By Brian Gabriel
On Friday, 23rd November 1917, during the Battle of Cambrai, in Fontaine – Notre Dame, which is located about 4 kilometres to the West of Cambrai, a British Mark IV ‘female’ tank of 6 Company, 12th section, B Battalion, was knocked out by German artillery. The name painted on the side of the tank read: ‘BLARNEY CASTLE’. It was destroyed along with six other tanks by K Flak Batterie 7, a truck borne anti-aircraft gun-crew, firing an armour-piercing round through 6.1 mm to 12 mm (about half an inch thick) armour which turned the tank’s interior into a blazing inferno within seconds, incinerating the eight-man crew. It is reputed to have been the first time this type of gun was used in an anti-tank role. Apart from one, all the tank commanders and most of the crews were killed. All have no known graves and are honoured on the Louverval memorial.
The 27-ton tank (serial no. 2873) could be under the command of either 2nd Lt. Julian Cecil Lazonby or 2nd Lt. Thomas Henderson but on this tragic occasion it was commanded by Lt. Lazonby. B 57 was the crew number. ‘B’ was this battalion’s letter and tanks usually had their names, which began with the battalion letter, chosen by the commander. 2nd Lt. Henderson was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Henderson, land owners of Ardrum, Inniscarra, Co. Cork. Ardrum was a home of the Colthurst family, owners of the famous Blarney Castle so it is easy to see why the name Blarney Castle was chosen. It was armed with 5 Lewis machine guns plus 1 spare, making it a ‘female’ tank. A ‘male’ tank had 2 six-pounder guns plus 3 machine guns. It was to become one of the most famous and most photographed tanks of WW 1. Lt Henderson also lost his life on this day while in command of tank B54 ‘BEHEMOTH II’ (serial no. 4516). Both tanks made it to the east side of the village where they were hit and knocked out. Lt. Henderson’s tank B54 also caught fire and all the crew were killed either inside the tank or trying to escape the inferno.
Two identical ships were built by the Liffey Dockyard in Dublin and launched in May 1961 and in February 1962. Pat Sweeney’s book, ‘Liffey Ships and Shipbuilding’ tells us that “in 1960, Cork Harbour Commissioners got permission to raise a loan of £250,000 to build two diesel powered tenders to carry passengers to and from transatlantic liners”. These liners, which plied between Europe and America, were too large to enter Cork harbour and would wait outside Roche’s Point while the tenders brought embarking passengers and mail from Cobh and vice versa. These tenders were the very last of the riveted ships to be built in Europe as most ships were by now being built using electric welding. They were both registered and sailed under the Irish flag. The first was named MV Blarna and her sister ship was named MV Cill Airne.
The MV Blarna had a gross tonnage of 502, an overall length of 46.3 m and a width of 12.4 m. It was twin-screwed and powered by two Crossley diesel engines which developed a total of 860 bhp. It was not a large ship but it was rated to carry 1,400 deck passengers. Unfortunately, by the mid-1960s, liner traffic was coming to its end with the advent of comfortable and affordable jet aircraft travel and it was found that two tenders were no longer necessary to service the liners. The decision was made to sell off MV Blarna to a Canadian ferry company in Quebec while MV Cill Airne was kept working on the dwindling liner business and as an excursion boat between Cork city and Roche’s Point before being handed over to the Marine College about 1970.
In 1966 MV Blarna was sold to the Bermuda Marine and Port Authority and renamed MV Canima, operating out of Hamilton. It was now servicing the cruise liners, many of which would have been the retired transatlantic liners which used to call at Cobh. It was also used there as a party boat for tourists and holidaying students, until 1988. It earned for itself the title ‘Bermuda’s Greatest Part Boat’.
She was then sold back to Canadian interests, arriving in Mechins in December 1988. It was proposed to convert her to a whale watching vessel but these plans fell through. After being idle for about a year it was renamed once again, this time as ‘Gobelet d’Argent II’, (meaning Silver Goblet). It was then meant to replace a local ferry but this also fell through and it again lay idle until about the mid-1990s when it was moved to Campbellton where it was converted to a floating disco-bar. This venture ran into financial difficulties and the ship was again sold. The new buyer moved it to Quaraquet, again renaming it MV Canima and commenced refitting as a floating antique shop but he died before work was completed. Sold once again, this time to Americans, it was moved to Shediac to be converted into a floating restaurant.
At this point, vandals got to work and among other items, stole the original wheel from the wheelhouse. Again, plans were disrupted as a storm, in 2003, blew the ship from her moorings and she ran aground. Once more, in October 2005, it was again blown from the moorings into even shallower water. Months were lost and at huge cost, digging a new channel to free her. Eventually freed, she was towed to Millbank near Lower Newcastle where it languished and laid idle. The owners blamed the slack economy but were still hopeful for their float restaurant by 2012. Residents of Millbank were now complaining about the unsightly, rusting ship left to rot at the wharf. They awoke one morning in early December 2012 to see the ship sinking at its mooring, settling with just the roof of the wheelhouse and a mast showing above the surface. It had spent many years in Canada waiting in vain for a proper restoration or conversion but it eventually became an eyesore. This once beautiful ship, originally named MV Blarna, after our village, came to an ignoble end and lay sunk while a dispute raged about salvage rights.
In January of 2012 a suggestion was made that if everybody in Ireland contributed just €1 each, it would be possible to save the ship, get it back from Canada and put it on the Liffey alongside the Cill Airne. It was not to be.
The sister-ship of MV Blarna, the highly renovated MV Cill Airne, has its own chequered history and is currently working as a floating restaurant on the River Liffey at The North Wall Quay in the heart of Dublin City Docklands, not very far away from where both ships were constructed.