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Article 702 rescue camden fort meagher

Thursday, 1st August, 2013 1:00am

It's hard to imagine that in 2010 community volunteers had to cut their way into Camden Fort Meagher near Crosshaven. The scale of restoration work since then has been remarkable and is a testimony to the spirit and hard work of the whole project team.

Passionate and imaginative are perhaps two key terms to describe the work of the community in their ongoing success in re-telling the story of the fort. There are multiple sides in their work from seeing its potential not just for the tourist market but also a way of bringing people together collaboratively and on rebuilding the fort's sense of place set against the spectacular backdrop of Cork Harbour.

Camden Fort Meagher is internationally recognized as being one of the finest remaining examples of a classical coastal artillery fort in the world. It combines a rich British and Irish military history. I was fortunate recently to be involved in creating a short video on the history of the site driven by the onsite marketing team.

Fortifications on this site date back to 1550 and for almost 400 years the fort played an important role as a strong strategic position for the defence of Ireland, the west coast of England and Wales. However, most of what the visitor sees now was built during the 1860s by British Forces and finished around 1871. It has been documented that it took 500 men 40 years to carve out the moat, which goes around three sides of Camden Fort Meagher - as of course on the fourth side one has the harbour.

At the gate to the fort, you can see the original pillars of the fort and they are inscribed with 'Dun Ni Mhecair', which is the Irish for Fort Meagher. The fort was named Fort Meagher in 1938 after Thomas Francis Meagher, who was the leader of the Young Irelanders. Ninety years previously in 1848 Meagher and fellow patriot William Smith O'Brien went to France to study revolutionary events there, and returned to Ireland with the new Flag of Ireland, a tricolour of green, white and orange made by and given to them by French women sympathetic to the Irish cause.

A map reproduced for the visitor at the entrance to the fort was originally produced in 1896 by the royal engineer Lieutenant Colonel H. Kirkwood. The fort itself is 45 acres and resources of the fort are 65 per cent underground. There are numerous gunning emplacements that protected the forts on all sides. One of the most interesting facts about the fort is that it once housed one of only eight installations of the Brennan torpedo worldwide.

The Brennan torpedo was the world's first practical guided torpedo. Remains of a gunning emplacement show that it housed a heavy mechanical gun and that would have had quite a long range on it. You can also see the remains of pulley bars that would have enabled the pulling and dragging of heavy guns by many men. The bulk of ammunition and shells relevant to each gunning emplacement would have been kept directly underground in a magazine and store.

Further inside the fort, there are the casemated barracks where approximately 240 soldiers would have slept at one time. There were 13 casemated barracks in peacetime and 22 in wartime. Some of these rooms have been imaginatively re-used to house exhibitions covering the timelines of British and Irish history at the fort. One of these rooms houses a remarkable photographic exhibition documenting the events of the 9/11 tragedy.

The impressive tunnels, some of which are accessible, were built with a 'cut and cover' method, which meant that the workers would dig trenches in the ground, put up support structures, brick over that, then remove the support structures and then fill the earth back over the tunnel. The underground magazine is the biggest chamber in Camden Fort Meagher and was once a store for the forts vast amounts of munitions, approx 30 feet underground. The acoustics in here are intense - this is due to the vaulted ceiling, which was designed to support the weight and stress of the Parade Square, which lies above it. You can see the boxes at the gable end here are numbered 2, 3 and 4 - these were light boxes that were secured tightly with glass and putty and would have been lit from an access passage behind the magazine. This kept flames and sparks separate from the munitions for obvious reasons.

The Parade Square at the centre of the fort dates from 1550 right up to 1989. Today the Parade Square is used for re-enactments highlighting different eras and displays. In 1989 the Irish Army handed the fort over to the local authority, Cork County Council.

Despite best efforts to restore the fort as a tourism site it became overgrown for almost two decades. With serious input by a community of volunteers and financial and logistical support from the local authority, Cork County Council has been crucial to the development of the project. Worker placement schemes from FAS and SECAD have also added to this project's success. Go and visit this great community project.

See www.rescuecamden.ie for more details and opening hours.

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