BBC documentary on Donegal's "disaster without parallel"

A documentary programme on "a disaster without parallel in the history of Donegal" has been commissioned by the BBC.

On May 10th, 1943 eighteen people died when a seamine exploded near Annagry in the Donegal Gaeltacht. Another victim died from wounds shortly after.

The Irish language project is being undertaken by Dearcn Media and producers are Newtowncunningham film maker Keith O’Grady and Deagln Mochin who lived in the area.

It is the group’s first commissioned film and is being made in conjunciton with Westway Films.

The documentary makers will speak to survivors and eyewitnesses, Keith said: “It is still a very raw subject for the community. They still feel aggrieved both at the tragedy and the way the authorities treated them following the disaster.

”At the inquest survivors were treated in an antagonistic manner.”

The mine had been spotted at Ballymanus Beach hours before it exploded and reported to Gardai. They failed to seal the area off as was protocol.

The explosion was heard as far away as Letterkenny.

According to a Derry Journal report at the time it left “ghastly scenes which baffle description”.

“The beach was strewn with mangled bodies,” the report added.

The Coroner was quoted as saying: “The most distressing thing is that this should not have happened at all.”

No independant inquiry was ever established despite wide spread calls at the time.

Locals had tied a rope around the mine and were trying to move it away from rocks.

Mr. Mochin said: ”We struggled with the issue of why they had attempted this and we were concerned with asking survivors. Pat Gallagher, who recently wrote a booklet on the disaster and who started the project, had a good answer. The group, who ranged in age from 14 - 34, were not a bunch of teens who didn’t know better, they were trying to move the device to an area were it would be less affected by the currents.”

Pat, who was ten years old at the time, lost his father and two uncles in the explosion.

Keith added: “Eyewitness reports state that the detonation spike on the mine was dented. It had been bashing rocks for hours and had not exploded.”

“There were also related deaths from what many people would say were ‘broken hearts’ following the disaster,” said Deagln. “For example, Pat’s grandfather died within the year.”

The project is spearheading a campaign to have an official apology from the state and have those killed exonerated of any blame.

Keith explained: “Locals were upset at newspaper reports of the time which blamed them. The Gardai Seargent who received the initial report of the presence of the mine, was removed from Annagry the next day and never heard from again.”

“That seems to be an indirect admission of liability,” said Keith.

Deagln added: “It is hard to imagine the impact that such a disaster would have had on a small isolated rual community. The hope is that this project will allow the community some closure.”

The film is set to be broadcast in spring 2011.