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GALLERY: The Donegal man who headed up Marine and Coast Watching Service

Coast watching services in Inishowen during WWII

At the outbreak of The Emergency (1939 to 1945) better known as WWII, the Irish Government recognised it needed some form of coast watching service, to comply with its obligations under the 1907 Hague Convention.

According to Seamus Bovaird, Chairperson of the Inishowen Maritime Museum, the Hague Convention covered the rights and duties of a neutral country in times of war.

Seamus added: “In February 1939, the government decided to form a Marine & Coast Watching Service to monitor Irish coastal waters and a new headquarters for the Coast Watching Service was established in Portobello Barracks, in August.

“An Army officer from Moville, Captain John Farren, was appointed Staff Officer, Marine and Coast Watching Service.

The new service had 5 main responsibilities: The Patrol Service, which was responsible for the naval vessels patrolling our territorial sea; the Coast Watching Service, which was watching over our coastline and inshore waters; the Port Examination Service, which was monitoring shipping entering and leaving Irish ports; the Mining Service, which was mining and mine countermeasures in harbours; and the Maritime Inscription, which was the protection of ports and harbours.

“Inishowen men served on board the ships of the Patrol Service, in the Port Control and Examination Service and in the Coast Watching Service. No mines were laid in any Donegal harbours. In spite of Donegal being on the border of a belligerent state and right at the beginning, or end, of trans-Atlantic convoy routes, there was no Maritime Inscription organisation in the county,” said Seamus.

The ‘Marine and Coast Watching Service’ was established on September 5, 1939 and the Army started to staff the existing lookout posts on the South coast and to establish a series of 83 new posts at about 10 miles apart all around the coast.

Seamus said: “On May 15, 1945, all emergency powers were revoked, and the Marine Service was run down. On June 1, 1945, the Port Control and Examination Service was the first to go as shipping inspection and port entry formalities were no longer required when the restrictions were lifted.

“The Marine and Coast Watching Service divisions were quickly disbanded, or drastically reduced. The much reduced Maritime Inscription became An Slua Mhuire, a naval reserve force. The Patrol Service was reduced but remained to become the Irish Naval Service of today. On October 9, 1945, the Coast Watching Service was disbanded.”

The Coast Watching Service

The Coast Watching service operated from 83 Look-Out Posts along the Irish coastline from Louth to Donegal. LOP Number 1 was on Ballagan Point, County Louth and LOP Number 82 was at Inishowen Head. The odd one out, LOP Number 83, was in Feaklecaly, Dingle.

Seamus revealed: “Each post was staffed by members of the Local Defence Force (LDF), usually a corporal and seven men. A total of 730 men were assigned to coast watching duties. The lookout posts were staffed by local volunteers with a maritime background, but training was non-existent or very rudimentary at the beginning. Accommodation was also very poor, bell tents in some places, sod shelters in others.

“Training improved and a standard prefabricated lookout post was designed and installed all around the coast. These were made up of 137 pre-cast concrete slabs delivered on site to construct a hut 9 feet by 13 feet. Each hut had a bay window, facing the sea. There was a small weathertight porch leading into a single room with a stove for heating and cooking.

“There were a lot of teething problems with the new LOP huts which had to be rectified but they were an improvement on sod huts. In the beginning, men from the lookout posts had to run to the nearest Garda, or private, telephone to submit reports but, from the Summer of 1940, each LOP was eventually provided with a telephone.

“All the LOP’s in the Western Command Army Region came under the control of Athlone. Donegal came under the control of the Sub-District HQ, in Killybegs. Inishowen had 3 LOP’s, Malin Head, Glengad and Inishowen Head, under District Officer, Lieut. CJ McGinley. Incident reports were reported to Athlone, but, uniquely, the Inishowen LOP’s reported to the military at Fort Dunree as a first response,” said Seamus.

The information was then relayed to Western Command HQ, in Athlone, and eventually to Army intelligence, in Dublin.

From there it was secretly forwarded to the Admiralty, in Liverpool and London. Later, the information was shared with MI6, in London.

