BY HELEN RIDDELL
THREE 25 pounder guns fired a salute over Bere Island as the tricolour was raised over Fort Berehaven at 12.01pm on Wednesday to mark the exact time 80 years ago when the fort was handed over to the Irish authorities.
The event, arranged by Bere Island Projects Group with support from the Heritage Council, marked one of the most important events in Bere Island’s history – an end to a continual British military presence on the island since 1797.
The actual handover in 1938 was completed in a rush and very nearly wasn’t completed at all. As the British were loading their equipment onto boats to depart the island later that day, an order was received to stop loading and to halt the handover.
The Irish Government reacted speedily and insisted that the handover be completed by nightfall, thus ensuring that Ireland secured her neutrality and avoided becoming involved in WWII.
The 80th anniversary commemoration on Wednesday was led by 1 Brigade Artillery Regiment from Collins Barracks Cork, and took pace at Rerrin Redoubt, the site of the original 1938 handover.
Islanders gathered at Rerrin Military Barracks and were joined by a number of invited guests, including county mayor Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy. Family members of Lt Billy Rea and Corporal Gene Brannigan, who were part of the Irish Army advance party in 1938, were also present.
Guests were welcomed by Eugene Glendon, chair of Bere Island Projects Group, who outlined how, at one time, the Island was described as ‘a remote little Irish Gibraltar commanding with its guns the entrance to the huge, natural harbour of Bantry Bay.’
Mayor Murphy also spoke of Bere Island’s strategic importance in European history: ‘Whilst geographically Bere Island lies on the furthest reaches of Western Europe, the sheltered waters of Berehaven Harbour gave safe harbour to both the British and American navies during WWI.’
Just before midday, the Last Post was played by the Band of 1 Brigade, followed by the raising of the Tricolour at 12.01pm, and a 21-gun salute. The band played the National Anthem and the ceremony concluded with a flypast from an Irish Air Corps Casa aircraft, which swooped over the island.