WATCH: Is this Cork’s best kept secret?

September 6th, 2022 7:05 AM

By Siobhan Cronin

The rooms are filled with memorabilia from both world wars.

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A model making club has been gifted a room to display its incredible collection of military, navy and other popular culture miniatures, in one of the country’s most spectacular locations, writes Siobhán Cronin

IN garages, spare rooms and even garden sheds all over Ireland every day, intricate and delicate work is being done by passionate enthusiasts.

These enthusiasts all share a fascination with miniatures and are often dedicated observers of history, too.

These people – mostly men, but with an ever-increasing female fanbase too – are known as ‘model makers’.

The models they make vary from those of a military theme, to maritime, motoring and basically anything that can be replicated in miniature form.

Of course, some of the ships and dioramas (scenes) that are built by these scalpel-wielding artists, are not exactly tiny, but simply built to scale. They can vary from a few centimetres in length, to a few feet – and everything in between.

Many enthusiasts are members of clubs where they can share their techniques, experience and equipment with like-minded souls.

But few clubs have as stunning a location in which to display their work as one based in Cork harbour.

The Garrison Model Club has recently been gifted a space in the Cork County Council-run Camden Fort Meagher in Crosshaven. There could hardly be a more appropriate – or picturesque – setting for their incredible collection of ships, planes, miniature soldiers, and a spectacular diorama with train sets.

The set in question was built by members of Cork City Fire brigade, and they donated it to Marymount. When it was subsequently won in a charity raffle by one of the Camden Fort volunteers, they then donated it to the club.

It’s a stunning model of a fantasy town with tiny houses, business premises, a hospital, and centre stage is, of course, the fire station! Little trains run through the town on their tracks, choo-chooing as they go and it would take a very cold heart not to be moved by the innocent beauty of it.

Christine Haugland from Macroom would like to see more women interested in working with modelling.


Christine’s model of the Black Pearl from Pirates of the Carribean.


Christine Haugland from Macroom has set up a demonstration table in Camden’s ‘model room’ where she works on her own models and repairs any minor breakages in the collection, to show visitors how the whole process works.

She is one of a small number of women who are interested in the hobby, but she says the numbers are rising. ‘I think it’s great to see more women getting involved. I just love it. It’s great therapy and really relaxing. I’m quite obsessed with it. I could spend hours on a piece once I get started,’ she says, adding that she loves to do demonstrations for children when they arrive in to see the models. ‘It’s a really great pastime for children – getting them away from screens,’ she says, showing off all the different types of paints, glues, and utensils.

While experienced model makers are adept at using the sharp scalpels to separate the little pieces from their moulds, there are safer options for children, she says, and small kits can be purchased which include everything needed to get newbies started.

There are stunning views of the whole of Cork harbour from the terrace at the café from Roches Point to the city.


Pride of place in one of the display cabinets is Norwegian native Christine’s Black Pearl ship – from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series. She says the rigging alone took her two weeks to get right, with every tiny strand of thread needing to be placed gently and correctly onto the model, with a tiny tweezers.

She even painted the tiny figures of Captain Jack Sparrow and his crewmates, but keen observers will also spot Seamus from Family Guy – the tough fisherman with the wooden arms and legs – standing on the deck. ‘I always felt he would have liked the Black Pearl,’ she says, with a mischievous grin. Alongside it is Nelson’s HMS Victory which she built and painted over three weeks, and a British fishing trawler has pride of place on the shelf below.

Club member Brendan Buckley has donated a stunning collection of hand-painted lead combat soldiers – infantry and cavalry – which are in the room’s largest cabinet, some from the Napoleonic War, and also a colour party from the Cheshire regiment.

As part of the Camden Fort volunteers group which is bringing this 16th century fortress back to life, Brendan is very proud of the growing displays in the many restored rooms at the fort.

There is a new section at the top of the hill with four military tanks which have been donated by the Irish army, and display boards with information on these massive weapons. Among the memorabilia on view to the public throughout the fort’s warren of rooms and different levels are equipment, letters, uniforms and more, from both world wars. There is also a large room packed with WWI dioramas and information, and one of the most interesting displays is housed in another room – it’s the incredible story of the Brennan torpedo which was invented by Mayo-born Louis Brennan.

The fire station at the centre of the train set diorama in the Model Room, which was donated by a member of the Camden Rescue volunteers. It was originally created by the Cork City Fire Brigade staff and raffled by Marymount Hospice.


The curator of this fascinating Brennan room is Norma O’Connor from Crosshaven.

She has reconstructed – with a life-size model – the initial ‘eureka’ moment in the Brennan household when young Louis, playing with a spool of his mother’s thread, realised that if you pulled the string from under the spool, it ran away from you at speed along a straight surface. And so was born the Brennan Torpedo!

Norma, who has done incredible research into the apparatus, discovered that there were two such torpedoes based at the fort, pointing out to sea. While I was interviewing her, a man who had been based at the fort in his younger years, interjected to say he had been stationed at the base but never knew about the torpedoes. ‘That is because they were top secret!’ she said.

She has even visited the underground waterside chambers where they were installed, taken photographs, and made an incredible 3D reconstruction of the rooms, and the torpedoes, showing exactly how they were constructed.

They served as a massive deterrent to anyone threatening Cork harbour, because at the time of their use, no ship cold outrun them and therefore, none ever tried.

Such gems are hidden around every corner of this incredible jewel in Ireland’s tourism offering – but one that to date has not realised its full potential.

The Rescue Camden team of volunteers is always looking for additional support, and to date has done such wonderful restoration that the base has been the real star of the RTÉ Ultimate Hell Week series.

Norma O’Connor giving a talk on her 3D demonstration of the workings of the Brennan torpedoes at Camden.


Below ground level, you can visit the beautiful preserved gunpowder magazine, the Ultimate Hell Week well, the generator room and the many volunteers you meet are happy to give you any information you seek. We bumped into Jason below ground who showed us stalactites and stalagmites near the generator room and he told us that the fort had electricity 30 years before the rest of Ireland – and a telephone just five years after they were invented.

But far from a ‘hell’, the location of the fort makes it one of the most scenic sites in Ireland for a tourist venue. Its café ¬– though currently under renovation – has jaw-dropping harbour views from Roches Point to the city and over to Cobh, Spike and Haulbowline.

But don’t worry – you can still pick up a snack and coffee in the temporary restaurant and bring them to the outdoor deck at the original café, to enjoy the spectacular views.

• The Garrison Model Club’s annual model show display took place throughout Camden Fort Meagher on Sunday August 28th from 11am to 5pm.

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