Saldanha’s Swilly sinking commemoration this weekend

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A special comemoration will be held this weekend to mark the 200th anniversary of the sinking in the Swilly of the HMS Saldanha. It is the first ever commemorative event recalling what is one of Ireland’s worst ever marine disasters.

Ann Cadwallader has organised the event which will be held over two days and on both the Fanad and Inishowen peninsulas. Among the commoration activities is a creative writing competition involving over 150 children. The RNLI lifeboat will throw a wreath into the waters where it is believed the boat foundered. The Fort Dunree beacon will be shone across the waters of the lough also.

“When I started planning these commemorative events,” said Mrs. Cadwallader, “I expected 20 people and a priest to be involved but it has grown to be so much larger than that.”

The HMS Saldanha was named after a naval battle in South Africa, and according to Mrs. Cadwallader; “She was a relatively new, two-year-old, 950-ton, 36-gun frigate with a swashbuckling young captain at her helm when she set sail some two hundred years ago to patrol the North Atlantic. Within a few days, her entire crew of 253 had perished, drowned in the freezing waters of Lough Swilly, after her rudder was smashed on submerged rocks in a howling gale.

“The ill-fated vessel was mercilessly pounded on the rocky shore and the entire crew, officers and men, were drowned, their bodies washed up on both sides of the Lough. Captain William Pakenham, just 29-years-old, was buried with honours in the Abbey graveyard in Rathmullan. His crew, however, were simply tipped into mass graves close to where they were found.

“Many of whom, it’s now believed, lie under the 18th fairway at Portsalon Golf Course where ecumenical prayers will be said on the 200th anniversary of the tragedy.”

Until now there has been no permanent memorial to their deaths.

Thanks to the efforts of Mrs. Calwallader plans are now in place for a Donegal County Council granite memorial near Portsalon Beach and a second memorial near the burial site on the golf course.

A further memorial will be a planned book, written by RNLI volunteer and marine historian, John O’Raw, who has been studying The Saldanha’s history for many years and has viewed many old documents relating to both her and her captain.

The full programme for events this weekend will commence at Rathmullan on Saturday. An ecumenical prayer service will be celebrated, weather permitted, from 2.30pm at the tomb of Captain William Pakenham in the Abbey graveyard, following which, in the Social Activity Centre, local marine historian, John O’Raw will then deliver a talk on ‘Captain Pakenham and the Saldanha.’

Events move to Portsalon on Sunday December 4 where at 2pm on the Knockalla Coast Road the new memorial will be unveiled. Simultaneous to this, the crew of the Buncrana lifeboat will cast a wreath into the sea at Saldanha Head and the Fort Dunree beacon will shine across Lough Swilly towards Portsalon

At 2.30pm Mr. O’Raw will recall ‘The Tragedy of HMS Saldanha – December 4th 1811’ at The Stores before a short short prayer service with Father Pat McGarvey (Catholic), the Rev. Janice Browne (Presbyterian) and Rector Paul Hoey (Church of Ireland) is held on the 18th fairway on Portsalon Golf Course and the site of mass grave.

The events conclude with a torchlight procession return to The Stores.