Tag Archives: Buncrana

“They froze to death, their hands frozen onto the oars”

Fanad Head Lighthouse guarding the entrance to Lough Swilly, County Donegal, Ireland. (Thesilvervoice).

Fanad Head Lighthouse guarding the entrance to Lough Swilly, County Donegal, Ireland. (Thesilvervoice).

 

Fanad Head lighthouse features regularly on social media because of its splendid location. Whilst it is a major tourist attraction, it has also featured in some dreadful tragedies over the years. One such was the loss of the Laurentic on this day in 1917.

The Laurentic (Wikipedia commons) The Laurentic was an ocean-going liner of the White Star Line and,like their other world famous ship the Titanic, was built at Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Launched in 1908 she was considered a ‘magnificent ship’ at 570 feet long and she could ‘do’ speed! She plied the Atlantic operating a regular service between Liverpool and Canada, sometimes calling in New York. In August  1914 before the declaration of World War 1, she was filled with refugees fleeing the European situation. In September of that year she was commissioned as a troop carrier for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and subsequently saw service in Sierra Leone, Hong Kong and Singapore.

On 23 January 1917 she departed Liverpool for Halifax, Nova Scotia, with about 479 people on board. In addition she was carrying a cargo of 3,211 gold bars for the purpose of purchasing munitions in USA and Canada for the war effort.

On 25 January she made an unscheduled stop in Lough Swilly at Buncrana  to disembark a number of men who had contracted Yellow Fever and needed medical attention. While there, it was reported that the officers went ashore to enjoy a meal at the Lough Swilly Hotel and they were all back on board again by about 5 pm to set sail across the Atlantic. They headed out of Lough Swilly and no doubt Fanad Head lighthouse was one of the last things they saw. The weather was bitterly cold at -13c (9f) with blizzard conditions.

Less than an hour after departing Buncrana, the Laurentic struck two German mines in quick succession. The engine room was disabled, power and pumps were rendered useless and the ship listed. Many were killed. In pitch darkness the life boats were launched with some difficulty due to the list. The Laurentic quickly sank in 40 metres of water. Many had been injured as a result of the blasts and those who made the lifeboats rowed for Fanad Head. Newspaper reports stated that many were found “frozen to death in the lifeboats, hands frozen onto oars”.  Buncrana’s Lough Swilly Hotel became a temporary morgue, but many bodies continued to be washed ashore for a number of weeks.

71 were interred at St. Maura’s Graveyard in Fahan, 2 at Cockhill in Buncrana, 1 in Arklow, 1 in Orkney and Memorials to those who died are at various locations including Plymouth in Devon, Chatham in Kent. The wreck that lies in 40 metres of water off Fanad Head is an official War grave site.

And what of the 3,211  gold bars? Between 1917 and 1924 the Royal Navy recovered all but 25 of them. In 1934, 3 more were discovered, so 22 remain undiscovered.

At Downings  pier in north Donegal, near my home village, is one of the guns from the Laurentic, recovered by the Downings Diving  team and presented to them by the owners of the wreck.

A gun recovered from the wreck of the Laurentic. Sited at Downings Pier in County Donegal.

A gun recovered from the wreck of the Laurentic, sited  at Downings Pier in County Donegal. (Thesilvervoice)

Next to the gun is a handsome memorial to the 354 men who lost their lives on that bitterly  cold January evening, 100 years ago this very evening.

 

2013-05-19-12-53-11A memorial cannot portray the true horror that unfolded on that January evening, just off Fanad Head. But next time I pass it by, I will recall those who “froze to death, their hands frozen onto the oars”.

References

http://www.irishshipwrecks.com/shipwrecks.php?wreck_ref=128

Wikipedia.

http://www.irishfreemasonry.com/index.php?p=1_112_HMS-Laurentic

List of burial/ memorial sites:

http://irishfreemasonry.com/list%20of%20burial%20sites.pdf

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Filed under Ireland, Irish History, Shipping disasters Ireland, Shipwrecks

Postcards from the Wild Atlantic Way: Feeling ‘The Force’ at Malin Head

Inishowen in County Donegal is Ireland’s largest peninsula and includes Ireland’s most northerly point at Malin Head. Prior to the marketing of the Wild Atlantic Way, the ‘Inishowen 100’ was a well-known tourist route that took in much of the beautiful scenery of the area.

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My first port of call on the peninsula was at Dunree Head, the site of a former British Fort that guarded the strategically important deep anchorage of Lough Swilly.

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Looking across Lough Swilly towards the Fanad Peninsula.

Lough Swilly has witnessed many major historic events. It was from Rathmullan on the Fanad Shore that O’Neill and O’ Donnell fled into exile, in what was known as The Flight Of the Earls in 1607, following the defeat of the Irish chieftains by the British at the Battle Of Kinsale

In 1798 Wolfe Tone was taken under naval arrest to Buncrana port and it was near this spot that a small fort was built at Dunree to guard against a possible French invasion.

The fort was expanded in the late 19th century and during World War 1 it stood guard over Admiral Lord Jellicoe’s fleet that lay at anchor in the deep Swilly waters prior to engaging the German Navy at the Battle of Jutland. Even after Irish Independence, the British maintained a presence here up to just before World War II.

Onward then to see some of Inishowen’s lovely coastline, although visibility was not great and heavy rain was promised so it was a race against the elements to see as much as possible. There are beautiful beaches at almost every turn, not always safe for swimming as there are powerful currents running here. Here too at Lagg are some of the highest sand dunes in Europe.

Just a couple of weeks before I visited there was great excitement at Malin Head when the Star Wars film crew arrived to film some scenes for a new series. The excitement continues as dozens of Star Wars devotees undertake a pilgrimage to the area.

Malin Head is known throughout Ireland and Great Britain as Malin is a sea-area for maritime shipping forecasts. There is a weather station here, often recording Storm Force 12 winds in winter. There was barely a breeze when I visited which was rather disappointing, so I had to sit on a stone and imagine the Star Wars Force surrounding me instead! The actual most northerly point is named Banba’s Crown. Here too are a watchtower dating from the Napelonic Wars in 1805 and a 1902 Signal Station. Banba’s Crown is well known nowadays too as a site for spectacular Aurora Borealis sightings in the dark unpolluted skies at Malin Head.

There are interesting geological features along the coast.

I loved this little pebbly beach along the roadside and I enjoyed watching the parents of these ducklings steering their brood through the water! At this point the heavens opened and much of the beautiful seascapes disappeared into the mist. image

I was delighted to happen on this memorial to Young Irelander,Thomas D’Arcy McGee a native of Carlingford, Co Louth who, charged with treason after the failed 1848 rebellion, made his escape to the USA from this dangerous coastline. He went on to be known as the father of Canadian Confederation. Ironically he was assassinated by Fenians in 1868.

Tremone Bay

Tremone Bay

I finally arrived on the eastern coastline of Inishowen, where the small towns of Moville and Greencastle sit on the shores of Lough Foyle. Moville was a point of embarkation to Canada and USA for thousands of emigrants  in the second half of the 19th Century. The little fishing village of Greencastle is home to a Fishing Museum with some interesting artefacts from days gone by, and it has a very nice tea rooms!

As I leave Inishowen, there was a compulsory stop to be made at the Grianan of Aileach,a series of forts that stand 800 feet above sea level. Dating from 1,700 BC, Grianan of Aileach  features on a 2nd Century map of the world.

On a clear day the views from here are stunning and even on a not so clear day it was an appropriate spot to have a last view lovely Lough Swilly.

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Countryside, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, My Travels