A lot of the records at the Military Archives have now come online and have shed a lot of light on the period from the Easter Rising to independence. Of particular value are the witness statements, made many years afterwards, which not only shed light on the military shenanigans but are also crucial to understanding the philosophy of the times, the social world and the architecture of the early 1920s Ireland.
At the end of August 1920, the late Neil Blayney told me that he had information that Fanad Head coastguard station was about to be evacuated. We had been discussing the possibilities of attacking this post at an earlier date. If the rumour about its evacuation was true, it was necessary to carry out the attack immediately.
I suggested that the best means of obtaining information was, Neil Blayney being an insurance agent, to go up there, get in touch with some of the garrison under the pretext of selling insurance, and he would have a good opportunity of getting. useful information. He adopted my suggestion and, having made a call at the coastguard station, he returned immediately to inform me that the coastguard station would be evacuated inside a week. As a result of this information, it was necessary to make hurried plans to attack the place. Accordingly, the date for the attack was fixed for the night of September 4th, 1920. It was decided that the attacking party would be drawn from the Letterkenny company. The Volunteers from Fanad company were to act as scouts and guides.
Our party set out by motor car from Letterkenny and, on reaching a pre-arranged rendezvous, we were guided across country by Volunteers from the Fanad company. On reaching the coastguard station, which was a solidly constructed cement building, we took up positions behind a wall surrounding the building and about fifty yards out. The light from the lighthouse on the Head was disconcerting to us.
We were informed a few day later than a British admiralty sloop was anchored in Mulroy Bay, convenient to the coastguard station. The sloop was there for the purpose or salvaging gold from the ship, "Laurentic", which was sunk in the bay by a German submarine during World War I and had two and a half million pounds worth of gold aboard. For some unknown reason, the sloop had left the bay that night. Had the marines been in the bay and come to the assistance of the coastguards, we would have been in a bad position. Of course, it is possible that the Volunteers from Fanad would have warned us, in advance, of the presence of the sloop, had the sloop remained in the bay.
The shell of the Coastguard station at Fanad today
The keeper was evidently Charles Meehan, who would have been approaching sixty years of age at the time. A Donegal man, he was a Catholic with a large family. One son, also Charles, would become a lightkeeper too.
Other lighthouses were raided for arms and explosives - Hook Head, Mine Head, Roancarrig, even the Fastnet - but on each occasion, the raiders were very receptive to the notion that nothing should interfere with the beam of the light. As far as I know, this incident was unique in the annals of Irish Lights, although it is doubtful whether news of the incident ever made it into their annals.
About a week later, the coastguards left and the station was burned and gutted. It seems likely from the following newspaper report, that the coastguards got together and concocted a story for the admiralty as to how they had been so easily overcome. I suspect the judge was suspicious! (From the Belfast Newsletter 1st November 1920)