Dundalk mariner Mark McShane, who is about to take command of his first ship, is set to launch a fascinating book that looks at a little known part of Irish naval history
Mark McShane (39), son of Jim and Ronnie McShane of Meadow Grove Dundalk, has been at sea for over two decades, and the book which he has penned, ‘Neutral Shores, Ireland and the Battle of the Atlantic’, tells the largely untold story of how many merchant navy ships during the war were attacked and sunk, and their surviving crews left adrift on the hostile Atlantic Ocean in a desperate struggle for survival.
“From September 1939 until the last days of the war in 1945 Ireland was host to a constant flow of casualties from the Battle of the Atlantic. Ireland’s unique location situated near the vital shipping lanes of the Western Approaches placed the country in the immediate conflict zone once the war at sea began,” Mark told the Democrat in correspondence from the ship he sailing in the middle east.
“For the fortunate ones sanctuary was found along Ireland’s rugged Atlantic shores, where the local people took these men from the sea into their homes and cared for them without any consideration of their nationality or allegiances to any of the belligerent nations.”
Beginning with an introductory chapter explaining Ireland’s neutral position from the outset of the war and how the important role of voluntary agencies, such as the Red Cross and The Shipwrecked Mariners Society assisted the survivors once safety had been reached.
The book continues chronologically from the sinking of the passenger liner Athenia in September 1939, when 449 survivors landed in Galway and the city mobilised to aid the first casualties of the war at sea, through to April 1945 when the sole survivor from the coaster Monmouth Coast was rescued and taken ashore on Arranmore Island. There were also two occasions when large contingents of naval personnel found refuge in Ireland. Both events involved German sailors, including the crew of U-260 that had managed to survive the Battle of the Atlantic for two years, only to succumb to a British minefield off the Cork coast in March 1945. Other merchant seamen survivors were less fortunate and found themselves closer to Newfoundland in open lifeboats when their ordeal began and were obliged to make the long voyage east.
Each chapter describes in graphic detail the events leading up to and the subsequent loss of the ships involved. Using archival material from Irish, British and German sources, the accounts are thoroughly researched with many new revelations told for the first time, including the revised fates of several u-boat successes against merchant ships during the bitter convoy battles on the Gibraltar and Atlantic routes.
Mark began his career in 1990.
“I first went to sea during the summer of 1990 as a very junior deck boy. Local shipping owner Damien Mundo, who was also the captain, gave me my first opportunity in what was to become a long and successful sea going career.
“I can still remember being picked by Damien and the ship’s cook, after they had been shopping for provisions and taking the short drive down to the quay. In Quay street where I boarded Damien’s boat, this was the start of my career at sea.
“I then started college at Cork CIT in November 1990 and began a cadetship with Ropner Shipping Services. I qualified as a deck officer in April 1994 and continued to sail with Ropner’s before moving on and serving with many different companies on a variety of ship types for the next six years. I attained my Master Mariners certificate of competency in 2001. I served briefly with the Irish Naval Service before joining Shell in 2001.
“I am currently serving as chief officer on liquefied natural gas tankers managed by Shell for Nigeria LNG. This is my final tour as chief officer before being promoted and taking command of my first ship.”
Neutral Shores, Ireland and the Battle of the Atlantic is published by Mercier Press and is available in paperback and ebook.