A capacity crowd attended the recent very interesting lecture on the World War 1 “Battle of Jutland” at the Parish Centre, Clonakilty which was organised as part of Dúchas Clonakilty Heritage’s winter/spring lecture series.
Tim Feen, Cathaoirleach of Dúchas Clonakilty Heritage welcomed all to the lecture and introduced Tony McCarthy who delivered a very professional lecture with the aid of plenty slides. During his hour-long talk, Tony placed a particular emphasis on locals from the Barryroe and Clonakilty areas who were part of the British Navy on the day of the what is seen as the greatest maritime battle ever. Some of these men lost their lives during the six hour conflict.
Tony put the battle in context of World War 1 and the strategic location off the coast of Denmark where it was fought on 31st May 1916. There were 150 British ships involved and among those of board were 35 men from Barryroe, six of whom died during the six hours of hell.
93 German vessels were involved and in total over 8,600 sailors from the German and British navies perished.
The battle destroyed many of the most powerful battleships ever built and was to change the war at sea for the remainder of World War 1.
Tony McCarthy (who is a Skibbereen-based Garda sergeant) explained that as a young boy living in Barryroe he became interested in the Battle of Jutland when his grandfather told him about three of his friends from Lehina in Barryroe who died in the battle.
In recent years as part of his dissertation for a diploma in Genealogy in U.C.C., Tony discovered eyewitness accounts of the battle and located a photograph of the ship “The H.M.S. Defence ” , taken seconds before it exploded killing all 904 sailors on board, including the three Lehina men.
Tony detailed the horrendous working conditions of the “stokers” who worked below deck feeding the furnaces with coal in 52 degrees celcius heat. Many of those who survived died prematurely afterwards from respiratory problems. In the lecture he detailed the names of people men from Barryroe, Clonakilty, Timoleague, Reenascreena, Courtmacsherry and Rosscarbery who served and died.
He also gave a backround as to why these men joined the British Navy at the time pointing out that most were small farm labourers and fishermen and in the 1890’s there was widespread poverty and hunger along the coast as a result of another potato failure and that people were only ever “one crop failure away from starvation”. The pay and the benefits for loved ones at home were attractive even if the conditions on the ships in wartime were not.
And his lecture also dwelt on the aftermath of the survivors who returned to their coastal homesteads after the World War 1 having served with the British forces. An awkward silence took over for decades after because as these men were away fighting with the Crown, at home there was the Easter Rising and the political and military turmoil that followed in the years afterwards.