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Saturday 21 April 2018

Treaty Port handover 'just like yesterday'

Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny praised the handover of the so-called Irish 'Treaty Ports' by Britain in 1938 as instrumental in helping preserve Ireland's neutrality during World War II.

Mr Kenny marked the 75th anniversary of the handover of Cork harbour facilities, including Spike Island, by meeting the sole surviving Defence Force member who helped replace British troops in the key harbour forts.

The Taoiseach was guest of honour with retired Sergeant Michael Kelly (96), who was part of the detachment that replaced British army and Royal Navy troops at Camden Fort and Spike Island on July 11 1938.

"This was a hugely significant event in Irish history and assumed enormous importance given the events in Europe within one year of the handover," Mr Kenny said.

"Eamon De Valera, in a brilliant piece of diplomacy which ended the Anglo-Irish economic War, ensured the return of the Treaty Ports, and by so doing, allowed our nation to remain neutral in World War II. History will rightly record this as one of his most outstanding achievements."

Michael Kelly was a 21-year-old Irish soldier based in Cork harbour when Britain ended the final link of its 800-year military presence in the south by handing over key ports to the then-Irish Free State.

"I can remember it all like it was yesterday," Michael said. "How could you ever forget something as historic as that?"

The former sergeant still goes for a daily walk and cycle and admitted that being a VIP guest at the Defence Force ceremony was "a great thrill."

A total of three deepwater ports, Spike Island and Berehaven in Cork and Lough Swilly in Donegal, were retained by Britain as insurance against the submarine threat to its vital Atlantic convoys.

The ports were handed back to the Dublin authorities between July and October 1938. Spike Island was the first of the three to be handed back on July 11 1938.

The small British garrison lowered the Union Jack for the last time at 6.20pm and then departed by tender for Fishguard in Wales.

Less than an hour later, Taoiseach Eamon de Valera and Defence Minister Frank Aiken arrived to a 19-gun salute. The Tricolour was then raised over the military facility.

Michael was taken by truck with other Irish units to Fort Camden. They then formed up for a special review parade for the visiting dignitaries.

Irish Independent

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