BY HELEN RIDDELL
Bere Island marked the centenary of the US Navy being based in Berehaven during World War One, with historical talks, a guided walk a concert featuring songs from World War One.
In 1917, while protecting the sea lanes off southern Ireland during the war, American battleships and submarines from the US naval fleet anchored in the sheltered harbour off Bere Island, while in between patrols, where they would be protected by the extensive gun batteries on the island, which at the time was a strategic British military base.
Damien Shiels, a conlict archaeologist with Rubicon Heritage, opened the weekend with a talk about the US Navy in Cork and described the huge operation in setting up the US Naval Air Station on Whiddy Island and the presence of naval ships and submarines in Berehaven.
He also regaled the audience with the tale of a ship’s mascot from the USS Utah who manged to cause havoc amongst the livestock of Beara. The American military had a big tradition of mascots, and an article from the Indianapolis Star from July 1917 told the story of a fox terrier named Dixie who was both mascot and chief rat catcher on the Utah, ‘this sea-going dog caused its shipmates their first worry when he went ashore in Castletown, Bantry Bay, Ireland, where the Utah had its base. He nearly killed a prize sky terrier belonging to an English officer five minutes after he set foot on Irish soil, to say nothing of engaging in several dozen fights in the next few days.
‘Then the authorities received complaints about a black and white terrier usually seen in the company of American sailors, who had an aversion to Irish sheep, calves, pigs and other livestock.’ Dixie was eventually banned from coming ashore, however, the Indianapolis Star also noted that Dixie held the record for being the only one of the Utah crew to ascend Hungry Hill twice in one day.
Another talk given over the weekend was by island historian Ted Sullivan, who described the huge fleet which arrived into Berehaven and its effect on island life. US Navy ships, Utah, Nevada, Oklahoma and Florida were based in Berehaven, with each ship having a crew of up to 1,000 men. Joining them were also 11 submarines. Whilst on shore leave, US sailors carved their names into rocks along the island roads, which still remain to this day. Each American ship had their own baseball team, and a baseball diamond was marked out in the British Admiralty Recreation Grounds at Rerrin.
Other events which took place over the weekend included a concert with traditional group Cúigear who were joined by local musicians, and a guided walk around the military fortifications on the island by local historian Barry Hanley.