The wreck of the 'Aud', 1916 – Sir Roger Casement's gun-runner
(2005 article & video)
The echo sounder shows blue water and a seabed of jagged red. The engine hums quietly while we follow a fixed search pattern, akin to mowing a lawn. As the minutes pass, we cannot help wondering if the given positions are accurate. We have a set of numbers for the bow and another for the boiler, both of which have been carefully entered into the Global Positioning System (GPS) unit. Suddenly the regular pattern of the rocky seabed spikes and a red rectangular shape builds across the screen, unmistakably man-made – the boiler. A weighted line and buoy, the shot-line, is dropped over the side and rapidly makes its way to the seabed, thirty five metres below.
We don our dry-suits, make final checks to equipment and agree the final details of the dive plan. Our objective is to shoot some Hi-Definition Digital Video of the wreck of the Aud for a forthcoming television series on Cork Harbour. I know from many years of diving the wreck that this may not be easy. Lying just off the Smiths Bank outside the harbour, the wreck is often dark and rarely has clear water. Mostly it is diving in low visibility with powerful underwater lights to pick out details of the ship. But on this August weekend, we are optimistic, having fine weather, a calm sea and a planned low tide to give us maximum bottom time. I put my face-mask in place, signal ok the the skipper and roll easily over the side.
As the bubbles from my splash subside, I notice the clarity of the water here at the surface and smile – it looks great. The camera system is handed down, I power it up, check it and swim to the buoy marking the wreck site. My buddy joins me and we signal to descend, releasing air from our buoyancy jackets to begin the dive. Looking down the line as we swim, the visibility is holding up – it is the clearest I have ever seen here. We arrive on the seabed to see wreck debris, always a relief as this wreck is an easy one to miss. Most of the superstructure has been flattened through repeated depth-charging and wire dragging. I adjust the camera for the lighting conditions and check the monitor only to see a free-swimming conger eel casually approach. These hefty steel-grey residents are numerous on the wreck, but mostly hide under metal structures or in pipes. It is unusual to witness the grace of their movement through the water. We check our compasses briefly and agree the the main wreckage lies to our north.
We soon begin to see more substantial pieces of wreckage and our first bullets on the seabed. No matter how many times you see them, their silent testament to a time gone by is poignant – a snapshot of the 1916 struggle for Irish independence. Swimming on, the pages of history keep turning and as I build images of the wreck to share with others, I think of how difficult it is to communicate just how it feels to be here. Making still or moving images of wreckage that tell something of the story is always a challenge, despite the clear conditions. Suddenly, I notice my dive buddy discover a small box of bullets, the cardboard long since rotted away. The sea has fused them together to become a single time-capsule. This image of a diver’s discovery and connection with another time is a powerful one in my mind and I visualise it on film. I signal, and my dive buddy holds station where she hovers over the wreckage. I frame a sequence of this tactile connection to the brave men and women who gave so much of themselves for our freedom and think, yes, this few seconds of film will tell much of the story of Roger Casment, Karl Spindler and the crew of the SMS Libau, – alias, The Aud.
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