All-Ireland hurler and one of first officers appointed to Naval Service

 

Cdr Liam Ahern:COMMANDER LIAM Ahern, who died last week in Cork aged 90, was one of the first officers appointed to the Irish Naval Service following extensive wartime service in the Royal Navy.

He had “salt in his veins”, given that his father Daniel had distinguished himself when serving as a young ship’s steward on HMS Centurion, part of a naval supply convoy to the expeditionary force at Gallipoli in 1915 during the first World War.

The costly Dardanelles initiative against Ottoman forces was a futile attempt to capture Constantinople and provide a relief supply line to the Russian forces fighting the German and Austro-Hungarian troops on the eastern front.

Daniel Ahern was later recommended for a warrant officership, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander before his retirement in 1946. A keen sportsman, he was unusual in being a Royal Navy officer and holding an All-Ireland GAA hurling medal, having played on the Cork junior winning team in 1912.

Liam Ahern was born in Queenstown (as it then was) in 1920, the second child of Daniel and Agnes (née Kelleher) Ahern. He went to school in Cobh and in Portsmouth, where his father was posted in the 1930s, and later played rugby with Cobh Pirates and soccer with Cobh Ramblers.

During most of the second World War he served on board the destroyer HMS Walkerin the Atlantic and North Sea. Later he was involved in operations towing the innovative, prefabricated Mulberry Harbours to the Normandy beaches and providing the oil supply lines to reinforce the Allied D-Day invasion foothold in June 1944.

At the outbreak of the war, the Irish government established the Marine and Coastwatching Service and acquired six motor torpedo boats from Britain. By the end of the war the marine service had been run down and, two years later, it was decided to establish an Irish Naval Service as part of the Defence Forces.

He was one of two junior officers recruited from the Royal Navy and in 1947 most of the new cadet intake of 23 men were sent for training to the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.

In the same year the new service bought three Flower-class corvettes from the British government which became the backbone of the Naval Service for the following two decades.

Liam Ahern was one of only a handful of officers of the infant Naval Service who had naval combat experience as most of his fellow officers were recruited from the merchant marine.

He was posted to the LE Machaand LE Maeve, becoming a lieutenant commander in 1956 and a commander in 1968 before moving to the dockyard engineering service and retiring as senior marine engineer officer.

A genial, humorous man who liked things to be “shipshape and Bristol fashion”, Cdr Ahern rarely referred to his experiences and training in the Royal Navy when serving at the Haulbowline Naval headquarters.

Following his retirement in September 1980 he worked with Irish Shipping for a further five years at the Verolme Cork Dockyard. He had also been closely involved in the design and commissioning of the Naval Service’s helicopter patrol vessel LE Eithne, its largest vessel, built and launched in 1984.

When retired he was presented with campaign medals by the government of Malta for service on the battle cruiser HMS Ajaxand by the Soviet Union in recognition of his services on the Arctic supply convoys to Murmansk and Archangel from 1941.

On the evening before his 21st birthday, his ship had been attacked by German dive-bombers off the Norwegian coast and, knowing that his position in the mid-ship engine room was a likely target, Liam feared that he would never attain his majority. He was fortunate in that he survived nearly a dozen Russian convoy trips without being sunk or getting his feet wet once.

In recent years, following the death of his wife Sally (Sarah, née Whelan), he was cared for by his family and the staff at the Conna Nursing Home in north Cork as he coped with failing eyesight.

Liam Ahern was predeceased also by his eldest son, Peter. He is survived by his daughters, Anne Marie (Bermingham) and Miriam, his son Damian, and seven grandchildren.


Liam Ahern: born May 23rd, 1920; died March 9th, 2011