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Remembering 1920: A vital home for sailors

Wednesday, 4th March, 2020 4:40pm

The annual meeting of the supporters of the Cork Sailor’s Home was held on 2 March 1920 at noon in the boardroom of the institution at 12 Merchants Quay in Cork city. Mr DJ Lucy, chairman of the Cork Harbour Board, presided.

The report, published in the Cork Examiner, presents another slice of life in the city plus places on the historical record the large value of the home to sailors and seamen.

Since its foundation in 1852, the principal mission of the home was to lobby the British Admiralty for accommodation for sailors of the Royal Navy, and also of the mercantile community.

Seventy year old Sir John Scott had a long connection over several decades with the Cork Sailor’s Home. He noted that the home had gone through a very trying time during the world war with the high number of wrecks and casualties.

The home was also an asylum for poor sailors whose ships had been torpedoed, and who perhaps had spent days and nights in small boats in the seas. He had seen men who could get clothes in the coast towns coming there in blankets, being taken in, and their comfort provided for.

He gave special thanks to the Cork Steam Packet Company who facilitated sailors to get across the Irish Sea to their homes, and to the Ship Wrecked Mariner’s Society, who worked with the committee in providing for the immediate wants of shipwrecked sailors or those who were in distress.

Sir John Scott noted that individual championing of stories was important to the Cork Sailor’s Home. An example was given of a sailor, who after a very long foreign voyage, came to the Cork Sailor’s Home and received a welcome. He had nearly £50 - the balance of his hard-earned wages with him - which he deposited with the house steward for safe keeping, with the exception of £5 which he kept.

He left the home one evening, as he said, to take a walk round, and two days after he returned without a penny in his pocket und without an overcoat. He was unable to tell what happened his money or his coat, but on leaving he recorded his grateful thanks to the house steward for the shelter and protection which he had given him.

Sir John Scott had a long connection with the shipping industry and all aspects maritime. His obituary in the Cork Examiner in 1931 reveals that his grandfather was Edward Scott, a member of an old Cork family who founded Scott Harley and Company in the early nineteenth century and who pursued business in the shipping and ship-building industry.

John was knighted in 1892, was mayor of Cork in 1896 and was a successful Commercial candidate in the local elections of January 1920.

He was high sheriff of Cork from 1920 to 1926. For over forty years, he was a member of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, and during the same period was a trustee and honorary secretary of Cork Fever Hospital.

He was a past president of Cork Incorporated Chamber of Commerce and Shipping and was chairman for Cork Unionist Association. He also was a member of the Poor Law Guardians, the Eglinton Lunatic Asylum and a secretary of the Cork Musical Society, which staged many Gilbert and Sullivan light operas at Cork Opera House.

Sir John Scott urged the governing committee of the home to make a strong claim on the Admiralty for an increased grant and thanked the public subscribers.

Public subscription was important to keep the Cork Sailor’s Home going. The annual report records subscriptions of £67 18s 5d for 1919 with additional grants of Admiralty grants of £45, a bequest fund of £5, and interest in investments totalling £23 11s 5d.

At the beginning of the war, there was a debt of £13 4s 10d due to the Provincial Bank. The committee recommended that a special appeal be made to the public to clear £200 to clear off the present debt on the institution and to provide sundry urgent requisites such as bedding, which needed to be replaced after the exceptional strain put upon the home during the time of the war.

The duration of the First World War and its end in late 1918 led to thousands of seamen returning home seeking a home, financial support and social support.

During 1919 the Cork Sailor’s Home was visited by 2,956 seamen. Of this number 1,855 belonged to the Royal Navy, as against 1,656 in 1918 and 1,356 in 1917. A total of 986 were sailors of the British Mercantile Marine, as against 2,364 in 1918, and 866 in 1917. 105 people of other nationalities used the home in 1919, as against 104 in 1917 and 675 for 1918.

The report regretted to have to record the death of Michael Mullins, who was for 15 years was the faithful house steward of the home, and who took a very great personal interest in forwarding its advancement in every possible way.

Robert O'Donoghue, chief petty officer, had been appointed house steward in Michael’s stead.

Reference was also made to Dr Philip G Lee, who owing to pressure of his professional work has retired from the position of honorary secretary, which he filled for a quarter of a century.

Dr Lee was a surgeon for many years at the Victoria Hospital and was assistant surgeon at the Clinic of the Cork Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital. He was also honorary secretary of the local branch of the British Medical Association, physician to Lapp’s Charity.

Within the cultural side of the city, Dr Lee was one of the original founders of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, was a member of the Royal Irish Academy and also a member of the Royal Society of Antiquarians. In addition, he gave regular lectures with the Cork Literary and Scientific Society.

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