Fort Meagher Camden : Has An Interesting Past And Present By Annette J Dunlea
Fort Camden is positioned on Rams Head near Crosshaven, County Cork. The fort derives its name from the Earl of Camden, who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1795. It is internationally recognised to be one of the world’s finest remaining examples of a classical Coastal Artillery Fort.It is situated in Crosshaven it has panoramic views of Cork harbour and all the shipping traffic that passes through it.It is currently run by chairman Paul Brierley, Fas and Secad workers and the local volunteers.It consists of 45 Acres and 65% of its buildings are underground.Its aim is to clean, restore & develop this magnificent fortress to its former glory thus creating a tourism and heritage centre which will not only become a huge attraction, locally, nationally and globally but will also create sustainable employment.
The road to the fort is covered by the casemated barracks on its immediate approach to the entrance where it crosses a deep rock cut ditch that reaches to the water’s edge and is covered by a two-tiered musketry gallery in the casemated barracks. Immediately across the ditch is the entrance to the fort with the guardhouse to the right. The casemated barracks occupy the north-east comer of the fort. It is single storey with provision for artillery on the roof, mounted in three sections, with two expense magazines acting as traverses, each section containing positions for two guns and tiered from west to east.The roof is currently overgrown, both the magazines survive and it is the only section of the ramparts where the individual gun positions are distinguishable, helped by the embrasures.The terreplein, covering the landward side of the fort, continues in an arc from the north-west to the south with some five expense magazines which can just be made out in the vegetation and these are shown on the plans. It is apparent from the plans that there were no fixed positions for the guns, but a movable armament was provided for the terreplein with two gun ramps. The landward side is surrounded by a deep ditch 40 feet deep and 28 feet wide. This is covered at the centre point by a two-storied caponier for a total of eight guns with flanking musketry galleries in the usual fashion. As can be seen from the armament returns, four of the special 32-pdr SBBL guns were shown as being mounted in the caponier at the turn of the century. The ditch, on reaching the southern corner of the fort, slopes sharply down to the shore. At the point where the ditch starts to descent to the shore there is a musketry gallery to cover a possible ascent from the water.At the southern corner of the fort is another section of casemated barrack and it is from here that steps lead down to the flanking gallery that covers the ditch. Within the area enclosed by the ramparts is the main body of the fort, with free standing store and barrack buildings for officers and men one of which now houses the caretaker. Various hutments survive some in better condition than others. In the centre is the caphouse containing the spiral staircase that goes down to the underground magazine which consists of one large vaulted chamber. In this upper tier of the fort there are three gun batteries. Left Upper Battery, originally built for three 7-inch RMLs and later reconstructed for two 6-inch guns that later became the dummy or decoy guns. Right Upper Battery originally built for three 10-inch RMLs and later reconstructed for three 12-pdr QF guns with one of the RML positions surviving intact. On the southern flank of this battery and at a higher level is Upper Practice Battery for two guns.
It has an interesting history.Just inside the mouth of the harbor and between its two outer forts, minefield was sown by the newly organized marine service.A flotilla of 6 fast torpedo boats was based at Haulbowline.During WWI cork harbour was used as a naval base to cover the western approaches and an anti-submarine net was constructed across the harbor and a minefield was laid to prevent submarines from entering cork harbour.Cork harbor was of vital strategic importance due the it being the main base for the British and American forces in the south of Ireland. Based here to protect convoy routes and Camden housed the drums for the net.The mine layer could handle electrically controlled types of mine but not contact mines.They were tall steel cylinders filled with explosive.The British navy had planted over 6,000 of these off the south east coast and Germans had placed more from U-boats and aircraft.The controlled mines were fabricated at Thompsons metal works in Kilkenny and the great Southern railways works at Inchicore.Cork harbour was sown with these mines planted in a stretch of water called Turbot Bank.These were planted 120 foot apart at varying depths. On the Carlisle bank a sighting point was established abreast of the minefield where lookouts could alert a control point in the shadow of that fort to approaching dangers. The motor torpedo boats (mtbs) role was to dash out to attack belligerent vessels in hit and run sorties. Each had 4 powerful main engines delivering a speed of 40 knots.Despite their limited sea-going capability, these crat went everywhere, destroying floating mines, saving lives, patrolling the Shannon estuary.However their prime duty was to be on station if Cork harbour was threatened.
