Bere Island Military History Festival

To conclude their programme of events for the Decade of Centenaries, Bere Island
Projects Group CLG will hold their inaugural Military Heritage Festival on Saturday
16th and Sunday 17th September, featuring guided walks, talks and an exhibition of
old military photographs.

Bere Island, located at the entrance to Bantry Bay, West Cork has a rich military
heritage spanning four centuries, the island is said to be one of the best preserved
military landscapes in Ireland.

Following the attempted invasion of Bantry Bay in 1796 by a French Armada and
realising the strategic location of Bere Island as an entry point to Ireland, and
eventually England for foreign invading forces, the British built four Martello Towers
on Bere Island, two of which still remain. In 1898 the British War Department issued a
compulsory purchase order for the eastern end of the island. Islanders living in this
area were allowed to remain, but as tenants of the War Department. This area
became known locally as ‘inside the red line’ which referred to a red line marking it on
maps. Islanders treated ‘crossing the red line’ as crossing an international border,
which in effect it was.

Following the compulsory purchase order, seven gun batteries were constructed on
Bere Island, along with a barracks, stores and recreation facilities. The British also
installed electricity in their fortifications and also supplied islanders’ houses in the east
end, with the result that homes in this part of the island had electricity since the early
1900s, long before the rural electrification scheme of the 1950s.

The primary aim of the gun batteries was to protect the British fleet which lay at
anchor in Berehaven Harbour, and also the US Navy who anchored in Berehaven
whilst protecting the Atlantic convoys during World War One. The USS Oklahoma,
USS Utah and USS Nevada were regular visitors to Bere Island, with their crews
coming ashore and playing baseball at the British Admiralty Recreation Grounds.
These three ships were later sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941.

In 1921 during the War of Independence, an internment camp was in operation on
Bere Island. The camp closed on December 10th 1921 following the signing of the
Anglo-Irish Treaty. A condition of the treaty was that Britain retained control of three
deep-water ports in Cork Harbour, Lough Swilly and Berehaven, which became
known as the Treaty Ports. Fort Berehaven, Bere Island was handed back to the Irish
Government on September 26th, 1938. The final detachment of British troops left the
island four days later on September 30th, thereby ending a continual British military
presence on Bere Island since 1798.
The island’s military links continues to this day with the Irish Defence Forces who use
the former Fort Berehaven as a training base.

Festival Schedule:
The festival will feature guided walks and talks with island historians, and military
experts including:
• Barry Hanley, a Bere Island historian and tour guide.
• Ted O’Sullivan, island historian and author or Bere Island a Short History and
Bere Island Internment Camp 1921.
• Tom O’Neill manager at Spike Island and author of Spike Island’s Republican
Prisoners 1921.
• Sean Boyne, former political correspondent of The Sunday World, and author
of The Execution of Bridget Noble.
• Fachtna O’Donovan from the Beara Historical Society.
• Karen Minihan author of Extraordinary Ordinary Women: Untold Stories from
the Founding of the State.

Bere Island Projects Group would like to thank the following for funding the Military
Heritage Festival: Cork County Council’s Commemorations Grant Scheme 2023, The
Heritage Council’s Heritage Capacity Fund 2023 and the Department of Tourism,
Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.

For further information contact:
Helen Riddell on [email protected] and 027 75099.

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