close encounter of a dangerous kind
I doubt if readers will believe this story, but I can assure
them it is true.
As the account of beachcombing relates previously
in these columns, a great deal of flotsam and jetsam was
washed ashore during the war years onto the strands of Ardmore,
Curragh and Ballyquin. Lifebelts, rafts and boats, and uniforms
were brought in by the gales and high tides.
The particular event I am writing about took place around
1942 or 43, although I am unsure of the date the memory
of the event is vividly clear in my mind. A sea mine was
washed ashore on the rocks of the Curragh side of Ardmore
strand, just below where Mr Ronaynes house is situated,
near the entrance to the Curragh Boreen. It was one of those
monstrously huge round spheres, bristling with spikes. One
or two others were also washed in on the beach near Ardmore
It occurred during a heavy storm, with a mighty East wind,
which had apparently dislodged the mines from their tethering
cables - these mines were normally tied to the sea bed and
suspended just a few feet beneath the surface of the sea
in a path of enemy shipping.
The heavy impact of a shop on any of the spikes was enough
to trigger a mighty explosion, sufficient to cripple or
sink a ship. Anyway, towards the evening of a particular
day, I had been on an errand to the village and as I was
crossing over Powers banks, as the tide was fully
in at high water when, looking out across the Bay, I saw
a large black object bobbing up an down in the waves. It
was coming in close to the Curragh Rocks. Then, I saw another
one near the Ardmore pier. There was no activity in the
village and, in fact, there was not a soul out as they say.
I remember wondering at the time whether the LDF had observed
these objects from their outpost near Ram Head.
Early next day I went around the Curragh rocks to gather
pieces of driftwood for the kitchen fire when, as I came
to the end of the Curragh boreen there, before me, sitting
on the rocks was this enormous, ominous-looking black sphere.
I was perhaps 12 at the time and should have known better,
but though this huge steel ball looked sinister, it seemed
safe enough, so I ventured closer and closer, so I could
reach out and touch one of the spikes. Of course, I knew
well what it was since there were frequently pictures of
sea-mines in the English papers and in magazines like Everybodys
and The Illustrated News. As I was standing
there who should come up but Richie Mulcahy, and we both
walked around the mine, examining it. Ritchie was never
one to be concerned with risks and approached the mine,
got hold of the spikes and then, as (fortunately) nothing
untoward happened, he climbed on top of the mine and sat
on the spikes! I held my breath. Anyway, after some more
fooling around Ritchie and I retired to the safety of the
boreen an decided to throw pebbles at it, to see which of
us could hit it the most. Getting much bolder we began to
pelt it with larger stones. Fortunately for us, the spikes
were made to withstand heavy pressure, I suppose, of up
to hundreds of tons. I am sure neither of us had any idea
of the horrific risks of this close encounter.
Next day the Irish military were out in force,; there were
lorries of troops everywhere. Military sentries were positioned
on all roads in the Curragh to prevent access to the strands.
This was quite exciting for me as a boy. The only thing
that had stayed in my mind was the name of the military
commander. He was Commandant Shaw from Cork. A number of
soldiers were billeted in households around Curragh and
probably in Ardmore as well.
One soldier was sent to stay with us, and he turned out
to be a man named Bluett from the Sweep near Dungarvan.
I was delighted since he let me wear his tin helmet and
hold his rifle. Our house became the centre of social activity
since all the neighbours wanted to see and examine this
soldier who was staying with us. He delighted me, and I
think all of us, with tales of his military exploits. We
all listened eagerly but I suspect with hindsight, that
not all his tales were true.
Finally, the day arrived when the mines were to be destroyed
by controlled explosion. There was increased military activity
everywhere, and all those living in Lower Curragh were required
to vacate their homes and get to somewhere safe a mile away
at least. But in the ensuing chaos, it seemed to me that
only some people vacated their houses, many others stayed
Those who decided to comply with the order went to Crushea
or Monica. My father had gone to Youghal, and my mother
and I went up to Billy Powers house in Upper Curragh.
We sat down in the shelter of the west gable of the house
for a while, until Mrs Power saw us and kindly invited us
inside where she gave us tea and cakes, very welcome indeed
as it was a bitterly cold day. Just before we went inside
there came the first explosion. It was a boom
so loud that it nearly deafened us, and at the same time
the ground ground under our feet vibrated, presumably with
reverberating shock waves.
And then, a very large piece of red-hot metal came flying
down to land about six feet away from us! At intervals afterwards,
there were other controlled explosions as other mines were
destroyed. Mind you, I used to often wonder just how controlled
the explosions were, if huge pieces of metal were projected
over a mile and more away! Some houses in Curragh had their
window glass smashed.
The force and the extent of the explosion was vividly impressed
on us, and I was acutely aware just how fortunate Ritchie
and I were to have survived our dangerous encounter with
Even to this day I have a picture in my mind of Ritchie
sitting on the WW2 mine!
Courtesy of the Imokilly People
By Declan McGrath