Seamus said: “Weather forecasts from Irish meteorological stations found their way to London via the normal, pre-war, channels. The postponement and final launch of the D-Day invasion of Europe was influenced by the reports on weather front arriving, off the Atlantic, at Irish stations.

“As training and equipment improved the standard of reporting improved. A standardised logbook and reporting format were introduced, and the stations were supplying vital information about the movements of ships and aircraft in Irish territorial waters.

“At the beginning of the WWII, the Inishowen LOP’s were the busiest in Ireland with the Battle of the Atlantic being fought on their front doors. Trans-Atlantic convoy meeting and dispersal points were off Inishowen, anti-submarine escort groups were operating out of Lough Foyle, anti-submarine air patrols were being launched from air stations between Derry and Magilligan and the U-boats, themselves were moving about the area.

“Gunfire could be heard over the horizon, exploding mines and torpedoes could be heard and flames from burning ships could be seen. Damaged ships, adrift or under tow, were regular sights. Children were taken out to headlands at night to see the flames dancing on the horizon, a variation on the Northern Lights,” said Seamus.

Lifeboats, survivors, and bodies were coming ashore, and the occasional mine was being washed up on the beaches.

Seamus added: “After the D-Day invasion, Germany lost its U-boat bases in France and had to revert to bases in Germany and Norway. This led to an increase in U-boat activity around Donegal and to an increase in Anti-submarine patrols by sea and air. By this stage, the Germans had developed new U-boats which could breathe underwater by use of a Schnorkel tube. This allowed them to re-charge their batteries whilst submerged and to move around in daylight.

“The Allies had developed shipborne and airborne radar to hunt U-boats and Leigh searchlights mounted under bombers to illuminate U-boats on the surface at night. This increased activity was being frequently reported by Inishowen LOP’s.”

LOP identity Numbers

In 1943, more planes were being ferried from America and Canada and the emphasis on reports moved further South as planes began making landfalls over Ireland. Crash landings and emergency landings were on the increase which was causing diplomatic problems between neutral Ireland and the belligerents.

Overflights had increased from 700, in 1942, to over 21, 000, in 1944. A lot stemmed from the very rudimentary navigation available for aircraft making long flights over water.

Seamus said: “To reduce some of these overflights, the government decided to have large white signs, “EIRE”, laid out close to each LOP, from early 1943. These were laid to indicate to overflights that they were entering neutral airspace.

“Later that year, possibly at the request of the Americans, the identity number of each LOP was added to the “EIRE” signs. This turned a general warning sign into a daytime Aid to Navigation. American, Canadian, and British ferry pilots were advised of the signs and given charts showing the positions of the individual LOP’s. This meant that an incoming plane would see the number at its landfall and simply turn to port and follow the LOP signs North until they reached Donegal Bay and picked up the Aero-Radio beacon, at Derrynacross, Co Fermanagh, and the “Donegal Corridor” into Northern Ireland.

“Later, the same information was given to operational pilots liable to be operating near Ireland. The information was not provided to the Germans. Some farmers made claims for loss of earnings due to the signs being laid out on their land, depriving them of valuable cash crops.

“In Malin Head LOP, the construction and corrections to the signs led to a “strike” by LOP personnel over the extra time being required for this work. The NCO in charge reported the men’s complaint to District HQ, in Killybegs. The District Officer, Lieut. C J McGinley, arrived at the LOP and made a succinct note in the LOP logbook. “There is no f…..g word as refuse in the Army”. The sign and number were sorted out by 29 May, when the Chief of Staff, General McKenna, flew over it on inspection. He was not pleased with what he saw and made them change the site and the sign. That is why Malin Head had 2 “EIRE” signs. Malin Head LOP closed down on 15 June 1945,” smiled Seamus.

Details of the LOP’s and logbooks can be found in the Military Archives,, with minor alterations to the Malin Head LOP logbook for May 1943!

