of RAF plane at Gowlane in 1943
In 1983, forty years after the RAF Liberator plane crash
at Gowlane, a group of people met at Gowlane and were led
by the late Nealie Harrington to the scene of the crash.
The group was organised by members of the Warplane Research
Group of Ireland and on researching the site of the crash
they unveiled a memorial to the members of the crew who
were killed in the crash in August 1943.
The Warplane Research Group was set up to research and record
all plane crashes in Ireland during World War Two. They
check on the details of each plane what nationality, where,
when and why they crashed. They also contact surviving relatives.
One of the leaders of the organisation, Victor Sullivan,
has strong local connections and is well known in Beara.
His mother was Elizabeth Gill, from Clounaglaskin, Castletownbere
and his father, James Sullivan, was a native of Bantry.
Victor had lectured to the Beara History Society on the
organisation's work and has gathered a vast amount of information
about the Beara crashes. After sixty three years, very little
is left at the crash sites at Garnish and Gowlane, as following
the crashes, visitors to the sites took away pieces as souvenirs.
The memorial unveiled at the site at Gowlane contains the
names of the crew of the crashed plane and reads: Gowlane
Beara, August 27, 1943: F.O. Robert M. Kildea; F.O. Donald
W. Roberts; F.O. Clifford F. Cropper; Sgt. Geoffry L. Plume;
Sgt. Walter H. Harris; F.L. Sgt. Edward B. H. Wells; F.L.
Sgt. John S. Rippon. The unveiling of this plaque was the
first such event to be organised by the Warplane Research
Group of Ireland. "The day the plane came down"
is still remembered by many people in Beara, even after
the passage of sixty three years.
These two crashes in 1943 were not the first planes to crash
or come down in the Beara area. In the spring of 1942, a
German Heinkel 111, which was on a convoy bombing mission
from its base in France, was tracked and attacked by an
RAF Bristol Beaufort. In the attack, the RAF plane scored
a hit on the Heinkel's engines and it had to make a ditched
landing in the sea south west of the Bull Rock Lighthouse.
The crew of the plane were very lucky and were able to escape
by getting into their rubber dinghy just before their plane
The four airmen made their way to the Bull Rock, where to
the surprise of the light keeper, they landed on a Sunday
evening. The keepers helped them off their dinghy and gave
them food and beds for the night. The next day they contacted
the shore base at Dursey South explaining what had happened
and that message was transmitted to the Irish Lights Tender
Nabro which was based in Castletownbere. Following receipt
of the message, the Nabro, under the command of Capt. Clem
Busher, left to the Bull Rock where the survivors of the
plane were collected and brought back to Castletownbere.
The news had gone out about the event and a large crowd
had gathered at the old wooden pier to await the arrival
of the Germans. On arrival they were met by members of the
Garda and the Irish Army from Bere Island, and taken to
the local Garda Station at Castletownbere, where they were
later that night picked up by a military escort and taken
to Collins Barracks in Cork.
From there the men were taken to the internment camp at
the Curragh of Kildare where they were imprisoned until
the end of the war. The names of the crew of the German
plane who landed on the Bull Rock were: Feldwebel Ludwig
Popp; Heine Kapp, Adolf Cekers and Rudolf Ippisch. Practically
all the people involved in the plane crashes in Beara are
now deceased, as are the members of the Coast Watchers who
were at Lookout Post No 32, at Garnish.
After the Emergency ended in 1945, there was a big march
past of various army units in Cork before some of them were
disbanded. At this particular parade, the orders were given
in Irish, and as the units passed the saluting base they
were given the order "dearchaigh ar chle" ("eyes
left"), and when passed they got the order "dearchaigh
ar aghaigh" ("eyes front").
There were thousands of spectators watching the parade which
was led by military bands. Among the watchers were a group
of women and one of them was an authority on different units
of the army. She was giving her friends a commentary on
the the parade, and would call out "They are the 5th
Infantry Battalion" and so on.
The story goes, that in the parade there was one old sergeant,
who didn't have much Irish and used to give orders in English.
But when reaching the base, he gave the order "dearchaigh
ar chle" but could not remember the Irish for "eyes
front" so the unit kept going with their eyes turned
to the left. The woman who was calling out the names of
the units as they passed, was speechless.
