Relatives of of HMS Laurentic victims and survivors visited Inishowen last week to mark the centenary of the sinking of the ship.
Family members travelled from across the globe for a special programme events, including a reception organised by Crana College Transition Year students.
The students, guided by Transition Year coordinator Michelle Bradley, set about creating a cross curricular project on the Laurentic, which culminated in a reception in the school for family members.
Alan Clare travelled from Liverpool to take part in the centerary events. His grandfather James Robert Brown an engineer on board when the ship sunk, and his body was never recovered. His mother was just one year old when her father died, and had no memory of him.
Mr Clare made contact with Don McNeill of the Ulster Canada Initiative and planned a trip to the north west to take part in the centenary programme of events.
Mr Clare created a special chart over a number of years in memory of his grandfather, which he proudly handed over to Crana College on Friday.
“The quick trip I planned for a day or so has turned into a week. It has been magical. On Tuesday evening, January 25 at 6pm I was standing on the shores of the Lough to the minute almost that it happened.
“That was the first magical moment. This event in Crana College is going to be another one. I’ve gifted the school with a nautical chart with newspaper cuttings and photographs on it.
“It’s only me left now, so that’s why the school is having it.
“Having seen now what has been going on here, I think it is where it should be.
“I do a lot of work in schools and its very much around bringing stuff to life. It sits very well with me seeing an enthusiastic bunch of young people,” he said.
Mr Clare said the days spent in Inishowen for the commemoration will be “one of the highlights” of his life. “They’ve really been quite magical”.
Margaret Newtown, who is also from Liverpool, said the exhibition created by the students was “more than I ever expected”.
Her late grandfather John Coyle is featured in the project, and she spoke to the student who carried out the research. “It’s just so nice,” she said.
John Coyle married in Dublin before moving to Liverpool. Margaret’s mother was the youngest of his four children. He wanted to work at sea and after training, he started work on the Laurentic in 1915. “He lied about his age, as they did then.
“He was doing trips back and forth to Canada, and unfortunately he lost his life,” said Margaret.
John Coyle is buried in St Mura’s graveyard in Fahan, but the family only discovered this when Margaret tried to trace her family tree.
“We’ve been here several times to visit the grave. I don’t think my mother knew. She assumed he’d been lost with the ship, we all did. Then I got in touch with the Commonwealth War Graves commission and they said he is definitely buried there.
“It was lovely to know for definite. The first thing we wanted to do was go and visit the grave and we’ve been several times since.
“I can’t believe how much has been done by people here, we’ve had such a welcome it’s been so nice. They’ve really gone out of their way, especially today at the college, and at the museum in Derry it’s absolutely fantastic. Between the people of Donegal and Derry I just feel privileged, I really do,” said Margaret.
One descendant who made a very long journey to mark the centenary was Gerald Clement Yetman from Newfoundland, Canada. His great uncle Clement Yetman was stationed on board a trawler converted for mine sweeping during WW1. He was on his journey home to Newfoundland on the Laurentic “when he went down”, and his body was never found.
Gerry made enquiries within his family about his great uncles background, as he always had a dead man’s penny on his wall. That is the medallion sent out to widows and mothers of people who died in WW1. He knew his great uncle was a sailor, but wasn’t aware of the circumstances.
After some digging, Gerry discovered he was a passenger on the Laurentic. He made contact with Don, Gerry and his wife Jennifer Perry decided to take the trip across the Atlantic for the commemoration events.
“I must say that this event in Crana College is one of the great highlights. This is really special. They’ve done so much work here, it’s just incredible.
“There’s so much enthusiasm there with the kids. It’s a lovely added touch with the poster of his family. I think the real highlight is if we can get out to the actual site on Sunday,” he said.
Two students involved in the project, Aine O’Riordan and Sarah Brennan, said they found the project “really interesting”.
“It’s crazy that people have come from Canada to come over and see what we’ve done so far and we’re only four months into it,” said Aine.
“It shows that the work really pays off, it really means something to them. What we’ve done is going to last,” added Sarah.