The Handover of Fort Berehaven, Bere Island 1938

At 12.00pm on 26th September 1938 the Union Jack was lowered over Fort Berehaven, Bere Island.
BIPG Archives
At 12.01pm on 26th September 1938 the Irish Tricolour was raised over Fort Berehaven, Bere Island.
BIPG Archive
Commemoration held in 2018 by Bere Island Projects Group to mark the 80th Anniversary of the Handover of Fort Berehaven.
Anne Marie Cronin Photography

At 12.01pm on September 26th 1938 the Irish Tricolour was raised over Fort Berehaven, Bere Island, thus ending a continuous  British military presence on the island since 1797.

Treaty Port

In 1922, under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the British withdrew from most of Ireland but kept the deep-water treaty ports, at Berehaven and Cobh in Cork and Lough Swilly in Donegal in order to protect their Atlantic convoys.  The ports were handed back to the Irish Government in 1938, with Bere Island being the final port to be handed over on September 26th 1938.  Winston Churchill however, was appalled by the decision and in an address to Parliament that year he called it a ‘folly.’

The Handover

An advance party from the Irish Army arrived on Bere Island on September 22nd.  The actual handover was completed in a rush on September 26th; so much so, that most of the islanders didn’t know it was happening.  An Irish army chaplain who was present and owned a  box camera took the only photos of the event.  However, as the British were loading their equipment on to boats to depart Bere Island, an order was received to stop loading and to halt the handover.  The British ordered the Irish gunners out of the fort at Lonehort and back to their billets in Rerrin.  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 World War Two.

80th Anniversary Commemoration

In 2018 Bere Island Projects Group marked the eightieth anniversary  of the Handover with a major commemoration event which was funded by The Heritage Council.  In the presence of guest of honour,  Mayor of Cork County, Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy, a full military ceremony led by 1 Brigade Artillery Regiment from Collins Barracks Cork and the Army No 1 Band and a gun salute took place at Rerrin Redoubt, the site of the original handover in 1938.  The military ceremony concluded with a fly past by the Irish Aer Corps.  Also in attendance at the commemoration were family members of Lt Billy Rea and Corporal Gene Brannigan, who were part of the Irish Army advance party in 1938.

Speaking at the commemoration event, Eugene Glendon, chair of Bere Island Projects Group outlined how at one time Bere 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 World War One.”

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