Abandoned ireland


Fort Camden,

Co. Cork.

Documenting our Heritage

Thanks to Siobhan Russell for the above aerial photograph and a huge thanks to Vince Farr for arranging access to the fort, and giving the full guided tour.

Fort Camden is positioned on Rams Head near Crosshaven, County Cork. The fort derives its name from the Earl of Camden, who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1795. Fort Camden, though internationally recognised to be one of the world’s finest remaining examples of a classical Coastal Artillery Fort, is sadly abandoned, derelict and overgrown.

Fortifications on the site originally date from around 1550 and were further added to in 1600, then after the battle of Kinsale in 1601 the fort fell into disuse. At the end of the 17th century the fort was again fortified, this time by the Jacobites in an effort to block the Williamites' naval forces. In 1690 the fort was used to fire on the Williamite fleet as it entered Cork Harbour. However, a party was secretly sent ashore to attack the fort from the landward side and the fort fell to the invaders. In these early days, the fort was known as James' Battery and consisted of two blockhouses and eight guns.

At the start of the Napoleonic War (1799 - 1815), the naval establishment at Kinsale was transferred to Haulbowline Island in Cork harbour, Fort Camden was remodelled and numerous other defences were installed around the Cork coastline to provide protection to Haulbowline Island naval base and the surrounding harbour area. The harbour at Berehaven (see here) in West Cork also received fortification so this could be utilised as a second base for the Royal Navy fleet. In 1805, the gunpowder mills at Ballincollig (see here) to the west of Cork city were purchased by the British Board of Ordnance and vastly extended to provide gunpowder for use against Napoleon’s fleet. The French army was finally defeated in the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815. By 1837, Fort Camden contained only a token force of a master gunner and eight men.

The Fort was briefly used as a prison, and then in 1855 Cork harbour was again recognised as being an important strategic position for the defence of Ireland, the west coast of England and Wales. A Royal Commission proposed that Fort Camden was remodelled with significant landward defences and further seaward firing gun batteries. Construction work started at Fort Camden in 1861, however the contractor went bankrupt in 1863 and the War Department took over the work, using first convicts and then military and civilian labour. The cost of completing the works was £75,979.

In the 1880s the breech loading rifled gun was beginning to be introduced and the Cork defences were again reviewed. A minefield was laid across the channel and this was covered by batteries of quick firing 6-pdrs. The fort was also fitted with a Brennan Torpedo installation (info here).

In 1886 the armament at Fort Camden consisted of:

Right Upper Battery 3 x l0-inch RML (Riffled Muzzle Loading)

Right Lower Battery 4 x 10-inch RML

Left Upper Battery 3 x 7-inch RML

Left Lower Battery 3 x 7-inch RML

Movable Armament 4 x 40 pdr. and 4 x 20pdr. RBL on ramparts (Armstrong Breach Loading)

Drill and Practice 2 x 64 pdr. RML

Obsolete Guns 2 x 10-inch SB Mortars  (Smooth Bore)

Over the next few decades the armament was changed a number of times.

In 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, the armament consisted of:

Right Upper Battery 3 x 12pdr. QF (Quick Firing)

Left Lower Battery 2 x 12pdr. QF

During the First World War, Cork harbour was used as a naval base to cover the western approaches. An anti-submarine net was constructed and further changes to the armament occurred across all the harbour defences.

When the Irish Free State was established in 1922, a clause in the Anglo-Irish Treaty left the harbour defences at Cork, Berehaven and Lough Swilly in the control of British government. These ports became known as the Treaty Ports. The politically uncertain situation of the ports meant that modernisation and maintenance by the British forces was not seen as a priority.  The harbour defences at Cork were eventually taken over by the Irish authorities on 11 July 1938 when de Valera, his son and the Irish Military chiefs were present to take part in a handover ceremony. Fort Camden was renamed Fort Meagher in honour of Thomas Francis Meagher, who had fought for Ireland’s independence from British rule and emigrated to America to escape a sentence to be ‘hung, drawn and quartered’ after his involvement in the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. Today however, Fort Meagher is still commonly known as Fort Camden.

During the Second World War, the Irish Army formed its own coast artillery service with headquarters at Spike Island. The Coast Defence Service was maintained until it was dissolved in 1949.

In 1987 Cork County Council indicated that they were interested in having the fort developed as a military museum and suggested that the fort should be transferred for a nominal sum to a public body such as the council. In 1989 Cork County Council acquired ownership of the fort.

Plans stated at the time included the development of a Military Heritage Centre and general tourist attractions, including visitor accommodation, watersport facilities, craftshops and restaurant.

The Fort stands today abandoned and decaying. In recent years it is estimated Cork County Council have spent more than two million Euro in securing the site.

Fort Camden is now open to the public.

Fort Camden,
Co. Cork