Historical Biographies

Mick The Cooper

Michael Cunningham, cooper, Service No. 342684, royal navy (1875 – 1915)

Michael ‘Mick the Cooper’ Cunningham was born on February 24th 1875 to Patrick & Mary Cunningham, Ballyheeney, Clashmore. His father came from a long line of Coopers and Michael, the second son, followed him into the trade, a craft which would later bring him half way around the world with the Royal Navy, as far East as the Persian Gulf to as far south as Simonstown in the Western Cape of South Africa. At that time cooperage was one of the most important positions to hold on a ship due to the necessity for casks for water and provisions and men generally reported directly to the Purser i.e. the ship’s accountant or “the one who held the purse strings”. Contrary to popular belief, coopering was not all about making barrels or casks for stowage and much of their time onboard would also be given over to the repair of leaking or damaged vessels. These skilled craftsmen would also make various other everyday ‘staved’ items such as churns, buckets and tubs and were generally proficient at ‘hooping’ too as a secondary skill.

H.M.S. Collingwood at anchor

Mick had enlisted in the navy on May 10th 1899 and after 12 months of various training stints on the Vivid II and Defiance on shore at Devonport, his first deployment at sea was on the H.M.S. Collingwood. This was one of the leading early ironclad battleships of the time and from 1897 she spent six years as a Coastguard ship at Bantry, Co. Cork on which Mick served for three years between June 1900 and June 1903, presumably making it easier for him to travel home while on leave.

In August 20th 1908 he married a Catherine Rivatto, daughter of John Rivatto, a labourer from Guileen, Whitegate at Aghada Chapel, Midleton, County Cork. As of the 1911 Census they were living on St. Aubyn Avenue, Devonport, Plymouth which was near the Naval Base and where they had a son Patrick who was born in 1910. Later in time Catherine would settle on Kent Road, Ford, Devonport.

H.M.S. Goliath

Mick’s final and most historically significant posting was aboard the H.M.S. Goliath which was a 16-year old battleship and would see much action in the Persian Gulf, the East Indies and elsewhere. In April 1915 it was sent to the Mediterranean as part of the Dardanelles campaign. Initially it provided gunfire support at Cape Helles and was damaged on April 25th and May 2nd, but on May 13th 1915 the battleship met heavy resist from a marauding Ottoman destroyer and suffered three fatal torpedo blows which sank it immediately leading to a devastating loss of life. Roughly 570 men out of a total of 750 were drowned, including Mick Cunningham. He is memorialized at Portsmouth Naval Memorial in the South of England.

Appendix 1Naval Service Summary

Naval Ship
Ship Service Description
Vivid IIDevonport Naval Base Ship – this acted as the ‘shore training establishment’
DefianceLaunched in 1864, she became the Devonport torpedo and mining schoolship under Captain Frederick Hamilton.
CollingwoodThe Collingwood was one of the leading early ironclad battleships and from 1897 she spent six years as a Coastguard ship at Bantry, Co. Cork. Mick the Cooper served for three years on this ship while stationed there.
DiamondA third class cruiser of the ‘Gem Class’ launched in 1904
IndusOriginally launched as HMS Temeraire, this was converted to a stoker training establishment in 1904
CumberlandThis was a Monmouth-class armoured cruiser.
GoliathWhen Mick was first posted on the Goliath in July 1914 it was sent to Loch Ewe, Scotland as a Guard Ship and not until Sep 20th 1914 did it see any action when it was transferred to the East Indies station to support cruisers on convoy duty in the Middle East. Sank on May 13th 1915 during Dardanelles Campaign.


Regimental & Service Records, The National Archives, London; Archive Reference: ADM 188/518/342684, Accessed Nov 11th 2021 at:
Tom Burnell, Irish Great War Dead Archive; Accessed on Nov 10th 2021 at:

Photo Sources:
Fig 1: Symonds & Co, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Imperial War Museum Reference No. IWM Q 21299; Accessed Nov 11th 2021 at:
Fig 2: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Accessed on Nov 11th 2021 at:
Featured Image: The History and Science of the Barrel- Lesson 1: The Art of Cooperage; Accessed on Jan 15th 2022 at

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