Fort Meagher Dock with Fort Davis visible in the backgroundFrom the Left Upper Battery a zig-zag traverse leads down to the lower tier of the fort and the dock, the approach to which is covered by a musketry gallery. Approximately 150 yards from the dock, in a north westerly direction, is the site of the Brennan Torpedo installation, the rooms or chambers for the machinery are extant and built into the cliff with traces of the rails leading into the water. Just before reaching the dock, there is an impressive vaulted gateway that leads to the Left Lower Battery where there were three 7-inch RML guns on Moncrieff mountings. This is very obvious, even though, when the battery was reconstructed each emplacement was filled with concrete for a 12-pdr QF. Passing behind the gun line and through another vaulted entrance is the casemated Right Lower Battery for four 10-inch RMLs complete with armoured shields and sloping iron frontages. Above this battery in its northern flank is the very overgrown remains of the minefield battery for three 6-pdr QF guns. In front of the Right Lower Battery, just above sea level was a musketry parapet to prevent escalade. Later, two searchlight positions were built just behind the parapet to work in conjunction with the QF guns and the searchlights at Fort Carlisle. It is described as Cork’s harbour’s gem.It has panoramic Views of Cork Harbour.
The fort’s key features are:The Bright Tunnel descends 160 feet from the top of the fort to the bottom.The Granite Spiral Stairway offered soldiers rapid access to the magazine in the event of an attack.The Magazine was once a store for vast amounts of munitions and gunpowder.There are various reenactments during the summer of displays highlighting different eras take place regularly at Camden Fort Meagher.The Exhibition Rooms hold interactive exhibitions timelining the history of Camden Fort Meagher.The Ground Zero 360 Exhibition is the only resident 9-11 exhibition in the world outside of Manhattan, New York.The newly built Tea Rooms are classically decorated Tea Rooms with an outdoor decking area.
Fortifications on the site originally date from around 1550 and were further added to in 1600, then after the battle of Kinsale in 1601 the fort fell into disuse. At the end of the 17th century the fort was again fortified, this time by the Jacobites in an effort to block the Williamites’ naval forces. In 1690 the fort was used to fire on the Williamite fleet as it entered Cork Harbour. However, a party was secretly sent ashore to attack the fort from the landward side and the fort fell to the invaders. In these early days, the fort was known as James’ Battery and consisted of two blockhouses and eight guns. At the start of the Napoleonic War (1799 – 1815), the naval establishment at Kinsale was transferred to Haubowline Island in Cork harbour, Fort Camden was remodelled and numerous other defences were installed around the Cork coastline to provide protection to Haubowline Island naval base and the surrounding harbour area. The harbour at Berehaven in West Cork also received fortification so this could be utilised as a second base for the Royal Navy fleet. In 1805, the gunpowder mills at Ballincollig to the west of Cork city were purchased by the British Board of Ordnance and vastly extended to provide gunpowder for use against Napoleons fleet. The French army was finally defeated in the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815. By 1837, Fort Camden contained only a token force of a master gunner and eight men.The Fort was briefly used as a prison, and then in 1855 Cork harbour was again recognised as being an important strategic position for the defence of Ireland, the west coast of England and Wales. A Royal Commission proposed that Fort Camden was remodelled with significant landward defences and further seaward firing gun batteries. Construction work started at Fort Camden in 1861, however the contractor went bankrupt in 1863 and the War Department took over the work, using first convicts and then military and civilian labour. The cost of completing the works was 75,979.In the 1880s the breech loading rifled gun was beginning to be introduced and the Cork defences were again reviewed. A minefield was laid across the channel and this was covered by batteries of quick firing 6-pdrs. The fort was also fitted with a Brennan Torpedo installation .In 1886 the armament at Fort Camden consisted of:Right Upper Battery 3 x l0-inch RML (Riffled Muzzle Loading).Right Lower Battery 4 x 10-inch RML,Left Upper Battery 3 x 7-inch RML,Left Lower Battery 3 x 7-inch RML,Movable Armament 4 x 40 pdr. and 4 x 20pdr. RBL on ramparts (Armstrong Breach Loading),Drill and Practice 2 x 64 pdr. RML Obsolete Guns 2 x 10-inch SB Mortars (Smooth Bore,Over the next few decades the armament was changed a number of times.
