Lough Swilly & Shipwrecks

Lough Swilly

In Irish, Loch Súilí means the Lake of Shadows, or the Lake of Eyes. Lough Swilly is one of three glacial fjords in Ireland. It is flanked on both sides by beautiful, hilly peninsulas – Inishowen to the east and Fanad to the west.

It has been of strategic importance since ancient times. The Grianán of Aileach is situated near the southern bend of the lough – a restored stone fort believed to have been built in the first century on the site of an early Iron Age hillfort.

oznor_vivid

One of the most significant events in Irish history happened at Rathmullan, about 30km south of Fanad Lighthouse. In 1607, the Flight of the Earls marked the end of the Gaelic order in Ireland and paved the way for the Plantation of Ulster by English and Scottish settlers.

There is a Napoleonic fort on the Knockalla coast road. It is one of several such forts built around Lough Swilly to defend against French invasion. Directly across from this lies Fort Dunree, also built during the Napoleonic Wars, later becoming a military camp that was used during WW1. For part of WW1, Lough Swilly was used as a place of shelter for the British Grand Fleet under the command of Admiral Jellicoe. Its strategic location and deep water made it the perfect base for this prestigious fleet, which boasted almost 40 state-of-the-art battleships. Dunree was so important to the British that they kept sovereignty over it as part of the Anglo-Irish Treaty 1921 until 1938. There is a military museum here today, as well as some stunning cliff and coastal walks and a lighthouse.

oznor_vivid
Fort Dunree
Fort Dunree

SHIPWRECKS

bally6

‘Is minic a cailleadh long láimh le cuan’
(A ship was often lost close to shore)

The wrecking of HMS Saldanha was the motivation for the building of Fanad Lighthouse. On the night of 4th December 1811, the Saldanha – a Royal Navy frigate – struck rocks near Fanad Head during a violent storm and ran aground at Ballymastocker Bay. The ship, along with the sloop HMS Talbot, was sailing from Buncrana to enforce a naval blockade against France in the North Atlantic when tragedy struck. As the storm rose, both ships decided to turn back to seek shelter in Lough Swilly, but the Saldanha struck rocks at Carraig Dhónaill. Some of the guns broke loose, wreaking havoc. There are reports of sailors attempting to swim to shore, but in the freezing, swirling waters they had little hope of making it.

WhatsApp Image 2020-04-22 at 12.55.38

Over 250 souls were lost, including the 29 year old Captain William Pakenham. The only survivor is said to have been the ship’s parrot, who was shot a few weeks later and it was then an inscription on his collar showed he had belonged to Captain Pakenham. Most of the dead were buried on land that is now part of Portsalon golf course, while Captain Pakenham was buried in Rathmullan Priory graveyard.

Hmtlaurentic

Another famous shipwreck in Lough Swilly is that of SS Laurentic, a British ocean liner of the White Star Line. Built in Harland & Wolff in 1908, the same year as Titanic, the Laurentic was converted to an armed merchant cruiser at the beginning of WW1.

On 23 November 1917, Laurentic departed Liverpool for Halifax, Canada with 479 on board and a secret cargo of gold, payment for munitions from Canada and the United States. She stopped at Buncrana two days later, under doctor’s orders to let a small number of passengers with yellow fever symptoms disembark. From Buncrana she sailed for Fanad Head, where they were to meet an armed escort. The weather was ferocious with a blizzard blowing, but when the escort didn’t show, Captain Norton decided to proceed regardless, despite reports of u-boat sightings in Lough Swilly earlier in the day. Within an hour of leaving Buncrana, disaster struck. The Laurentic struck two mines laid by the German submarine U-80. One of the mines hit near the engine room causing the ship to lose power. The ship was plunged into darkness, and was unable to send a distress signal. She sank within the hour.

ss-laurentic-wreck

354 men were lost in the disaster and bodies washed up on shore for weeks afterwards. Many had frozen to death in their lifeboats as they tried to reach land. The lucky ones were rescued by fishing trawlers, and Captain Norton himself survived. Over the next seven years, more than 5,000 dives were made by Royal Navy salvage divers and most of the 3,211 gold ingots were recovered. However, 22 bars have never been recovered.

The bell of the Laurentic hangs in the COI church in Portsalon village, and in 2007 a gun was recovered and put on display at Downings pier. The wreck of SS Laurentic lies 3 miles north-east of Fanad Lighthouse.

WhatsApp Image 2020-04-22 at 12.55.38
bally6
ss-laurentic-wreck
Hmtlaurentic

READY TO VISIT US?

Covid-19 Update

Fanad Lighthouse will remain closed for tours until further notice. Accommodation is due to reopen on July 20th as per Phase 4 of current government guidelines.

Scroll to Top