Ships and other Seafaring Vessels


 On the 3rd of July 1914, the Asgard, captained by Erskine Childers, and the Kelpie, captained by Conor O’Brien, both travelled to the North sea to meet the German tugboat Gladiator. The cargo of rifles and bullets were split between the two boats with 600 mauser rifles and 20,000 rounds going on to the Kelpie and the rest on the Asgard.

On the 26th of July 1914 the Asgard landed in Howth and were met by a jubilant crowd of 800 members of the Irish Volunteers. This gun landing had a dual purpose, also acting as a public demonstration in response to the Unionists gun landing at Larne.

The Kilcoole gun landing operation, however, was kept quiet. After the Kelpie split ways with the Asgard it was met by the Chotah, a yacht owned by Sir Thomas Myles, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons, off the Llyn Peninsula in Wales and offloaded her armament. The Chotah held on to the cargo while the Kelpie sailed across the Irish Sea acting as a decoy for the Asgard.

The Chotah continued the journey and a week later under the cover of darkness the guns were offloaded to the beach where they were met by a small number of volunteers and their supporters who hurried away with the guns in the night to be stashed and stored away.


SS Lady Wicklow

SS Lady Wicklow was a steamship built in 1890 in Belfast, Ireland for the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company. This ship was 262 feet long and had a beam of 34 feet.

She was used as a troopship for the Irish Free State to transport 450 officers and men to Fenit, the port of Tralee, during Irish Free State offensive of the Anglo-Irish Treaty War.

In anticipation of such a landing, the opposing Republican forces had rigged the pier with explosives to blow it up. However, the set charges were rendered inoperable by unknown Free State collaborators,  thus allowing the landing to proceed unimpeded.

During the landing, that took place on August 2, 1922, the Lady Wicklow was shadowed by a British Warship prepared to lend support if the landing went awry for the Free State forces that consisted mostly of unemployed ex-British soldiers discharged after the WWI.

The armored vehicles, munitions etc., used by the Free State during the landing was part and parcel of the weaponry handed over to them by the departing British army. 

As the nascent Free State had no money in its coffers, its  army's paymaster was the British exchequer.


The Neptune

The Neptune was one of the notorious convict ship of  the Second Fleet that sailed to Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour). Built in the River Thames in 1779, at 809 tons she was the largest ship of the fleet. The other ships were the Surprize and Scarborough.

 The fleets first voyage to Port Jackson was on January 19, 1790. The treatment of convicts aboard the Neptune was unquestionably the most horrific in the history of transportation to Australia. Convicts suspected of petty theft were flogged to death; most were kept chained below decks for the duration of the voyage; scurvy and other diseases were endemic; and the food rations were pitiful. During the voyage 31% of the "convicts" died as the result of ill treatment.

John Mitchel who was convicted and sentenced to transportation for fourteen years under the Treason Felony Act of 1848 by the British usurper in Ireland was sent from Dublin on board HMS  Scourge to Spike Island in Cork harbor where he was incarcerated for three days. From there he was transported to Van Dieman's Land, (now Tasmania).

After spells in the hulks (skeleton ships) in Bermuda he was placed aboard the Neptune bound for Cape of Good Hope in the southern tip of Africa. The colonists refused to allow the Neptune to berth there and after five months at anchor in Simon's Bay she sailed to Van Diemen's Land docking at Hobart Town in April 1850.

The Hougoumont

The Hougoumont was the last convict ship to transport convicts to Australia. It’s most famous voyage was on October 12th 1867 when it transported  218 convicts, 62 Fenian prisoners and 108 passengers.
On  January 9 1868 the ship docked at Fremantle, Western Australia .During the voyage, many of the Fenians entertained themselves by producing seven editions of a shipboard newspaper entitled The Wild Goose, which today can be viewed in the State Library of New South Wales.

A number of journals of the voyage exist including those of Denis Cashman  and John Casey.  The  memoirs of Thomas McCarthy Fennell have recently been discovered and published.

Numerous letters survive, and many articles about the voyage were later written by Fenians who went on to become journalists including such notables as

John Boyle O'Reilly


The Catalpa

The whaling ship Catalpa set out from New Bedford, Massachusetts, on the morning of April 29, 1875, to undertake a daring yearlong mission of international rescue. American captain George Anthony risked his career as a whaler and his life to rescue a group of British-soldiers-turned-Irish-rebels known as “The Fremantle Six” from their prison in Australia. With the help of the prison chaplain, the six men escaped to the coast where Anthony was waiting with a small whaleboat that would take them to the Catalpa. The resistance they overcame, both from armed British vessels and a furious sea storm, made their escape the stuff of legend. In what Britain considered a near act of war, the Catalpa outran the Royal Navy and deposited its politically dangerous cargo in New York Harbor in August 1876.

The Fenian Ram

The Fenian Ram is the second experimental submarine built by Irish-born inventor and educator John P. Holland. It was financed by the Fenian Brotherhood that sought Ireland's independence from British rule.

Two years of experimentation that began with a dockside submergence test in June 1881. By mid-1883, he was conducting regular experimental trials as far south as the Narrows of New York Harbor and along the Brooklyn shore, achieving a surface speed of nine knots and submerging as deep as 50 feet. Holland also staged several successful demonstrations of the pneumatic gun, projecting a dummy warhead both underwater and through the air to distances of several hundred yards. In parallel, he continued tinkering with his design, incrementally improving maneuverability, speed, and range. It led Holland to perfect four other experimental craft that eventually resulted in his Holland submarine of 1898, which was adopted by the U.S. Navy and commissioned as SS-1.

The Fenian Ram was placed in Paterson's West Side Park in 1928 as a monument to the inventor. In 1980, it was moved inside the Paterson Museum where today it serves as a reminder of the ingenuity of the "father of the modern submarine."

