As defensive promontories go, it could not be better, eight 9-pounder guns set in a fan formation to protect the bays off Fishguard. The guns were in place too in February 1797 when the forces of republican France invaded nearby. (See previous post for ‘the last invasion of mainland Britain.’) Warning blanks were fired from the fort as soon as one of the invader ships was spotted approaching Fishguard, but thereafter it played no part in defending town from the invasion. There are various accounts as to why this was, one being the place was short of cannon balls.
The young commander of the local Fishguard Fencibles and Newport volunteer infantry, Thomas Knox, was at a party when news of invasion reached him by messenger. He had bought his commission and never seen action and so, thinking the invading force too large to handle, he decided the best course of action was retreat south with his men towards Haverfordwest and there meet up with reinforcements.
He thus left Fishguard to its fate, ordering the fort guns to be spiked, an order that was in fact refused by the three invalid Woolwich gunners appointed to man the fort’s heavy ordnance. On the road, Knox met up with Lord Cawdor and his forces coming the other way, and after a dispute as to who was in charge, Lord Cawdor marched on with their combined manpower to Fishguard and victory.
In fact Fishguard Fort never does seem to have had much of a military function. It was finally built in 1781 to defend the town after an unfortunate incident that took place in 1779. It was the time of the American War of Independence when attacks on British shipping was considered fair game. An American privateer, Black Prince, captured a local ship and held it for ransom, demanding £1,000. When the townspeople refused to pay, the Black Prince bombarded Fishguard, damaging St. Mary’s church and some of the houses.
One account then has it that a local smuggler, sailing a much smaller vessel, moved in on the privateer and opened fire until the Black Prince departed. After that it was down to Sir Hugh Owen, Lord Lieutenant of Pembrokeshire, who decided to buy the piece of land on the promontory and finance the building of a small fort. But by 1815, and the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the fort was already falling into ruin. And so it remains.
Today it is a very excellent look-out point for some coastal viewing along the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. For one thing you can watch the coming and going of the Stena Line ferry from Goodwick Harbour, the four-times-a-day departures and arrivals between Fishguard and Rosslare in the Republic of Ireland, filling the heart with thoughts of voyaging.