A Touch of Blarney
By Frederick (Ben) Rodgers
Many readers will dismiss this story as mere coincidence, but those of you with a touch of Irish may well believe it, as do I.
In the summer of 1962 in Plymouth, England I was serving aboard the Royal Navy submarine HM/SM Taciturn. On weekend leave I suffered a severe head injury as a front seat passenger in a shipmate’s car. Three weeks in hospital and 30 stitches later I was sent home on sick leave. Whilst on leave my brother-in-law suggested I claim damages and took me to a solicitor. I recounted what little I remembered about the accident and gave the lawyer a newspaper clipping, the only real information I had.
When sick leave expired I was posted to HMS Dolphin, the submarine base in Portsmouth. I remained there until declared fit for sea duty almost one year later in May 1963. I reported to the drafting office for my next assignment. I had long since forgotten the solicitor or any hope of receiving compensation.
The submarine base maintained a complete spare crew. If a submarine found itself short a crew member, due to health or such, a replacement was usually available. It was to spare crew I now found myself posted. I was given several forms to fill in and deliver to appropriate departments.
It was important the pay office knew my whereabouts if I expected to be paid. It was equally important the post office had my new address if I hoped to receive mail. However, the first priority was to transfer with my kit to the spare crew accommodation. By the time I moved into my new accommodations it was already late. I decided the forms could wait until the following morning. That night I quickly fell asleep.
Suddenly a blinding light shone in my face. Behind it, someone shouted, “Are you Rodgers? You’ve got 10 minutes to get your ass aboard the submarine Totem, she’s about to sail.”
I landed onboard as they were about to remove the gangway. I was unshaven, unwashed and now underway. The boat was heading out to operate in the Irish Sea with a visit to the City of Cork on the weekend. Thursday at sea being payday, everyone was paid. Everyone except me that is! I was almost broke with maybe five shillings to my name. The chance of borrowing from a shipmate was nil. Not a permanent member of the crew, loaning me money was high risk. I could disappear as quickly as I had arrived.
Saturday morning, alongside in Cork City I was free to go ashore. Opposite our gangway was a pub. It didn’t open until noon. However, with a discrete tap on the side door my shipmates and I were quickly ushered inside.
The interior was dim, blinds still down. We ordered pints of Guinness and headed to a table by the fireside. As our eyes became accustomed to the gloom we saw a Garda (Irish Policeman) standing at the bar.
“’Tis British sailors breaking the law I’m seeing here?” he said. We froze. After a pause he continued, “Ah well! Sure ‘tis breaking the law to let salty young seafarers like yourselves go thirsty.”
A few pints later and my funds reduced by half I returned onboard for lunch. Levity in a seaman’s mess usually increases after the daily noontime issue of rum. This was the case aboard Totem. Someone suggested we head out of town to Blarney Castle to kiss the famous stone. Having imbibed a tot and two pints of Guinness, kissing the Blarney Stone seemed an admirable idea.
The bus fare depleted a further sixpence from my dwindling funds.
Arriving at the castle we were directed to climb a circular stairway to the top of the tower. Here we found the Blarney Stone and an enterprising photographer. For one shilling he would take our photograph kissing the stone. We readily agreed, we surely needed a record of our lips touching this famous stone. After paying the photographer I couldn’t afford return bus fare and had to walk the five or so miles back to town. I returned aboard Totem, depressed, my feet aching and my pockets empty.
A dance was hosted for Totem’s crew that night promising lots of girls in attendance. I knew I wouldn’t be doing any dancing even if my feet recovered in time.
When I entered the mess I noticed the mail had arrived. I showed no interest as there would be none for me. Like my pay doc’s, my change of address was sitting in my locker back at the base. Therefore I was stunned when a shipmate asked if I’d got my letter? What letter? It had to be a mistake. It couldn‘t be for me.
Nevertheless, on the table was a large official-looking white envelope with my name clearly printed on the front. I quickly tore it open to find it contained several typed pages. But what immediately caught my attention was the attached cheque. It was from my lawyer, a settlement for my injuries in the sum of one thousand pounds. Never in my life had I held such a huge sum of money in my hands.
The first question that came to mind was how this letter found me? How was it possible? The fleet mail office didn’t have my new address.
Now my second question?
A few hours earlier I had kissed the Blarney Stone with only small change in my pocket. Now I was rich beyond my wildest dreams. Coincidence? Or the Luck of the Irish? You decide!
Frederick (Ben) Rodgers served a total of 25 years in the British and Canadian Navies. Now retired and living with his wife, Linda, in Ebenezer, Prince Edward Island, he has published a 400 page memoir titled Lily & Me and is presently working on a sequel. For more information visit his website at www.irishroversbooks.com.
The Blarney Stone — Myth or Legend?
The Blarney Stone has woven around itself a unique tradition of myth, legend and romance. It is said that the secret of the holy stone was given to Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster by the local witch whom he saved from drowning in the lake behind the castle.
It is also said that the stone was brought back from the Crusades and made into two halves. One is the Stone of Scone also known as the Stone of Destiny, the other half was given to Cormac MacCarthy by Robert Bruce of Scotland in gratitude for the Irish army of 4000 men, which was sent to help him at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
Whatever its origins, through the centuries the stone has succeeded in strengthening the mystical romance and legend that reaches to the four corners of the world, as is evident by the thousands of people who visit Blarney Castle every year just to kiss this mysterious stone in hope of receiving the gift of eloquence or perhaps to capture a little of the mystique that is the Blarney Stone.