Six Degrees of Separation - An Easter Story.....Sort of.
I love the contradictions in Irish/ Northern Irish history, and the way that these things twist and conjoin on occasion. Try this one.
Just before WW1, on Friday the 24th, and Saturday the 25th April 1914, the protestant (and supposedly loyalist) Ulster Volunteer Force smuggled an entire boat load of arms and ammunition into Larne. Their goal was to fight against any attempt by the British government to force home rule (based in Dublin) on the province of Ulster. Smaller boats distributed the arms to Donaghadee, and after this initial unloading the ship crossed Belfast Lough to Bangor to unload more weaponry. The ships correct name was the Clyde Valley, and some enterprising soul bought it as a hollow wreck in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s and brought it to Carrickfergus where it remained tied up for years while funds were sought to restore it. The fundraising failed and it was eventually scrapped. I remember as a child being at a funfair on the waterfront in Carrick and going off to climb into the wreck. It was completely hollow and standing on a rusty crossbeam in what would have been the bridge it looked like an enormous space inside.
Just two years later the Easter Rising in Dublin started on the same date, 24 April 1916. There is a period account of the rising on this blog here: The Irish Rebellion of April 1916 (oldandireland.blogspot.com)
A number of gun running attempts were tried with varying degress of success to aid this rising. In one notable gun running, when Sir Rodger Casement (a good Ballymena man), tried to run guns for the Irish Volunteers, not much went right. The Guns were in a ship that many history books name as the Aud, a Norwegian registered ship. In fact it was a German auxiliary warship, the ex-Wilson Line steamer SMS Libau, camouflaged to look like the Aud, which was in port in Spain at the time. Sir R was to have met with it at midnight on the Thursday before the Easter Rising from a German Submarine, just before the guns were landed. He was originally on the U21, but it had engine trouble, so he transferred to the U19. Meanwhile, the ship carrying the guns got lost (in the Shannon estuary if memory serves), so it never met up with the sub. Early 20th century navigation must have been perilous!
All this messing around in a foreign ship during wartime raised the attention of the British authorities and it ended up being scuttled to prevent a boarding. Sir R too was captured when he landed from the sub without any guns. The captain of U19, Kapitan Zur-See Raimund Weisbach, was still alive in 1966 and was invited to the jubilee celebration of the Easter rising.
After the war, the U boats were of course broken up, and the gun off the U19 ended up being presented to Bangor, to commemorate a local VC winner, Commander Barry Bingham. It stands beside the local war memorial in Ward Park.
So there you go, Germany tried to arm both sides in the miserable little conflict that still simmers on this island, notable events on both sides happened on the same date, and an icon of the Irish Republic’s national struggle now sits quietly in a Northern Irish park. It’s a strange world!