Whilst Clonakilty is best known as the home place of Irish war hero and patriot Michael Collins, another albeit unlikely “war hero” was honored with a special statue while the event that brought him and his crew here was remembered in a special ceremony to celebrate their 70th anniversary in the town yesterday. That the main “war hero” wasn’t a person and didn’t die in combat makes this event and its story all the more unusual. The unusual hero and remarkable wartime event that brought him and his equally entertaining and heroic companions to the West Cork town, is fondly remembered in local legend as one of the strangest stories ever to come out of our island.
It began on April 7th 1943 at the height of world war 2, in neutral Ireland when a US warplane, US Air Force “Boeing B-17f-25-DL Fortress S 42-3090 U 334/95BG” “T’aint a Bird” with a crew of 11 US airmen coming to England back from a mission in Africa got lost and were forced to land in Whites Marsh close to Inchydoney beach outside the town of Clonakilty in County Cork. But while the American servicemen played a key role, the main “hero” or star in the story, was “Tojo” (named after the Japanese emperor) their pet spider monkey, who grabbed the locals attention and imagination, many of whom never seen a monkey before, yet alone one who had come via the skies above. And in the days they stayed in the town, people journeyed far and wide to see the unusual visitor and his American companions and partake in an action packed 3 day celebration.
Upon their arrival, whilst being interned temporarily as foreign soldiers were, the crew and their unusual pet “Tojo” were given a typical warm Irish welcome. For the three days the crew and “Tojo” were held in Clonakilty where they holed up in O’Donovans hotel (transformed into the town’s temporary wartime barracks). For the three days they were there, they become modern celebrities with “Tojo” the star attraction, the entire town erupting in a temporary carnival atmosphere in a good old fashioned hooley, something unheard of in war-time rationed Ireland.
After three days of nonstop partying in Clonakilty the American airmen finally had to leave Ireland to fight another day, whilst the plane took off for England via Shannon via a mobile runway a month later on May 2nd, 1943. However whilst the crew all survived living long after the war ended, unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for poor “Tojo” who didn’t survive his 3 days stay, his sad passing resulting in a special Irish wake and a military ceremony held by the crew and the locals. After the wake, a madcap ceremony and parade through the town this special “war hero” was buried with full military honours, in the yard of O’Donovans hotel where the Venue now stands.
The memory of the event still lives on in legend and now 70 years on it was remembered over the weekend in a special ceremony and celebrations, with plaque presentation held in Whites Marsh while “Tojo” was also honored with the unveiling of a special bronze statue created by local sculptor Moss Gaynor, which for tourists on vacation in Ireland looking to visit this, will be placed in the near future, somewhere at the hotel where he lies. A fitting tribute to an unusual guest and his army companions who captured the imagination in a dark time.