was transferred to the 84th (York and Lancaster) Regiment on 22nd July 1834 in order that he could serve with his older brother, who was also presumably from Bere Island. He was stationed in Jamaica in the West Indies for 2 years 119 days between the 24th January 1836 and 22nd May 1838, and although he was promoted to Corporal while away he afterwards resigned that position. He later spent 6 years and 144 days in the East Indies, stationed in Burma and India. John was described as a ‘good soldier, trustworthy and sober’ and he had been awarded a good conduct badge. Despite this, his record shows that he had been court-martialled on 10th February 1845 for being absent without leave, making use of abusive language and being drunk. For this he was sentenced to two months imprisonment with the first and last 14 days in solitary confinement. He steered clear of trouble following this; after a total of 18 years, 323 days in the service, he was discharged on 17th November 1848 while serving in Secunderabad, India. John had been hospitalized on a number of occasions during his service; for ‘Cattarh’ or inflammation of the mucus membranes in 1844, with ulcers in 1846, and then with ‘cephalagia’ or severe headaches twice in 1848. The cephalagia had apparently been brought on by the foreign climate while on foreign service and it was felt a return to Europe would improve his condition. Having being discharged he headed for home, landing in Gravesend on 5th June 1849.
Private William Thomas, Chelsea Pensioner
William was born on Bere Island around the year 1812. When he was 17-years-old the labourer enlisted in the 94th Regiment in Belfast on 13th April 1829. He transferred to the 11th (Devonshire) Regiment on 8th April 1832. He would serve in the army for the next 20 years 266 days, during which time he saw the world. His career included over 15 years on foreign service, during which time he was in Gibraltar (2 1/2 years), Malta (2 months), Corfu (5 years, 4 months), Canada (2 1/2 years) and the Australian Colonies (5 years, 1 month). He received three good conduct badges during his service. William was eventually discharged as a result of chronic rheumatism in 1850, having struggled with it for three years.
Royal Hospital Chelsea records (original document scans viewed on FindMyPast).
Posted by Damian Shiels on January 10, 2015
We are pleased to announce that we will be presenting the results of our first year’s work on Bere Island at a public lecture on the island on Saturday 22nd June. Rubicon’s Damian Shiels will be giving the talk, which will take place in the Community Centre at 7pm. Last year our work concentrated on examining the Napoleonic-era defences on the island, which represent the beginning of a sustained military presence than spans over 200 years. We combined detailed surveys of these sites with historical research in an effort to understand the circumstances behind the construction of the defences. We will be presenting these results and also outlining our plans for future work at Saturday’s talk.
In July 1806 Arthur Wellesley (the later Duke of Wellington and victor of Waterloo) visited Bere Island and was singularly unimpressed with the fortifications there. He cast serious doubt on their capacity to defend the anchorage. Come along on the 22nd to find out if we think the Iron Duke’s assessment was a fair one!
Posted by Damian Shiels on June 12, 2013
Last year’s work on Bere Island off the coast of West Cork concentrated on a historical and physical survey of the island’s Napoleonic-era defences in order to learn as much as we could about the origins of the protracted military presence there. The results of this work have now been synthesized in a report entitled ‘Safe Haven: the effectiveness of the defensive network of Bere Island in the early nineteenth century’.
Invaluable grant funding from The Heritage Council was received for this work, with Rubicon Heritage Services supplying the additional monies and resources required. The report (running to over 17,000 words, with 31 figures and 118 photographs!) was finalised in November. This report has been shared with Bere Island Projects and Bere Island Heritage Centre, and a public presentation will also be arranged on it in the coming weeks to inform islanders of the results. We are also currently exploring further avenues for making the results as widely accessible as possible, including publication.
The report is made up of a number of different sections, including the background to the project, its aims and the way it was carried out. The main sections explore the political and military context of the Bere Island defences, the coastal defence of Ireland during this period, the coming of military defence to Bere Island, the island’s armament and each of the individual sites themselves. Finally the effectiveness of the defences and their main purpose are assessed in light of the historical and physical survey. Some of the illustrations from the report are included here to highlight the type of product the report produced.
It is our intention to continue our annual explorations of different aspects of Bere Island’s military heritage, so stay tuned for more on further plans both to communicate last year’s results to as wide an audience as possible, and also our plans for the future!
Posted by Damian Shiels on April 11, 2013
As part of the project we needed to get good images of all of the early nineteenth century sites, but it was also very important to place the sites and the island in general in it’s wider context. We were very fortunate that we had experienced photographer Brian MacDomhnaill on the survey team, who was responsible for our project images.
While on Bere we set out for Knockanallig in the centre of the island to try to get some landscape photos. Among the surprises that awaited us on the hill where a network of field systems which may well be of some antiquity, but more of that anon! While on the hill Brian took a series of photographs which he later ‘stitched’ together using photographic software. The results were two panoramas of the island and it’s setting in Bantry Bay, one facing east and one facing west. Although they still require some processing and modification, these images help to set all of the nineteenth century military defences in their wider context, and are a valuable tool for the project. Click on the images below to get a detailed look at the panoramas, which you can then zoom in on.
Posted by Damian Shiels on October 28, 2012
During our research as part of the Bere Island Project one of the maps we examined was this extraordinary depiction of a Royal Naval fleet in Berehaven in the early 1800s, just before the renewal of war with France. It is filled with fascinating detail from the time immediately before the construction of the island’s network of defensive structures such as the martello towers and signal tower. It shows the beginnings of a relationship that would lead to Berehaven becoming one of the key anchorages of the British fleet.
