United States Naval forces lead the parade at the old Cork racecourse on July 11, 1917. (Illustrated War News, July 25, 1917)


On what was soon to be the site of Cork’s Fordson tractor factory, a parade of military strength in Cork was put on for the visiting Viscount Lord French on this day 100 years ago.

Not long based out of nearby Queenstown (modern-day Cobh), the procession was led by members of the United States Naval detachment, as they saluted the dignitaries lined up near the riverside overlooking the Cork Park Racecourse.

In the photograph above, the temporary offices of the Ford company can be seen in the right-hand side, behind some of the crowds who turned out for the occasion. The site near the Marina had only recently been acquired for the construction of the motor plant, replacing what had long been the city’s horse-racing park – the road running through the middle of which led to the name of the still-existant Centre Park Road.

At the end of April, a flotilla of US naval destroyers had arrived into Cork harbour, marking the commencement of the nation’s entry into World War I. This turning point in the war – largely in response to the German declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare – as well as its consequences locally, nationally and internationally – was the subject of a three-day conference hosted by University College Cork’s school of history last week.

One of the papers was delivered by Royal Irish Academy member Professor Bernadette Whelan of the University of Limerick’s history department, who discussed the despatches from the US Consul in Queenstown, Wesley Frost during his term there between 1914 and 1917.  He received praise for his work in the wake of the Lusitania sinking off the Irish coast in 1915, including the arrangement of searches and burials for the dead, finance and transport arrangement for US survivors, and the securing of statements and affidavits from many of them.  But despite this, he was replaced and reassigned to propaganda work for the US war involvement just days after the US Navy arrived in Cork. Prof Whelan questioned the official reasoning given to Frost that it related to British admiralty complaints about investigations into the movement of German U-boats. Instead, she said, Frost may have been scapegoated over concerns about the level of publicity accorded the destroyers arriving in Cork – publicity raised through ceremonies organised by the British admiralty, rather than by the local consular office.

Frost’s replacement Charles M Hathaway arrived in Queenstown in early June 1917 but, curiously, does not appear to have been present when the joint inspection of US and British military personnel took place in Cork a month later. He was not named among the dignitaries reported as participants in the inspection party.

Among the British Army regiments who took part in the review were the Munster Fusiliers, Dublin Fusiliers, Connaught Rangers, Leinster Regiment, Royal Irish Regiment (of which Lord French was Colonel-in-Chief), South Irish Horse, King Edward’s Horse, Royal Field Artillery, Royal Scots, Scottish Rifles and Royal Army Medical Corps. Among those who viewed the proceedings were wounded soldiers from the local hospitals capable of being driven to the site, while large crowds stretched along the Marina to get a glimpse of the event.

Before departing the scene, Lord French presented the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Cross to the mother of the late Lieutenant RJ Coughlan of the Middlesex Regiment.

The photo below was taken later in the day when members of the various regiments and the US Navy accompanied the senior army officers on a visit to Victoria Barracks on the northside of the city. There, Field Marshal French inspected the Cork Military Hospital.

American sailors and British soldiers at Victoria Barracks, Cork during the visit of Lord French to Cork Military Hospital on July 11, 1917 (Illustrated War News, July 25, 1917)
The photograph appears to have been taken as the military group posed with their backs to the north facade of the enormous parade square, which still stands today despite being burned by evacuating anti-Treaty IRA as Cork was being taken over by National Army troops during the Civil War in August 1922.

The same square, photographed below, was visited last week by members of the US and German naval colleges, who were among a group of participants in last week’s conference at UCC given the opportunity to tour what is Collins Barracks today.

Parade square at Collins Barracks, Cork, July 2017.