When German U-boats were brought into Lisahally for the official surrender, on Monday, May 14, 1945, at the end of WWII, one of the guests at the surrender ceremony was Colonel Dan Bryan, head of the Irish Army’s intelligence service, G2. He was invited as a token of appreciation for information his service had provided to the Admiralty during the war.

The LOP’s in Inishowen were:

No. 80. Malin Head

NCO: C. Houston.


E. Doherty, T. Doherty, D.G. Glackin, T. Glackin, H. McLoughlin, P. McLoughlin, P. Mc Loughlin, A. O’Connor.

Seamus said: “There have been persistent rumours that the British were, secretly, allowed to set up a radar station at Malin Head, but this was not true. In late 1944, the British were trying out a new system of radio navigation aids to assist the anti-submarine patrols ascertain their exact positions in U-boat hunts.

“Transmitters were set up on the Scottish islands of Islay, Mull and Barra. A fourth transmitter was set up in Downhill, Co Derry. Each station transmitted a radio signal and a receiver on board translated the information from the 4 transmitters to give the receiver its position

“This was not ‘radar’, but an early version of the difference/distance/elapsed time system that later became known as the Decca Navigator System. The Downhill transmitter was poorly sited and caused discrepancies in the calculations. Malin Head was identified as a better site and the Irish Government was asked to allow a transmitter to be installed at Banba’s Crown.

“The government agreed under certain conditions. The station was to be referred to as an aero-radio beacon. The station was to be manned by a joint British – Irish team. The RAF was selected as the operators and were to wear civilian clothes and use Irish nationals where possible. The project got bogged down in bureaucratic nit-picking such as painting RAF vans to look like Irish Post Office vans, where to billet the RAF men where the IRA could not get at them. Some preliminary site testing was done but the war ended before the station could be fully established,” said Seamus.

No. 81. Glengad Head

NCO: J.J. Doherty.


B. Doherty, H. Doherty, J. Doherty, M. Douglas, C.C. Kelly, J. Kelly, J. Kelly.

No. 82. Inishowen Head

NCO’s: Danny McCorkell, Jack McLoughlin.


Robert Bradley, John Crumlish, Pat Hernan, Thomas Harvey, Thomas Hegarty, William Kealey, Willie Hugh McLoughlin, John Peoples, G. Wilson.

Port Control and Examination Service

The Port Control and Examination Service was established on 1 July 1939. Competent Port Authorities (CPA) were appointed to oversee the service in the various harbours. Generally, these powers were vested in the Harbourmaster, or an official with maritime connections. In Bantry and Lough Swilly, the Artillery Officer of the coastal batteries was appointed CPA.

According to Seamus, this Service operated a fleet of small boats to control the movement of merchant shipping into, and out of, all Irish ports.

He added: “The boats were based in 13 ports, Dundalk, Drogheda, Dublin, Dun Laoghaire, Rosslare, Waterford, Cork, Bantry, Fenit, Limerick, Galway, Sligo and Lough Swilly. All ships bound for the Republic had to check in at one of these inspection ports.

“The examination service used a variety of vessels, from a tug, in Dublin, to a yacht, in Limerick. The strangest was a tank landing craft which was found drifting off the Aran Islands in 1943. Ships’ lifeboats washed ashore from the Battle of the Atlantic were quickly repaired and put into use by the service.

“In Lough Swilly, the port examination service was attached to Fort Dunree, and the examination vessel was the fishing boat, “Eileen”. She subsequently fished out of Greencastle for Willie Farren, of Moville. The Port Examination team was run by an ex-Merchant Navy naval CPO, Charles McGuinness, of Derry & Shrove, and 2 PO’s, Frank Loughrey and Michael Hegarty, both from Shrove.

“Ships approaching a port would be halted at the examination anchorage and a port control vessel would be sent to put an examination party on board. The vessel was searched and its wireless and any weapons put out of use to ensure compliance with international laws. Fort Dunree museum has the CPO’s diary for part of the period,” said Seamus.

Inishowen Maritime Museum is currently attempting to collect and preserve photograph, articles, and information of maritime interest.

If anyone has material they do not want to part with, the Museum can scan it and return the original right away.

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