A 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 Ronayne’s 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 ‘Everybody’s’ 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 at home!

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 Power’s 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 a mine.
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