Wartime submarine commander and adventurer turns 100June 25, 2010 - 7:15am
By Bernie Ní Fhlatharta
The only living submarine commander from World War II turned 100 years on Wednesday and enjoyed festivities that are expected to continue for days.
Up to 100 people attended Commander Bill King’s birthday party on Wednesday night held in his family home, Oranmore Castle, where he lives with his daughter Leonie and son-in-law, Alec Finn.
Yesterday morning Leonie was hosting the post-party breakfast for extended family before starting preparations for another event later this evening to include the community.
The Commander lasted a good few hours at his party according to Leonie who said “it appeared to have perked him up”.
The extended family, many of them from England, the Commander’s native country, gathered in the castle for a feast dominated by a roasted sheep, which was done on an open spit in the castle courtyard.
“And there was lots of dancing and singing and music,” she added, which is not surprising as Alec is a member of the traditional band, De Danann.
Bill King first settled in Galway in 1946 when he and his wife, Anita Leslie bought Oranmore Castle for £200. The couple immediately set about renovating the Norman keep to make it into a family home by the sea. Today, it is open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday between 2pm and 6pm until the end of August.
In 1967, Commander King set out to sail the world in a purpose-built boat he constructed himself. The two-masted Galway Blazer II failed to circumnavigate the world twice, but at 58, Bill King became the oldest participant in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race in 1968. He eventually achieved his goal of sailing singlehandedly around the world three years later.
He has been the only surviving World War II submarine commander for many years and recently had interaction with the son of a Japanese Chief Engineer of a submarine which was sunk by Commander King. There were birthday messages sent from the Japanese family and, indeed, one of them was due to travel to the celebrations but had to pull out at the last minute.
For more on this story, see the Galway City Tribune