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The Gunrunning Ship Aud and
the Rebellion of 1916

SS Castro disguised as Aud and flying Norwegian Flag

The Aud: Launched as SS Castro Feb. 1911:
Tons 1228; Length 250.2 feet; Beam 35.2 feet

When Great Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914, Ireland (then part of the United Kingdom) became a nation at war. Thousands of Irishmen joined the British forces.

Many enlisted or were later recruited into the army, joining Irish regiments which were combined to form the 10th and 16th Irish Divisions fighting in France and Flanders, Gallipoli, Salonika and Palestine.

Local newspapers reported daily on events at the front. Published lists of those killed or missing caused constant anxiety and sadness to many families. Almost 4000 men either from Cork, or with connections to the city or county, lost their lives between 1914 and 1919.

Despite the threat from German U boats Cork harbour was busy with the usual commercial, passenger and naval shipping. Troops and horses waited in Queenstown for transport abroad.

Meanwhile, commercial and agricultural life in Queenstown (Cobh) and the Great Island went on very much as usual, although some every day commodities became scarce and prices began to rise.

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Voyage of the Aud

Route of ship Aud, April 1916

Under the command of Captain Karl Spindler and with a volunteer crew of 22, the Aud set sail from the Baltic port of Lubeck on the 9th April 1916. The cargo consisted of 20,000 rifles, 1,000,000 rounds of ammunition, 10 machine guns and some explosives.

These munitions were to aid the Irish rebels in the planned Rising set for Easter Sunday 23rd April 1916.Captain Spindler was instructed to set a course for Tralee Bay on the west coast of Ireland where the cargo would be landed at Fenit Pier 12 miles from the town of Tralee. He was told that a pilot would be available to escort him to shore. To evade the British blockade on German shipping, Spindler set a course in a northerly direction before changing course to the south west where he slipped through a British blockade. He not only had to contend with the British cruisers but also faced the danger of being torpedoed by one of his own submarines.

They would not have been informed of the mission of the Aud. On 16th April, although she had been observed and followed by a British cruiser, the Aud again broke through a British blockade in thick fog and entered the North Atlantic. After battling a fierce storm for two days, the weather improved and at noon on 20th April, only 45 miles from Tralee Bay, the Aud caught her first sight of Ireland. Preparations were hastily made to unload the cargo.

The false deck cargo and other unwanted items were disposed of overboard and the cargo handling equipment and unloading tackle were prepared for discharging.

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The Aud in Tralee Bay

Image of ship Aud in the shelter of Inishtooskert in Tralee Bay - from book

As the Aud did not have radio telegraphy, the local Irish Volunteer leaders in Kerry did not expect the ship until Easter Sunday. They were not informed that the British were aware of a gunrunning ship heading to Kerry to assist in the Rising. As previously arranged the Aud began showing the agreed signals but no answering signal was returned from the shore. Under considerable pressure Spindler, having steamed to within 600 metres of the pier at Fenit and cruising at half speed within the bay for some hours, concluded that his mission had been compromised. Under cover of darkness, in order to save his ship, he decided to return to a safe anchorage in the shadow of Innistooskert Island.

However, early in the morning of Friday 21st, the Aud was boarded by officers from a British patrol boat. Having convinced the British that they were a Norwegian ship at anchor carrying out repairs after the storm, they learnt that British Patrols were on the lookout for a supposed German gunrunner. Spindler now realised his undertaking had failed. Having decided to wait until nightfall to make his breakout from Tralee Bay, Spindler's plans came unstuck when, early in the afternoon of that day, a large British warship approached his anchorage.

Spindler now had to move fast and take off for the open seas. This manoeuvre at first proved successful but as daylight faded the Aud found herself hemmed in on all sides by a number of British warships. Finally at 7 p.m. the order came from the British patrol boat Bluebell to follow them to Queenstown in Cork Harbour. Any plans Spindler had of escape would now have to be aborted.

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Scuttling of Aud near Cork Harbour

Scuttling of the Aud. Image from book - from book

Captain Spindler was determined that it was he who would have the final decision on the fate of the Aud. Throughout the night, as they were escorted to Queenstown, the German crew prepared and planted explosives with a plan to scuttle their ship. As they anchored close to the entrance to Cork Harbour on the morning of Saturday 22nd April the German naval ensign was run up and the pre-set explosives were detonated.

The Aud was hurriedly evacuated and within 5 minutes of the first explosion the bow rose out of the water and, amid further explosions, she sank to the ocean floor. The adventure of the Aud was over. Spindler and his crew were taken as prisoners of war and within days were transferred to prison of war camps in England. In 1971, after 10 years of searching,the wreck of the Aud was found by divers.

It lies in 130 feet of water close to the Daunt Rock at the approaches to Cork Harbour. Many artefacts, including some of the guns, have been retrieved from the wreck. In June 2012 both anchors were recovered by divers.

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Roger Casement and the Gunrunning ship Aud

Image of Roger Casement from book

Roger Casement was one of the great fighters for human rights in the late 19th and early 20th century. A staunch anti-imperialist and fierce opponent of colonialism and racism, he served as a British consul in Africa and South America for many years, work for which he was knighted in 1911. Retiring from the consular service in 1913 as a result of failing health, he returned to Ireland where he devoted the rest of his life to his own country, becoming one of the provisional committee of the Irish Volunteers.

In 1914, Casement travelled in disguise from America to Germany with the intention of raising an Irish brigade from Irish prisoners of war held in Germany. He also intended to procure arms and ammunition for the proposed rebellion in Ireland. While in war time Germany he saw and conducted himself as an ambassador for the Irish Nation.

In April 1916 Casement, with two other companions, travelled back to Ireland by submarine U 19. He intended to land ahead of the gunrunning ship Aud and to organise the landing and distribution of the munitions on that ship. His plans and the proposed landing of arms failed, mainly due to communication breakdowns.

Roger Casement was arrested in Kerry and transported to London where he was charged with high treason. He was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was carried out in Pentonville Prison, London on 3rd August 1916. His remains were interred within the walls of the prison. In 1966, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising, his body was exhumed and returned to Ireland where he was given a state funeral and re-interred in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

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The Rising 1916

The rising of Easter week 1916 was the beginning of a new phase in Irish history

1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic

The proclamation signed by the leaders of the rising: Thomas J. Clarke, Sean MacDiarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, P.H. Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt, James Connolly, Joseph Plunkett

Prior to the rising, Ireland had sought Home Rule from the British Empire but the participants in the rising rejected this limited sovereignty. They wanted to break the link with Britain and to set in motion the demand for a separate and independent state. Previously there had been many failed attempts at revolution and the severance of the link with Britain. In 1913, influenced by this Republican revolutionary thinking, Irish Nationalists formed the Irish Volunteers to support the idea of Home Rule (in direct opposition to the Ulster Volunteers founded by Ulster Unionists to resist any form of Home Rule).

In 1914, Britain was at war with Germany and the Home Rule crisis was temporarily halted. Many Irish soldiers from both North and South had volunteered for the British army. By 1916 the Irish Volunteers, together with the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Citizens' Army, were planning a rebellion to take place in April.

Rebel leaders focussed on taking control of buildings across Dublin. They stormed the G.P.O. in O'Connell Street where they set up their headquarters. From there Padraig Pearse read the proclamation detailing a vision for an independent Ireland. More British troops were drafted in and the ris-ing was put down. Fourteen of the rebels were captured and later shot at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. These executions shocked the Irish people. This led to further support for independence and the eventual formation of the Irish State in 1922.

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