In 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, the armament consisted of:Right Upper Battery 3 x 12pdr. QF (Quick Firing),Left Lower Battery 2 x 12pdr. During the First World War, Cork harbour was used as a naval base to cover the western approaches. An anti-submarine net was constructed and further changes to the armament occurred across all the harbour defences.When the Irish Free State was established in 1922, a clause in the Anglo-Irish Treaty left the harbour defences at Cork, Berehaven and Lough Swilly in the control of British government. These ports became known as the Treaty Ports. The politically uncertain situation of the ports meant that modernisation and maintenance by the British forces was not seen as a priority. The harbour defences at Cork were eventually taken over by the Irish authorities on 11 July 1938 when de Valera, his son and the Irish Military chiefs were present to take part in a handover ceremony. Fort Camden was renamed Fort Meagher in honour of Thomas Francis Meagher, who had fought for Irelands independence from British rule and emigrated to America to escape a sentence to be hung, drawn and quartered after his involvement in the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. Today however, Fort Meagher is still commonly known as Fort Camden.During the Second World War, the Irish Army formed its own coast artillery service with headquarters at Spike Island. The Coast Defence Service was maintained until it was dissolved in 1949.In 1987 Cork County Council indicated that they were interested in having the fort developed as a military museum and suggested that the fort should be transferred for a nominal sum to a public body such as the council. In 1989 Cork County Council acquired ownership of the fort.Cork County Council offer fantastic financial and logistical support which is underpinned by various schemes from FAS including the CE and Redundant apprentice placement scheme (RAPS). More recently SECAD have allocated TUS Scheme workers.At the moment it is being connected to the main sewage system and great progress has been made in the last 3 weeks.The sewage will now be tied into the local system meaning it will join up and travel down Camden Road through the pump house and up the Carrigaline road as part of the current Cork Harbour drainage scheme and proposed waste water treatment plant in Shanbally.Following the success of lighting the castle red for rebel week a new project is planned for next year.They are installing a state of the art system early next year that will change colours with the season and occasion.
Plans stated at the time included the development of a Military Heritage Centre and general tourist attractions, including visitor accommodation, watersport facilities and craftshops.Tickets are available for purchase at the following prices: adults: €4, 4-18 year olds ; €3, children under 4 free, cash accepted only.To enquire about bookings please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 085 8613077.It is a prime location to watch all shipping and sailing traffic passing through Cork harbour, the second largest natural harbour in the world.Visitors can view the last anchorage point of the Titantic , at the entrance of Cork harbour, from Camden, Fort Meagher. It has one of 8 installations globally of “The Brennan Torepdo”.There is restricted access to the fort as extensive restoration is continuing on the site. Guide dogs are welcome and free parking. Cafe.Its open July-September,seven days a week. It is available for bookings for weddings, corporate events and school tours.It maintains a website : http://www.camdenfortmeagher.ie. For more information you can email them at email@example.com. One can also volunteer their skills or old artefacts by ringing 086 730 6979. They have a great Facebook page which is regularly updated with news and pictures. Log onto to Facebbok and share our local treasure.Its URL is :https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fort-Camden-official-info/132008073513941.It is a stunning castle with amazing views and well worth a visit.