Faha Ridge, Mount Brandon



Luftwaffe Focke Wulf 200 ''Condor'' of KG40 departed Bordeaux in Western France on the morning of the 20th of August, 1940, to carry out weather reconnaissance and pressure readings off the north west coast of Ireland. As the huge 4 engine aircraft with a crew of 6 straddled the coastline of Mayo, Galway and Clare it developed engine problems and the pilot decided to try and return home. The problems intensified and therefore a decision was made to force land the aircraft at sea rather than attempt to land in the dense fog not knowing exactly where they were. Through the mist one of the crew could just make out Tralee Bay and in particular ''Hogs Head''. The pilot, Captain Kurt Mollenhauer, from Cuxhaven, set course due west as the aircraft began to descend in dense fog.

Little did anyone on board realize they were heading for Mount Brandon. On the ground, young Seán O' Dowd was helping to cut reeds and was startled to hear the roar of a very big aircraft as it seemed to pass over his head in the dense fog. He thought at the time that it would not get over Brandon at such a low altitude and he was partially correct. Back on board, Mollenhauer was startled to observe mountain moor-land rushes coming up to greet him as his aircraft virtually belly landed on top of Faha Ridge, below Mount Brandon. Four of the crew suffered broken limbs while two were unscathed. With the ridge encased in thick fog, Mollenhauer decided that they should carry the more seriously injured in a life raft to a lower altitude.

In the village of An Clochán (Cloghane), the alarm had been raised and scores of local people and a member of the Gárda Síochána were making their way towards the beginning of ‘The Pilgrims Path’. As the aircrew, en masse, approached O' Connors farm they were met by a Miss O' Connor who handed Mollenhauer a jug of milk and said ''Sláinte''. This gesture verified to the aircraft Captain that they had landed in neutral Eire (his words) and he felt very safe. The Gárda based in Cloghane notified his superiors in Tralee and they in turn notified the Army in Ballymullen Barracks. A detachment of the 15th Infantry Battalion was on hand at Cloghane to officially welcome the crew to Ireland. It was decided to take three of the crew to St. Catherine’s Hospital in Tralee while the remainder were taken to Collins Barracks, in Cork, where they were arrested and detained. Since the Curragh Internment Camp had not yet been built, there was consternation in Cork not knowing what to do with the three German prisoners. A rather unsure Army Officer was instructed to phone Army Headquarters in Parkgate in Dublin and explain his predicament to an unnamed voice who did not identify himself immediately. The young officer asked the pertinent question. Sir: Do we hold them or do we shoot them. He was instructed to detain them indefinitely by the unnamed voice, Prime Minster Eamonn De Valera.

Back in Tralee, the nursing staff treated Mollenhauer and his two colleagues most cordially where they were detained for six weeks. Each night they were given a bottle of Guinness to help them sleep. During their forced detention in Tralee and Cork, the Curragh Internment Camp was being made ready and at the end of September, 1940, it opened for business. Captain Mollenhaur, Radio Operator Kyck and their four colleagues had the unenviable honour of becoming neutral Ireland’s first internees. However, all was not doom and gloom in County Kildare. It is a well-known fact that the internees were allowed sign out to attend horse racing at the Curragh, to attend public dances in Newbridge and to visit the German Embassy in Dublin and to attend Trinity College. Indeed while attending the German Embassy both Kurt Mollenhauer and Kurt Kyck met their future Irish wives. On the 20th of August, 1990, Victor Sullivan, Frank Donaldson, Gary Johnson, Sean O' Dowd and myself (Gerard O' Regan) were on hand to greet Kurt Kyck and Kurt Mollenhauer and their wives back to Cloghane and to O'Connor's farm near ‘The Pilgrims Path’ where they met Miss O'Connor again, 50 years exactly since she handed him the jug of milk. At the time of writing this, in 2004, Kurt Mollenhauer is deceased while Kurt Kyck resides in eastern Ireland.

Ger. O'Regan

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