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Descendants of Irish sailors in First World War sought to mark Battle of Jutland

Published 25/12/2015

HMS Caroline, the last surviving vessel of the Battle of Jutland, will be launched as a heritage visitor attraction
HMS Caroline, the last surviving vessel of the Battle of Jutland, will be launched as a heritage visitor attraction

A mass appeal to find descendants of Irish sailors from the First World War is to be launched in the New Year.

A series of events will be held on May 31 marking the centenary of a famous naval battle in which thousands of men lost their lives.

The last surviving vessel of the Battle of Jutland, HMS Caroline, will also be launched as a heritage visitor attraction in Belfast.

History Hub Ulster is supporting the Northern Irish Executive and Republic of Ireland Government in encouraging relatives of Irishmen who served at sea in the First World War to share their stories.

Thousands of men and women from across the island assisted the war effort at sea and in maritime roles.

Sailors of the Royal Navy, reservists and mercantile marine, fishing industry workers and dockworkers from across the island kept the seas safe, ships maintained and supplies flowing.

Lighthouse keepers, lifeboat crews, coastguard and fishermen ensured that many people were rescued from the seas around Ireland. Entire villages rallied around to ensure that survivors of sinkings were kept warm and fed.

The Battle of Jutland was the most significant naval engagement of the war, fought in the North Sea between May 31 and June 1 1916 near the coast of Denmark's Jutland Peninsula.

It involved around 250 British and German ships and 100,000 sailors, more than 6,000 from the Royal Navy and 2,500 from the German fleet losing their lives.

Commander John Gray, the senior naval officer in Northern Ireland, said: "We will mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland in Belfast with the theme of the Irish Sailor.

"The war at sea and the impact of it on our island tends to be overlooked, but as an island nation, keeping the seas safe and the supplies flowing to feed the people of Britain and Ireland was vital."

People are encouraged to share their stories at

Irish sailors were lost on many ships in the course of the First World War, including over 350 at Jutland, 91 at the Battle of Coronel and 62 on HMS Hawke.

Irish men were lost on merchant ships like MFA Whitehead, a Harland and Wolff built steamship torpedoed in 1917; on HMS Submarine K17, sunk in an accidental collision in 1918; and on converted merchant ship HMS Bayano, torpedoed off Ireland causing bodies to wash up along the Ards Penninsula.

At least 14 Irishmen were drowned on the first warship lost to enemy action in the war, HMS Amphion in 1914, and at least three were lost on the last, HMS Ascot, on November 10 1918. Over 1,500 Irishmen were killed in action serving at sea in the years between.

Tourism Minister Jonathan Bell said: "As the last floating survivor of the Battle of Jutland, HMS Caroline is an integral part of the rich tapestry of maritime history at Belfast's Titanic Quarter.

"It is important in also tell the story of all those who served at sea from the Island of Ireland and, by doing so, celebrate our maritime history in Northern Ireland."

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