The SS Cuba

The "SS Cuba" was a passenger steam ship that sailed the Atlantic from 1864 to 1873.  In 1871 five Fenians  released from British prisons came to the United States aboard the SS Cuba.  The five, collectively referred to as the 'Cuba Five",  included John Devoy,  Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa,  Charles Underwood O'Connell, Henry Mulleda, and John McClure arrived in New York to a rapturous welcome from their fellow country men and women.

 The United States congress passed a resolution welcoming the 'Cuba Five' and their fellow Fenian prisoners to the nations capital. They were also received at the White House by President Ulysses S. Grant in a gesture of gratitude for the many Irish, including senior Fenians, who had served in his victorious Union Army.

Devoy and O'Donovan Rossa went on to become two of the most outstanding members of the Fenian movement in the USA in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries     

The Asgard

The Asgard, which was commissioned by Erskine Childers in 1905 as a wedding gift for his wife, Molly, was built by Colin Archer a Norwegian  boat builder and designer.

On May 28, 1914 writer and political activist Darrell Figgis and Childers  negotiated a shipment of 1,500 rifles and 49,000 rounds of ammunition from arms firm Moritz Magnus in Hamburg.

Childers, his wife and a small crew, made the channel crossing with 900 rifles and 29,000 rounds of ammunition  from Germany into Howth  just north of Dublin, to arm the Irish Volunteers in response to the arming of the Ulster Volunteers by the Larne gun-running in April.

Conor O'Brien, an architect who served in the Royal Naval Reserve during the First World War carried the rest in his yacht The Kelpie. The arms were transferred enroute to the Chotah and unloaded Kilcoole in Co.Wicklow by Sir Thomas Myles, a surgeon, barrister and politician Tom Kettle and barrister James Meredith

The Jacknell  (Erin.s Hope)

On the 12th of April, 1867, an  party of between forty and fifty Fenians consisting mostly of former Civil War officers and enlistees, boarded the Jacknell, a 200 ton brigantine in Sandy Hook,  New Jersey and set sail for Ireland to participate in the Fenian Rising. J. E. Kerrigan was in command of the Fenians assisted by William J. Nagle and John Warren. The ship's was under the command of Capt. Cavanagh .

The ships cargo included a large quantity of firearms and a small quantity of artillery pieces.

After nine days of sailing the green flag of Erin was hoisted and the ship’s name changed to Erin’s Hope.  The first landing in Sligo was abandoned after six days due to unanswered signals to 'awaiting' Fenians on shore. 

Next the ship sailed south to the alternate landing site at Helvick outside Dungarvan in Waterford where most of the Fenians disembarked. Several more landing attempts were made before those remaining on board decided to return to the U.S. having learned that that the Rising had floundered.

Although Erin’s Hope did not rendezvous with the Fenians as planned her Captain managed to  outsmart  the British navy for over three weeks while being pursued by as many as three British navy war ships.

The voyage, which lasted 107 days and covered over  9,000  miles returned safely to the United States with its cargo intact.
Most of the officers and men who disembarked in Helvic including John Warren, William Halpin and  Augustine E Costello were captured and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.
 They were released in 1871 in response to pressure by the Dublin Amnesty Association and  U. S government intervention. 

SS Libau  (SS Aud)

The SS Libau, masquerading as the SS Aud, an existing Norwegian vessel, set sail from the Baltic port of Lübeck on 9 April 1916, under the Command of Karl Spindler. The vessel was bound for the south-west coast of Ireland with a cargo consisting of  20,000 rifles, 1,000,000 rounds of ammunition, 10 machine guns, and explosives to support the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland.

It arrived off the Kerry coast on April 20 1916. Unable to communicate with volunteers on shore, Captain Spindler was left with no option but to abort the mission and return to Lubeck.

The reason why contact with the shore failed was that three of the six volunteers enroute to Kerry to handle communications were drowned when their car took a wrong turn and ran into the River Laune. The three volunteers who drowned were Con Keating, Donal Sheehan and Charlie Monaghan.   

Shortly after starting the return journey, the ship was intercepted by the British Navy and escorted back to Cobh Harbor. Before reaching Cobh the captain scuttled the ship with preset explosives rather than have it fall into enemy hands.

In the meantime, Roger Casement, who had negotiated the arms shipment with Germany, had been put ashore off a German U-Boat on Banna Strand on 21, April  in the hope of a rendezvous with the Aud. He was subsequently arrested, tried for treason and executed on August 3 1916.

The Whaling ship 'Gazelle'

The 'Gazelle' was a whaling ship built in New Bedford Massachusetts in the early 1800's that plied the Pacific Ocean in search of sperm whales. Manned by a captain and crew supportive of the Irish in their quest for freedom from Britain, the Gazelle played a historic role in the life of John Boyle O'Reilly

After two years in English prisons John Boyle O'Reilly was transported with sixty-one other Fenians in the Hougoumont, arriving in Western Australia on 10 January 1868.

In his first weeks at the Convict Establishment in Fremantle he worked with the chaplain, Father Lynch, in the prison library. O'Reilly was transferred to a road party at Bunbury but was soon given clerical duties and entrusted to deliver the weekly report to the local convict depot.

Befriended by the priest, Patrick McCabe, and an Irish settler named James Maguire who was sympathetic to the Fenian cause, O'Reilly, with their assistance, planned his escape. Foiled in his first attempt, he hid on Maguire's farm until he boarded the American whaler Gazelle on February 18, 1869. After narrowly escaping capture at Roderiquez Island he transferred to the American Sapphire at St Helena and joined the Bombay as a deck-hand at Liverpool. He arrived in Philadelphia on  November 23, 1869.