+353 66 71 20706
+353 87 24 69800
Laurence Dunne Archaeology,
3, Lios na Lohart, Ballyvelly,
Tralee, Co. Kerry, Ireland

Feb 11, 2016

 Aud Anchors 1916-2016 Centenary Conservation Project

Aud Anchors 1916-2016 Centenary Conservation Project

At 12:00 on Friday 12th February 2016 two anchors recovered from the historic shipwreck of the 1916 gun-running ship the Aud will be unveiled at the Brandon Hotel, Tralee, Co. Kerry by the German Ambassador Matthias Hofner and Minister Jimmy Deenihan. The event is being hosted by Tralee Bay Heritage Association (TBHA).

Laurence Dunne Archaeology provided the archaeological expertise with regard to the recovery of the anchors from the seabed at the entrance to Cork harbour in June 2012 and their subsequent conservation. The unveiling is the culmination of almost five year’s work including planning, licensed dive recovery and licensed conservation.

The Centenary Conservation Project was an initiative of the Tralee Bay Heritage Association in conjunction with other interested individuals and divers from Kerry, Cork and Waterford. The impetus to recover the two anchors arose because they are regarded as important and easily understood artefacts of an extraordinary event in the foundation history of the Republic of Ireland in the lead up to the 1916 Easter Rising.

Anchors Recovery Expedition June 2012

After 14 months of planning and organizing, the flotilla set off from Cobh to the historic shipwreck site at the entrance to Cork Harbour off Daunt Rock. The dive recovery expedition was licensed by the Underwater Archaeology Unit of the National Monuments Service of the Dept. Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht of which Jimmy Deenihan T.D. was Minister.

After several preparatory dives by a team of volunteer divers and a final dive on the day the anchors were finally secured for lifting. The first to be recovered was the stocked anchor also known as an Admiralty pattern streaming anchor. It broke the surface of the water just before noon after almost 100 years on the seabed. The second larger stockless anchor was recovered, an hour later just before 1pm. Laurence Dunne was on board the recovery vessel Rón Carraig, skippered by Gavin Tivy and Pat Waide from Youghal. The expedition was archaeologically monitored by Dr. Connie Kelleher of the Underwater Archaeology Unit.  Operating from the Seahunter Timmy Carey and Eoin McGarry supervised the dive team which included maritime archaeologist Julianna O’Donoghue. Additional dive support was provided by Naval divers. A third boat the Harpy operated by Carroll O'Donoghue from Kinsale will also in attendance with members of TBHA on board.

On arrival back to a packed dock at Cobh the anchors recovery team, families,friends and dignitaries availed of the good weather for a photo opportunity and a chance to examine the historic artefacts. TBHA members orchestrated the care and management of the anchors once they were landed at Cobh under the supervision of Laurence Dunne. The anchors were then carefully loaded into heavy duty water tanks on a truck provided by John Moriarty Engineering, Tralee and transported to our conservation facility in Tralee.


The conservation of the two large anchors took almost four years to complete under licence issued by the National Museum of Ireland. Conservation was carried out by Laurence Dunne Archaeology in association with Ian Panter chief conservator of York Archaeological Trust.  During the project we provided a training course in artefact preservation and conservation for a number of interested people .The conservation and training were part-funded by the EU under the LEADER Rural Development Programme Ireland 2007-2013 administered locally by North East Kerry Development (NEKD)

De-concretion and de-salination:

The primary process was the removal of the hard crust or concretion that had developed around the anchors in the 100 odd years since it was scuttled on the 22nd April 1916.After de-concretion the anchors were repeatedly washed with a low-pressure power hose. Finally, they were returned to their individual tanks and filled with 2700 litres of water and a solution of sodium hydroxide as a rust inhibitor to begin the process of de-salination.

