Fingal sailors were held captive in Berlin in WW1

Published 16/09/2005 | 00:11

THE seaman got slowly up from his damp bunk and wiped the condensation from the icy window. It was January 1915 in Ruhleben, a little village close to Berlin and boy was it cold.As he peered out into the morning, he could make out the shape of men, huddled together in the winter snow beneath a grey sky.

People and places

By Hubert Murphy

THE seaman got slowly up from his damp bunk and wiped the condensation from the icy window. It was January 1915 in Ruhleben, a little village close to Berlin and boy was it cold.

As he peered out into the morning, he could make out the shape of men, huddled together in the winter snow beneath a grey sky. Across the way, others were content to watch from windows too, a winter scene, which, had it been in different circumstances, might have even been beautiful.

With that, the calmness of the hut was shattered by a heavy rap on the door and three common allies quickly made their way in. Spanish, Swiss, British, Irish, they were as one here.

Ruhleben had become home to 4000 ‘displaced’ individuals at the outbreak of war in 1914.

Some were artists, scholars and writers, the type of people the authorities of the day would hardly rely on in times of conflict. And so it was to Ruhleben they were brought for up to four years to keep them silent.

For many years this ‘new prison’ had been a racing track but was now home to a multitude of creeds, colours and tongues.

The seaman was one of those who had been caught up in the sudden advance of war. He had been in Hamburg, part of a crew of a coal ship. Like many others, he found himself a prisoner of war, impounded to life in Ruhleben.

David Snook, an historian from Rush, has carried out much research on the seamen of Rush and Fingal down the years, gathering wonderful personal stories from the families of prisoners who spent the first war locked up in Berlin.

Remarkably, 21 Rush men and one from Skerries were inmates in Ruhleben. Some were released on various grounds over the four years – being over 45 one of them – but others were not so fortunate. There were no comforts although the men did get to write to family back home and did receive food parcels.

One idea they did come up with was a camp postage stamp which was printed by the prisoners and is now regarded as a collector’s item.

‘So many people helped me throughout the research and I must say any mistakes are my own. The Clarke family for information on Patrick Clarke, Alice Kirwan for information on her great uncle Bartle McCann and the McCann family. Kit McGee for information on his father Jack McGee, Anna O’Driscoll (flee Weldon) for information on her father John Weldon and her Green uncles, Alan White and the White family for information on Patrick White and the Ruhleben photograph and Vincent Kean of Adelaide for information and photographs of his father Christopher Kean, were terrific,’ David states.

Indeed, he picked up a copy of a letter sent by Christopher Kean from the camp to his mother in Strand St, Skerries. Writing in January of 1918, he stated that the weather was very cold but he had learned skating. A few men from Rush had just left the camp for home and he asked them to pop in to see her.

David would love to know more from families in Rush about their relatives in Ruhleben.

Those held during the course of the war were:

Patrick Clarke

He was born in 1871 and was a seaman on the ‘City of Berlin’ when it was impounded. He lived at what is now Convent Lane and was married to Katie. He also had a brother, Owen, at sea. He was at sea from 1900 until at least 1930.

Maurice Coffey

Another Rush man on board the ‘City of Berlin’ in August 1914.

Joseph Donnelly

Born 1876 and aboard the ‘City of Hamburg’.

Laurence Dunne

Born Rush 1858. Another ‘City of Hamburg’ seaman. He was the son of Patrick and Frances Wade and his brother Peter was also at sea. He was possibly repatriated early because of age.

Peter Dunne

Born in Rush in 1865. Able seaman on the ‘Citv of Berlin’. He was married to Celia Kelly and lived near the present day Harbour Bar. A son of Patrick and Frances Wade and his brother Laurence and son Nicholas were also at sea.

Larry Farrell

He was a seaman on the ‘City of Cadiz’. His home was at Barrett’s Park and his wife was Mary Wade. He was repatriated early but killed on June 12, 1918 when he went down with the’SS Kennington’ out of London. He was 46 and is remembered on the Tower Hill Memorial in London.

William Ford

William was 39 when he was taken to Ruhleben from the ‘City of Hamburg’. He lived on Main St, Rush.

Augustine Green

Born Rush 1884 and a fireman on the ‘City of Belfast’. His home was at Sandy Lane and he had three other brothers at sea, although all of them died at a young age.

William Green

He was also a fireman on the ‘City of Belfast’. He was born in 1888 and lived at Sandy Lane with wife May Harford. He had three more brothers at sea.

Christopher Herbert

Born Rush 1895 and an able seaman ‘City of Munich’ in August 1914.

Joseph Kane

Son of Thomas and Catherine Kane, he was born in 1859. Able seaman on the ‘City of Munich’ and lived at The Square with wife Mary Ann Knight. He was repatriated on account of his age in 1916 but killed at sea 1917. He was 58 when he died on December 11 on board the ‘SS Ottokar’.

Michael Knight

Born Rush 1879. Able seaman on the ‘City of Munich’.

Thomas Kelly

Another member of the ‘City of Berlin’ crew and born in Rush in 1854.

Joseph Leonard

From Bollum or Pump Lane, his parents were William and Mary Ann Smith. He had two brothers Matthew and Patrick also at sea while his father William was also interned in Ruhleben with him. He was on the ‘City of Cadiz’.

William Leonard

A member of the crew of the ‘City of Belfast’, he was Joseph’s father and was born in 1869.

Bartle McCann

Came from a seafaring family near Sandy Lane. His parents were Bernard and Mary Magee and he was married to Anne Kelly.His brothers John and Richard also went to sea. Bartle was a crewman on the ‘City of Munich’.

Jack McGee

Born Rush 1879. Able seaman ‘City of Munich’. His parents were John and Kate Creane and he married Johanna Herbert in 1920. He badly damaged his arm in an accident at sea in 1920.

Joseph Smyth

Lived near what is now the Carlyan pub. Married to Mary and his parents were Matthew and Elizabeth. His brother Matthew was also at sea. He was born in Rush in 1879 and was on the ‘City of Cadiz’.

Matthew Smyth

Born Rush 1869 and an able seaman on the ‘City of Cadiz’when it was held. He was in the camp with his brother Joseph.

James Weldon

From Main Street, James was the husband of the Rush postmistress Ellen Murray. He was born in Rush in 1866. He was released early from Ruhleben, on account of age, and went back to sea.

John Weldon

A fireman on the ‘City of Belfast’and a native of Channel Road. His parents were Thomas and Esther Mitchell. He was married to Mary Ann Green (sister of Green brothers) and later became a market gardener.

Patrick White

Lived at The Mall and part of the crew of the ‘City of Cadiz’. He went back to sea on his release.

Christopher Kean

Born Skerries in 1894. He was the 2nd Mate on the ‘City of Belfast’ and was made First mate in 1919.He lived at Strand St and his parents were John and Rose Anne Gowan. His brothers John and Joseph were also at sea.



He later settled in Adelaide as harbour pilot in 1963.













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