Larne Gun-Running...continued

Report from The Belfast Evening Telegraph, April 25th, 1914

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The heel of an April evening was merging into night when I met a friend who knew a friend who had a fast motor—a fast Ford, of 20 horse-power—and he casually, as he stepped aboard, suggested I should come along. I did so with a light heart and not too heavy overcoat. It won’t be for long. I soothed myself, and the chance of a little blow behind the engine of a swiftly gliding machine will not do me any harm.

However, as I pulled my cap down and snuggled into the seat at the back I found myself being carried rapidly from the city lights and along the road made so popular to those who wish to cycle to the sea. Cigarettes were produced and lighted, but conversation, which is never too prevalent in an open motor, was scrappy to a degree. Still, in the intervening pauses I caught words of lively import, such, as “We should be in good time,” “The right route,” “The turn out was very good,” “Lisburn did fine,” &c., and when men with military mien, booted and belted, were passed at calculated distances en route, I would have been dense indeed had I not become convinced that something of deep importance was afoot.

Nor was I much mistaken when despatch riders whizzed past, signallers were found at commanding eminences, an air of military acuteness was observable where one would, on ordinary occasions expect to find a quiet wayside encounter. And it did not just now require all the suggestions of my excellent friend to prepare me for the wonderful development which unfolded itself before my gaping eyes during the next three hours. Sweeping along the winding fairway of the Shore Road in the wake of acetylene headlights, between ten and eleven at night lends a feeling of adventure to one which can never be touched in a daylight run, and when to this is added the piquant spice of romance attendant on some deed of high adventure the feelings are indeed raised to a high tension.

Greencastle and Whitehouse were soon left behind us like the shadow in a picture house, and soon the chimney and spires of Whiteabbey drifted by. The lights of the men who labour into the night on the lough and in the yards garnishing the eastern side of the shipping refuge sparkled and blinked, and soon the grim tower of the famous Carrick Castle loomed up in front of us. By the way, they do not keep too close a guard at this ancient “keep,” for we rolled past the outer gate that lay invitingly wide and not the tiniest of a guardsman held the passage. So on to the famous Whitehead hill, which we took at a good thirty miles an hour.

Swinging steadily along the top road at Whitehead, we descended in a trice through the tree-shaded stretch leading to Ballycarry, and with many a curving bend came out along the lough side at the entrance to the model village of Glynn. And here we got “up against it” as far as the “Halt! who comes!” is concerned. Lined across the road was a file of men, who not alone called upon us to stop, but effectually and physically barred our way. Soldiers they may not have been so far as uniform was concerned, but for determination there was no possible shadow of doubt about what they meant. We did not attempt to discover whether their orders had been given orally or whether they had been committed to writing, but one thing that—as borne in on us was that no mistake was made about the application thereof.

In the end some friendly conversation led to a despatch rider procuring the needful sesame when he recognised the bona fides of the party, and Larne itself was reached. There again came the halting call, and ultimately it was only under an escort the car and its occupants were allowed to get to the harbour.

And as we turned sharply to the right for the Curran Road and across the railway track we got into line with a long row of humming motors. All were apparently on one errand bent, and that was to get loaded up with lengthy bales of business-like proportions, and as soon as each received its quantum it passed out along Fleet Street over the railway bridge to its appointed destination. For hours this procession continued, and taking part in it were some hundreds of motor cars, so one can have a fair idea of the immense amount of “assistance” for Ulster which found its way to the hands of men able and willing to “make good.”

It was quite a moving spectacle at the quay some hundred yards from the Olderfleet Hotel, when the quiet April midnight was turned into the busy scene of day, full of life and stir, the hum of the donkey-engine on the good ship “Mountjoy” echoing to the “konk-konk” of the motors as they cleared off with their valuable cargoes.

The sun was just glinting through a chocolate fringe of clouds beyond the Copelands and casting a brightening beam over Larne Lough, as we set out on our return to Belfast, and with the disappearance of the empty vessel,—which, had I not been present, I might have looked upon as a phantom ship—the settled quiet of an ordinary morning lay over the Curran.

Unbidden, I found myself taking part, however humbly, in a stirring adventure, and in possession of such sterling stuff as her Volunteers are made of, Ulster need stand in no fear of “putting these grave matters to the proof.”

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