Removal of the chlorides (salt) in the anchors was undertaken using a combination of electrolysis followed by repeated washing, flushing of tanks and re-immersion. Electrolysis involves the passing of a slight current through the metal which has the effect of increasing or accelerating the rate of chloride (salt) removal water in the tanks was monitored and sampled every two weeks and analysed in the facility and re-checked for verification purposes in the laboratory in Kerry County Council who very kindly supported the conservation from the start. The entire de-salination of the anchors took 18 months by which time the chloride in the anchors had dropped to below 50ppm at which point they were effectively deemed de-salinated.

The anchors were removed from their submerged environment and placed on large wooden blocks. Drying involved placing a heavy duty canvas enclosure over the anchors to create a localised humidity environment.

Drying, cleaning and finishing :

After drying for several weeks, flash rusting was removed and each anchor was hand-cleaned using a combination of tools as well as a selection of fine wire wool etc. After almost a year the anchors were finally cleaned down to the bare metal.

The surfaces of the anchors were then given an application of tannic acid solution which reacts with the iron to form iron tannate that inhibits the ingress of moist air on the reactive bare metal surface. The tannic acid also gives the anchors a blue-black tint. They then received finishing coats of matt black anti-corrosion metal paint.

The Aud

The Aud was originally named the SS Castro when it was built in Kingston-Upon-Hull in 1910. At the outbreak of WW1 it was captured by the Germans and renamed the SMS Libau.

The secret gun-running mission was masterminded by Roger Casement who had been negotiating with Germany since his arrival there in October 1914. Finally, in April 1916, with a rebellion imminent, Germany sent 20,000 rifles, ten machine guns and other war materiel on the steamship Libau, disguised as a neutral Norwegian cargo ship the Aud, to Fenit Co. Kerry to arm the Irish Volunteers. Casement, travelled separately by submarine, U-19 accompanied by two members of the Irish Brigade, Robert Monteith and Julian Bailey or Beverley who later turned State’s evidence at Casement’s trial.


The disguised German ship under the command of Karl Spindler departed from Lübeck on the 9th April and, following an epic circuitous voyage evading the Royal Navy blockade, arrived at its rendezvous off Inishtooskert Island, Maharees in Tralee Bay on the afternoon of the 20th April (Holy Thursday, Easter week) 1916. Casement arrived near midnight the same day in U-19 under the command of Raimund Weisbach. For reasons that are still much in debate today, Casement and the Aud failed to meet up and Casement and his companions put ashore in a dingy at Banna Strand. The following day Casement, who was ill, was arrested while hiding in a ringfort at Carrahane. After steaming around Tralee Bay for almost two days Spindler, realizing that the game was up, speedily departed only to be captured by a Royal Navy flotilla off the SW coast and escorted to Queenstown (Cobh) by HMS Bluebell. At the entrance to Cork Harbour Spindler and his volunteer crew donned their Kaiserliche Marine uniforms and raised their colours before scuttling their ship with pre-set explosives. The stricken ship sank immediately, taking its lethal cargo to the bottom. Meanwhile, the German crew had taken to lifeboats and were picked up by HMS Bluebell and were interned as prisoners-of-war. Although, for several reasons, the attempt to land the arms failed, the event is seen as the most audacious effort on the part of Germany to help the Irish Volunteers.


The anchors are defining tangible artefacts of the historic shipwreck as well as fitting memorials to the audacity of the Aud’s captain, Karl Spindler and his crew, the local Irish Volunteers and the overall extraordinary effort of Roger Casement’s secret gun-running mission from Germany to Fenit in April 1916.


What’s left to do!

Conservation of the anchors is virtually completed. Research, illustration drawings, detailed overview of results, and 3D scanning is still required. Monitoring of the conserved artefacts is also required while specialist work is needed on hemp recovered from the stockless as well as a wooden pin from one of the shackles. A report on the results must also be submitted to the National Museum of Ireland and the Underwater Archaeology Unit of the National Monuments Service. It is envisaged that the story of the recovery and conservation will also be published.

See facebook for more images