Two summers ago I first visited Camden Fort Meagher which is an old military fort situated at the Western entrance to Cork Harbour, quite close to the village of Crosshaven. There are records of a fort used to protect Cork Harbour on the site as far back as the 1500s. In 1989 it was taken over by Cork County Council as it was no longer used by the army and in 2010 a group of local enthusiasts set about restoring the fort, creating a museum and opening it to the public. Camden Fort Meagher is now open to visitors every weekend from May through to September.
My main reason for this visit was to see the place where I was told that my granduncle was stationed at the end of the Great War. This led me to ponder how Camden has influenced the lives of many Corkonians. It certainly had a huge impact on my family and if it weren’t for Camden, I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t be here today.
Let me introduce you to John (Jack) Davies, born in 1891 in the mining village of Blaenclydach in the Rhondda Valley, South Wales. Jack was primary school teacher and on the 9th March 1916 he married a local woman, Annie Randle. Two months later, on the 19th May 1916, when Great Britain was entrenched in war with Germany, Jack travelled to Cardiff where he enlisted with the Royal Garrison Artillery to serve his country. He was trained by the army in Signalling and Telegraphy and presumably because of his ability to teach, became an instructor in that area.
The following year, on 11 June 1917, Annie gave birth to their son, Collin but sadly Annie died just one week after Collin’s birth. Three weeks after his wife’s death, leaving baby Collin with his grand-parents Jack was despatched with his battalion to serve in Palestine. He boarded a ship in Southampton on 9th July, 1917 and sailing firstly to Le Havre and then from Marseille to Alexandria in Egypt. Corporal John Davies arrived in Alexandria on the 1st August 1917, on his way to Palestine, where he served in the British Army throughout the reminder of World War I, until he was demobbed and began his journey home in January, 1919.
Jack’s military records show all his activity and movements within the army until this point. I had been told by my own mother that he was stationed in Fort Camden after the war and that it was there that he met his Cork wife, Mary Stewart. Fort Camden is not listed as a post on his military records. However his discharge papers show Mary Stewart’s address on Blackrock Road in Cork City as his residence at the time of his retirement from the Army and this gives credence to the family story.
Post-war Crosshaven must have been a very popular place for young ladies to visit with many soldiers from all over the British Isles unexpectedly finding themselves in this small seaside town on the South coast of Ireland while on their way home from war. Jack was one of these young men and I was told that he met his second wife, Mary Stewart, at a dance in Crosshaven. Jack & Mary married later that year, on October 7th 1919, in Mary’s home church, Scots Presbyterian Church in Cork City.
The newlyweds moved back to Wales, where Jack returned to teaching. Collin was reunited with his father and eventually became a big brother to their daughter, Jean. Collin, like his father before him enlisted in World War II and was killed in action.
Jack’s marriage to Mary Stewart was not the last of Camden’s effect on my family. Following Jack and Mary’s marriage in 1917, Jack’s sister, Eunice Davies, who had been living in Wales met and fell in love with Mary’s brother, David Stewart who was working in The Eagle Printing Company in Cork City. Eunice Davies and David Stewart (my grandparents) were married in Gosen Congregational Church, Blaenclydach, Glamorgan, Wales, on 25th July, 1923. Following their marriage Eunice moved to Cork where they lived the rest of their lives in Cork City with their daughter Ann.
So Fort Camden, which was originally built to protect Cork Harbour from foreign invaders, actually had quite the opposite effect on my own family. Thanks to Camden the Davies and Stewart families crossed paths and a Welsh brother and sister married a Cork born sister and brother.
It was fascinating to walk around the fort almost a hundred years later and see where Jack stayed and also to see their uniforms on display in The Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA) exhibition. If you get a chance to visit Camden, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. You get to walk around the site which contains many old buildings and features which are all fairly well preserved and contain some fascinating military exhibits. If that’s not enough, the old Officers’ Quarters have been converted into a Tea Rooms which must have one of the best views in all of County Cork.