The map is annotated with information that was perceived as being useful in the future. It reveals similarities and differences between the Bere Island and Berehaven of 2012 and that of 200 years ago. Interestingly, the Lawrence Cove of today was then referred to as ‘Hookerbay’. The navy took the opportunity of their anchorage to mark out a number of sites that they thought would be of use on the island. This includes a small stream running into the bay from Ardagh townland, which they record as a ‘Convenient watering place’, the areas of Loughaunnagower and Lough Alimin which are called ‘Fresh Water Ponds’ and a ‘Mass House and Burying Grounds’ near Ballynakilla. As well as this they noted the rich resources to be found around the island and the haven, such as the areas of ‘good trawling’, ‘very fine oysters and scallops’ and the somewhat rueful recognition of ‘oyster beds but private property’.
The map also provides advice for Royal Naval ships that may seek sanctuary in the haven. It points out landmarks on the mainland that should be noted in order to avoid hazards, such as ‘McSwiney’s House’ ‘Dunbui [Dunboy] House’ and ‘Drury’s Rock’. But what of the fleet themselves? There are nineteen ships depicted, and the cartographer has taken the time to name each of them. This gives us an opportunity to explore their remarkable history. Many sailed the World and were involved in some of the most famous sea battles of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including engagements of the American War of Independence, Seven Years War and Napoleonic Wars. Many had already seen action before their time in Berehaven- indeed a number had formerly been French Naval vessels that had fallen in battle in previous years. For a few greater deeds were still to come; a number would later serve at the most famous naval battle of them all, when Nelson defeated the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar in 1805.
The ships that are depicted off Bere Island are as follows:
1. Windsor Castle
2. Princess Royal
A Second Rate 98 Gun vessel- Fought at Battle of the Chesapeake (1781), Battle of St. Kitts (1782), Battle of the Saintes (1782), Battle of the Mona Passage (1782), Glorious First of June (1794), Battle of Groix (1795), Battle of Cape St. Vincent (1797), Battle of Cape Finisterre (1805)
A Second Rate 98 Gun vessel- Fought at Battle of Trafalgar (1805)
A Second Rate 98 Gun vessel- Battle of Cape Finisterre (1805)
Duke Class 98 Gun vessel- Fought at Battle of San Domingo (1806)
Third Rate 74 Gun vessel (later served as a prison ship)
Third Rate 74 Gun vessel- Fought at Battle of Trafalgar (1805)
A Third Rate 80 Gun former French Vessel- originally the Deux Frère- Fought at Glorious First of June (1794- as the Juste on the French side)
Third Rate 74 Gun vessel- Fought at Battle of the Nile (1798)
Fifth Rate 36 Gun vessel- Fought at Action of 10 November 1808 (1808)
Fifth Rate 42 Gun former French vessel- Fought at the Battle of Tory Island (1798)
19. A Victualler
This remarkable map offers us the origins of Bere Island’s position as a major naval centre, and captures a moment in time when some of the greatest naval ships in the World were anchored in Berehaven. The island would become a key focus of naval activity from this point onwards, a position it still enjoys to this day.
(A copy of the map can be seen at the Bere Island Heritage Centre)
Posted by Damian Shiels on October 27, 2012
We are delighted to announce that we have finalised the schedule for the 2012 fieldwork, which will take place between 27 July and 11 August. We have set up a dedicated page on this site to illustrate the programme, which you can find here. Rubicon will be setting up an operations tent at Ardagh Martello Tower at the commencement of the survey, where training will be available for those volunteers who are joining us. From there we will be working our way through the surveys of the different Napoleonic-era sites. If you are from the island and interested in volunteering for any of the days of the project please contact us at email@example.com. Hope to see you there!
Posted by Damian Shiels on July 17, 2012
As the date of our survey on the Napoleonic-era defences of Bere Island nears, we are busy in the Rubicon offices preparing mapping for each of the sites. One of our key tools in this is the use of GIS, which is short for Geographical Information Systems.
GIS is a key part of our survey, as it will allow us to quickly and accurately identify where the early 19th century defences stood. Using this computer software, we overlay the 19th century mapping on 21st century maps for each of the sites. This allows us to geographically locate each of the original elements of the site with pinpoint accuracy. We then upload outlines drawn from the old maps into our GPS (Global Positioning System) survey equipment which in the field can virtually ‘show us’ where everything was, according to the 1830s mapping. When we travel to a position such as the Ardagh Gun Battery, our GPS Rover allows us to mark out where the original limits of the building were 170 years ago, and even where field boundaries and ordnance stones were placed.
Using GIS combined with GPS in this way allows us to understand how a site has changed since the 1830s ( is the field boundary still there? have the ordnance stones moved? does the military road still exist?), if a site has been destroyed we can see where on the ground it once stood and if there are any traces remaining (such as at Martello Tower No. 1, which was later replaced by the Lonehort Battery), examine how accurate the original mapping was (are there additional features not shown on the old mapping that are visible, such as the Ardagh Battery gun positions?) and locate areas of the site that may now be obscured (e.g. overgrown with bushes or gorse). This is a major component of our survey methodology, and something volunteers will become familiar with over the course of the two weeks in the field. Excitement is building as the survey dates approach!
Posted by Damian Shiels on July 12, 2012