The bullet holes on Cobh’s Pier Head

Pier Head bullet damage 2

A large chunk has been gouged from this post cap on Cobh’s Pier Head

The town of Cobh, County Cork has many historical connections and interesting places – the magnificent cathedral of St. Colman towers over the town and the surrounding harbour; the town boasts a world-class heritage centre and museum, the reborn military fortress of Spike Island and of course its strong association with the ill-fated ocean liners Lusitania and Titanic.  These are just a few of the highlights of a historic heritage town .

But in the centre of Cobh there is a lasting reminder of a less well-known piece of history. If you closely study the railings of Cobh’s 165 year old landing pier, the Pier Head, you will find some unusual markings with no obvious cause.  These are the bullet marks left behind after the Pier Head shooting incident of 1924.

On Friday, 21st March 1924, a large yellow Rolls Royce touring car pulled up beside the pier.  On board were four or five men dressed in the uniforms of the Irish Free State Army. But were they really Free State Soldiers or men masquerading as such?   A few minutes passed and a large launch arrived at the pier carrying up to 50 British soldiers and a number of civilians, mostly employees of the British Army at Spike Island a half mile away.  As the British soldiers and civilians began to disembark onto the pier the men in the Rolls Royce produced a Lewis sub-machine gun and mounted it on the side of the car.  They immediately opened fire on the soldiers, many of whom were hit.  19 soldiers were injured, many of them seriously, and one, Private Herbert Aspinall, died an hour later at Spike Island Military Hospital. A native of Rochdale, Greater Manchester, he was 18 years old.  Six civilians were also injured.

bullet marks on stanchion

Clearly visible bullet-scarring on one of the railing stanchions

The Rolls Royce then sped off but stopped briefly to fire on a British warship moored near the train station.  Damage to the ship was slight.  The Rolls Royce then departed at speed and was not seen again for some 57 years.  Thus began one of the biggest manhunts in modern Irish history.   A second incident occurred in the town an hour later in which British soldiers returned and some shots were fired.  The latter incident remains a controversial one.

The Irish Free State government denied that any of its troops were in any way involved in the Pier Head attack and offered compensation to the victims.  It also offered a reward of £10,000 (about €750,000 today) for information leading to the arrest of five men it deemed to be responsible for the attack.

Reward notice

Free State proclamation offering £10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of five named men – but were they responsible for the Cobh attack?  Note: there are several errors in the document, “Hayfield” should be Mayfield for instance.

Ninety-three years later bullet damage is still visible on the Eastern side of the Pier Head’s railings.   These marks are referred to in some of the contemporary statements made by eye-witnesses to the shooting.  A local councillor, Bartholemew Downing, who was standing across the road when the shooting took place, said: Were it not for the stanchions on the railings on the side of the pier and landing place, many more must have been killed, for had the bullets which made marks not been diverted, many more would have been killed.  A local woman eyewitness, who returned to the pier on the morning after the attack, described the scene thus: “There are large blobs of blood all the way out, a couple of pools of blood, thick and dirty now, on the pier itself and on the steps leading down to the water, and bullet-marks everywhere”.

Death on the Pier is a new book by Cobh based author John Jefferies which tells the story of the Pier Head shooting (known in Britain as the “Queenstown Outrage”).  It outlines the background to the attack, details what happened and follows up on the search for the attackers and the lengthy attempts to track down the elusive Rolls Royce Silver Ghost known as the Moon Car from its disappearance to its eventual recovery.   The book will be launched during the Cobh Readers & Writers Festival next Saturday, 6th May at 5pm in the festival marquee at Cobh’s Promenade.  The author will be present to sign copies of the book which is priced at €12.  It can be ordered online for €15 (including postage & packaging).  It is also hoped that local booksellers in the Cobh and Cork area will have copies soon after the launch date.

Moon Car

The now restored Rolls Royce known as the Moon Car

Lewis Gun

A Lewis machine gun similar to that used in the Cobh Pier Head attack.

An eyewitness description of the Cobh Pier Head attack

Death on the Pier tells the story of the Cobh Pier Head attack which took place on the evening of 21st March 1924. The book covers the lead-in to the attack, the circumstances in which it took place and the manhunt which took place afterwards. Central to the latter was the 57 year search for the mysterious yellow Rolls Royce known as the “Moon Car”.  The following is an excerpt from the witness statement given subsequently by a local town councillor,  Bartholomew Downing.

“At about ten minutes to seven I was standing on the path just opposite the pier. This big motor car came along, turned opposite the Imperial Hotel, came along and took up a position just opposite the pier head.  Immediately the soldiers came off the launch and were walking across the pier, two machine guns were placed on the side of the car.  Almost immediately I heard the rattle of machine gun fire,  and the next thing I saw was soldiers falling. They fell before it the same as corn before a scythe. It was a wave of men falling. It was a most appalling sight, the like of which I hope to never witness again.”.

1 British soldier was killed in the attack, 18 others were injured, many of them seriously and 5 civilians were also injured, including at least one child.

The shooting was followed by a massive manhunt and the issuing of a £10,000 reward (a huge sum in 1924) for five men named as suspects. The trail of the suspects  stretches from Cork to the European mainland and to the United States.

John Jefferies’ book Death on the Pier and the search for the Moon Car will be published in April 2017. 

“Death on the Pier” to be published soon

Moon Car

The Moon Car – disappeared after 1924 attack. Found in 1981.

After a number of delays in getting the book out, publication is finally within sight. Problems arose in sourcing photos for the book and sorting out copyright for same.  New information also came to light recently which will add to available knowledge of the Cobh Pier Head attack of 1924, its aftermath and the story of the elusive “Moon Car” – the mysterious yellow Rolls Royce Silver Ghost which disappeared after the attack and was not rediscovered for almost 60 years.

We will also have a new cover design and additional witness testimony.  We will have a firm date for publication soon but it will definitely be in Spring 2017. Keep an eye on this site for further updates.

Death on the Pier, new book coming soon

Cobh Reward poster

 

The intriguing story of a 1924 attack on unarmed British soldiers in the Irish Treaty Port of Cobh

It’s March 1924. It is less than 18 months after the foundation of the Irish Free State which was founded under the Anglo-Irish Treaty which split the Irish Republican Army and led to a short but deadly Civil War.  A mutiny is taking place within the Irish Army due to mass demoblisation of men while some who are unhappy that the Free State is not doing more to achieve the aims set down by Michael Collins who described the Treaty as a “stepping stone to the republic”. Meanwhile remnants of the Anti-Treaty IRA continue to pose a threat. On March 21st a group of armed men seated in a yellow Rolls Royce and dressed in Irish Army uniforms fire on unarmed British soldiers coming off a ferry in Cobh. Are they Free Staters or Anti-Treaty “Irregulars” or perhaps a combination of both?  An 18 year-old British soldier is dead, 18 others injured seriously and six civilians also wounded. As they depart the town, the attackers fire on a British warship. An hour later British soldiers seeking revenge or perhaps searching for their missing comrades fire shots in the town of Cobh and local citizens flee for cover.  The Rolls Royce and its occupants cannot be found even though there is a £10,000 reward for information which might lead to their arrest. The news flashes around the world. The dead soldier is given a huge funeral in his native Rochdale while back in Ireland there is almost universal condemnation of the attack.  Murder, mystery, intrigue, cover-ups, it’s all in Death on the Pier,  the story of the Cobh Pier Head shooting and the Search for the Moon Car.  Author John Jefferies unravels the story in his new book.

It is hoped to have the book in print and in the shops by Spring 2017 and it will also be on sale through this website.