She could not make head nor tails of the lads with the "twisted
necks". "Who are dem, Maggie?" she was asked.
"Come on now, you are the expert."
Then it suddenly dawned on her, and with a big smile of
triumph she says, as the crowd held her breath, "Dem,"
she says, "are the Coast Watchers."
Before we leave the plane crashes that occurred in the Beara
area during the Second World War, we must mention another
plane crash, this time of an air liner which took place
in August 1949 of the Clare/Galway coast. We include this
crash because it too had a Beara connection, as the person
who first spotted the plane in difficulties, was a Castletownbere
man, Tim Harrington, who was a native of Droum South, which
is an area near the town on the north shore of Berehaven
Back in the 1920's and 30's, the men living in that area
were all connected with boats and fishing, as were their
neighbours across the harbour on Bere Island. All were engaged
in small boat fishing for scallops, lobster and trammel
net fishing. At the time Castletownbere was a base for several
fleets of British steam trawlers, which came and went on
a regular basis.
They were from Milford Haven, Swansea, Cardiff and Fleetwood,
and whenever these vessels arrived at the entrance of the
harbour, there was a mad race out to meet them by both the
Droum and Bere Island fishermen as whoever got on board
first would get the job of piloting them into the pier in
Castletownbere and by doing so would earn ten shillings.
These British steam trawlers were also the means of many
local small fishermen going 'steam trawling' as they got
berths on board one of these boats, the steam trawler 'Stalberg'
out of Milford Haven. While the 'Stalberg' was fishing off
the south west coast on August 1949, Tim Harrington was
on watch in the wheelhouse and despite the early morning
darkness, he spotted a plane which appeared to be in trouble.
Tim alerted his skipper and shortly afterwards, they saw
the plane come down in the sea. After alerting Valentia
Radio Station, the Stalberg immediately hauled its nets
and proceeded to the area of the plane crash. One can only
imagine the confusion as eventually the vessel manoeuvred
among the survivors, who by now were in rubber dinghys.
Soon after the news of the crash was announced by Valentia
Radio, the steamer 'Lanahrone' a vessel owned by the Limerick
Steam Ship Company and which was on a passage from Antwerp
to Galway, she was then off Loop Head, got the message that
there was a plane down in the sea not far from their course,
and proceeded to the scene.
In the meantime, the pilot of the plane had informed the
skipper of the Stalberg, that everybody had got out of the
plane, wearing their life-jackets.
At this point the trawler had picked up 49 people and had
them on board, with seven still unaccounted for. By then
the Lanahrone had arrived and the skipper of the trawler
suggested to her captain, that he would proceed with all
haste to Galway, first stopping at Kilronan, Aran Islands
to pick up a doctor as some of the survivors needed medial
The 'Lanahorne' was them left to look for and pick up casualties
in the water, they had to launch one of their small boats
in order to do so, and soon picked up four bodies. They
later picked up another three. As the weather was getting
worse, the vessel towed the small boat with the bodies to
Mutton island where they anchored and were able to hoist
the boat on board.
It later turned out that on board that plane were Captain
Edward Bessey, nine crew members and thirty eight passengers.
The passengers were displaced persons flying from Rome via
Shannon with final destinations Venezuela. The Aviation
Safety Network give details of the plane, a Douglas C-54A-DO
from Transoceanic Air Lines. It says that one crew member
and seven passengers died, and that the probable cause was
"The failure of the captain to exercise the proper
supervision over the crew during flight planning and while
This all happened fifty six years ago, and even then was
not much featured in the newspapers. The role of Beara man
Tim Harrington, and the crews of a trawler and a Cargo ship,
in saving the lives of those people, was never really acknowledged.
Tim Harrington later married and settled in Swansea where
he died some years ago.
His son Stephen, who was born and worked in Swansea, on
retirement returned to Castletownbere and now lives in the
old family home at Droum South. Another interesting part
of this story is that the steamer 'Lanahrone' was well known
on Castletownbere, where she and several of her sister ships,
'Clonlara', 'Foynes', "Maigure', 'Luimneach', 'Moyally'
and 'Mungret', were all regular visitors to the port in
the 1920s and 30s, when engaged in shipping out copper ore
from the Allihies mines to Swansea and salt mackerel to
America via Liverpool.
Courtesy of The Southern Star
27 May 2006