Laurentic memorial unveiled

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The unveiling and dedication of the Laurentic Monument has taken place at Fort Dunree.

After almost two years of fundraising, The Ulster Canada Initiative was very proud to welcome descendants of the men who died and members of the public to the unveiling and dedication of the Laurentic Monument, to remember over 350 men who lost their lives in the sinking of the Laurentic in Lough Swilly on January 25 1917.

The monument, created by Mark Hill and Mandy Blinco of LUXE, involved a variety of local artists and tradesmen including Artlink, Martha McCulloch, Harry Kerr, Matthew Porter, Signs and Designs, Devlin Memorials and many others. The artists felt it was essential that the monument relate to the landscape at Dunree.

On top of a mast is a boat moving freely with the wind casting its shadow, in moonlight and sunlight, across a compass rose. The boat is a skeletal frame of a rowing boat of a type familiar to the sailors and fishermen of the north Atlantic. From the sculpture, there is a clear view across the bay where the Laurentic lies. At the base of the mast is a low circular stone wall and a compass rose made of sandblasted granite divided into 360 degrees, each carrying the name of one of the men who lost their lives. In the centre is a ceramic pattern referencing the position of the planets and the stars at the moment the ship went down. The low stone wall and base are built to encourage visitors to sit and reflect while taking in the views. Boats in the air are a peculiarly Irish phenomenon mentioned in Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’, Heaney’s ‘the Annals’ and on the Kilnaruane Pillar Stone in Bantry. 

32 family members made the journey to Donegal for the unveiling, from Arklow, Cork, Tipperary, Liverpool, Staffordshire, Kent, Sussex, Devon and as far away as Australia.

The monument was unveiled by Councillor Nicholas Crossan, Cathaoirleach of Donegal, after John McCarter, board member of the Ulster Canada Initiative, gave a speech outlining the history of the Ulster Canada initiative’s commemoration of the Laurentic over the past 13 years.

Fr Francis Bradley, PP Buncrana and Reverend Judi McGaffin gave the dedication. A number of local groups were represented, including the Royal Navy Association Derry and Limavady Branches, Castlereagh Sub Aqua Club, Lough Swilly RNLI, Fort Dunree, Inishowen Friends of the Messines, Artlink and West Inishowen History & Heritage Society.

The Canadian Government was represented by Commander Corey Bursey, Canadian Naval Attaché to the High Commission in London, while Petty Officer Stephen Doherty represented the Irish Naval Service.

Speeches were presented by Andrew Ward (Joint CEO Inishowen Development Partnership), Don McNeill (Chair, Ulster Canada Initiative), Corey Bursey and Stephen Doherty. Andrew Ward spoke about his career before working in community development, when he spent over 20 years at sea on fishing trawlers. He quoted a maxim of one of his training instructors: ‘the land divides us but the sea unites us,’ using this to outline that the Laurentic commemoration is doing exactly that by bringing families of those who perished on the Laurentic from all over the world and developing links with Newfoundland through the annual Laurentic Conference.

In his speech, Chairman of the Ulster Canada Initiative, Don McNeill, said: “This is a very proud moment for me personally to achieve what we have from a humble beginning in 2006 when myself, John McCarter and seven other like-minded people chipped in and brought a wreath and held a small, simple but poignant commemoration for the over 350 men who perished on the sinking of the Laurentic on January 25 1917 at the mouth of Lough Swilly. But today is not about me! It is about remembering these men from the four corners of the world who died on our shores 102 years ago and their relatives who travelled from far and wide to be here with us today. This is your day.”

The Laurentic Memorial project has been an ongoing collaboration with a number of local community groups including the Ulster Canada Initiative, Fort Dunree, Artlink, Inishowen Friends of Messines in a partnership with Donegal County Council and with the funding and financial aid of Inishowen Development Partnership, Leader, and Community Finance Ireland, the local community, enterprises and businesses.