It doesn’t look like much. In fact, you would hardly recognise it as a pier because it has fallen into disrepair over the last 50 years or so. You shouldn’t dismiss it though because it has a serious piece of history attached to it.
It’s known as the American Pier because it was extended by the United States armed forces in 1917. It was needed to bring the sick and injured ashore for treatment in the hospital they had also built to cater for their wounded servicemen.
To get a better understanding of this, we need to go back in time to 1917 and World War I.
At that time, the British had imposed a ‘distant blockade’, blocking off the North Sea to most shipping and cargoes, to cut off supplies bound for Germany.
In early 1917, the Germans retaliated by doing the same thing to Britain and used their U-boat fleet to defend it. They declared the area around the British Isles to be a war zone and warned that any ships entering that space would be sunk without warning.
The German submarine campaign was already worrying the United States, but this new development had them even more concerned. They were afraid Britain would be overrun by the Germans, so they decided to send support to the British Navy who were already operating out of Cork Harbour.
On May 7, 1917, a flotilla of destroyers arrived in Queenstown under the command of Commander Joseph Taussig, captain of the USS Wadsworth.
In The US Navy At Queenstown, by Daire Brunicardi, he describes how the flotilla of unusual vessels appeared off the Daunt lightship at the approaches to Cork Harbour. They were destroyers of the United States Navy.
With their low profile and four stubby funnels, they looked different to the ships of the British Navy, so familiar in Cork Harbour after almost three years of war.
The small naval dockyard on Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbour and other dockyards and facilities in the area struggled to cope with the number of ships and men of the British and US navies.
The naval hospital on Haulbowline and the local hospital in Queenstown were also overwhelmed by the amount of U.S personnel needing treatment for minor injuries and illnesses, so they created their own medical facility in Whitepoint.
They built a naval hospital, recreational facilities, stores and radio communications, which extended from the town right out to Whitepoint.
There was no shortage of equipment either. There were two depot ships, dozens of large motor-launch ‘sub-chasers’, tugs and even a squadron of submarines.
There must have been a huge buzz in Cobh at the time with all that activity and in The Queenstown Patrol 1917: A Diary Of Commander Joseph Taussig, the author described the scene when he first arrived in Cork Harbour.
“We landed at the naval pier (Haulbowline) where the American Consul met us. The streets were full of curious people and there seemed to be a great many men for a country supposed to be at war. I have learned since that the Irish people have generally held aloof from any participation in the war and do not consider themselves a party to it.”
Taussig had some observations on the Irish countryside too as he later sailed up the river to Cork to call on the Lord Mayor. “The ride up the river is a beautiful one and took only forty minutes. Judging from the outside appearance, Ireland has not been affected in any way by the war. The country is green and dotted with cattle. The wharves at Cork were busy and the streets of Cork were crowded.”
He also described the task ahead of them.
“The problem before us was a serious one. As soon as we pass beyond the defence of the harbour, we face death until we return. We must presume that a submarine is always watching us, and although we may go for days without seeing a submarine or anything suspicious, we must not relax for an instant or we might lose our opportunity to destroy a submarine, or it may give the submarine a chance to fire a torpedo into us.”
There are a few indicators to be seen today: the flying-boat bases at Whiddy Island in Bantry Bay and Aghada in Cork Harbour have left concrete aprons and slipways, and at Aghada there are two small concrete gateless gateposts, with ‘US Naval’ engraved on one and ‘Air Station’ on the other.
The pier in Whitepoint is a lasting reminder of the American presence in Cobh. Everything else was dismantled and shipped back to the States. Since then, the pier has been used by generations of Cobh families for swimming at this beautiful and sheltered beach area close to the town.
It has deteriorated over the last half century and requires immediate attention before it disappears completely.
The American Pier Cobh Association has been set up to try to save the pier. The group is made up of residents of Whitepoint in association with Cobh Tidy Towns and other community groups and they want to return it to its former glory.
They have commissioned a report by a group of consultants and are now looking for funding to repair the structure. Further information can be found at http://americanpiercobh.com/