Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Island 359 - Haulbowline Island, County Cork

Haulbowline Island is located in Cork Harbour to the south west of the town of Cobh. Most of the island is not accessible to the public, as it is the main base of the Irish Naval Service.  On the boat to Spike Island we almost circumnavigated Haulbowline Island and I was able to get some photos of the naval base.  The Irish name for the island is Inis Sionnach, which translates as Fox Island.

Haulbowline has been connected to the mainland of County Cork at Ringaskiddy by bridges via Rocky Island since 1966.  The bridges have recently been upgraded. It is possible to drive over the bridges to Haulbowline Island but you then have to turn straight round and come back, as there is currently no access to most of the island.

Haulbowline was first used as a base by the British Army in 1602.  In 1806 they moved over to neighbouring Spike Island and Haulbowline was handed to the Royal Navy and the Board of Ordnance.  A wall was built to divide the island between the Royal Navy and the Board of Ordnance.  The island was much smaller at this time - 9 hectares in total.  An Ordnance Yard was constructed at the western end of the island and a Martello Tower was built to defend the island.  On the eastern end of the island between 1807 and 1824 a Victualling Yard, which provided supplies to the Royal Navy, was constructed with storehouse, rainwater tanks, mast & boat stores and a cooperage.  Houses were built to accommodate workers and officers.  2 hectares of land were added to the island by a process of land reclamation.

The naval base was closed in 1831 but reopened c1841.  In the 1860s a Royal Naval Dockyard was built on Haulbowline for the construction and repair of warships.  The island was increased in size to 24 hectares and a basin with a dry dock was constructed which almost bisects the island. The Victualling Yard was later renamed the Royal Alexandra Victualling Yard and by the early 20th century there was also a naval hospital and fuelling depot on the island.

From 1922 when the Republic of Ireland gained its independence from Britain until 1938 the Royal Navy was responsible for patrolling Irish water and retained the use of the so called "Treaty Ports" of Cork Harbour, Berehaven and Loch Swilly.  Under the terms of the 1922 Treaty, Ireland was allowed to have a fleet of coastal vessels for “protection of the revenue and fisheries” but although a fleet was assembled in 1923, it was disbanded in 1924.  The naval base at Haulbowline Island, was handed over to the Irish government in 1924 but was not used by them for several years. The Treaty Ports and control over Irish coastal waters were handed over to the Irish Free State in 1938.

In 1939 when it became obvious that war was imminent and the Irish government wanted to protect the country's neutrality, they purchased 6 motor torpedo boats from Britain and the Marine and Coastwatching Service was established.  By 1941 they had 10 vessels, which laid mines across Cork and Waterford Harbours, regulated merchant ships, maintained navigational aids and acted as fishery protection vessels. At the end of the Second World War the Coastwatching Service was disbanded and the Marine Service was decreased in size.

In 1946 the Marine Service became the Irish Naval ServiceIn 2016 the fleet comprises one Helicopter Patrol Vessel (HPV), three Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV), two Large Patrol Vessel (LPV) and two Coastal Patrol Vessels (CPV).

The eastern part of Haulbowline Island, which had been the naval dockyard, was occupied by Irish Steel (later Ispat) from 1938 until 2002.  The bridges to the island were constructed in 1966 by Irish Steel.  Initially residents and visitors to the island, who were not connected to the steel industry, were not allowed to use it. Toxic waste from the steelworks, including Chromium 6 and other heavy metals, was dumped on the island's East Tip and this greatly increased the size of the island.  When I visited in September 2016 work was underway to decontaminate the old steelworks site and turn it into a public open space.

Former Royal Navy Store Buildings, Haulbowline Island
Irish Naval Service Ship moored at Haulbowline Island

Naval Base 
Martello Tower on Haulbowline

Bridge to Haulbowline Island from Rocky Island

Plans for Haulbowline Island Public Amenity Park

Bridge from Rocky Island to Haulbowline

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