Ships and the Irish War of Independance


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Inger Sheil

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Feb 9, 1999
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Coming in on the tube today I read the following passage in Ulick O'Connor's Michael Collins and the Troubles (In which, remarkably, the Big Fella doesn't actually show up until Chapter 16 of a 29 Chapter book, but anyway...):

In June 1919, de Valera set out from Liverpool for the United States, smuggled on board ship. His purpose in going was to secure recognition for the Irish Republic, and to float an American loan. He arrived after eight day's voyage on the SS Lapland. His first impression of New York as he sailed into the harbour was a city of 'straw hats and sunshine'.

The reference to de Valera's crossing on the Lapland reminded me of a line of investigation I've been wanting to follow up for a while - the use of IMM ships, and in particular the WSL vessels, for smuggling Irish independence fighters to and from America. De Valera returned to Ireland from his American tour on the Celtic, tantalisingly close to when Lightoller was serving aboard her (have to cross check the dates, but I think it might have been after Lights had resigned from the line). The story runs that de Valera was almost persuaded to hide in a water tank that was 'never' used, but decided against it. Good job too, as it was put to use on that crossing. Can't vouch for the truth of this, but speculation is irresistable - what course might the War of Independence and the Civil War have taken had de Valera wound up tainting the Celtic's drinking water?

Frank O'Connor in his masterpiece 'The Big Fellow' wrote that Collins (who had his men everywhere, including the intelligence division of Dublin Castle) had a sympathetic bo'sun on a ship who was able to sign on men as crew whom the IRB needed to smuggle out of Ireland to America.

Those with fully stocked WSL libraries - do any writers mention the illicit transportation of Irish revolutionaries across the Atlantic? It comes up in quite a few books dealing with the Irish War of Independence, but I don't recall seeing much of a mention of it in shipping histories.

~ Inger
 
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