Disaster struck south Donegal on February 11, 1813, when 200 fishing boats capsized in a storm on Bruckless Bay, with the loss of around 80 lives or even more.
Around 200 boats, mainly curraghs from all over Donegal, were fishing herring at night. A violent storm suddenly hit, driving them onto the rocks near St John’s Point.
The official record, based on a report by Rev. Edward Stopford, the Anglican rector of Killybegs, states that 42 men were lost, leaving 30 widows and 102 fatherless children. However, eyewitness reports, indicate that the figure was nearly double that, with around 80 fishermen, mainly from south west Donegal, having lost their lives. Some say more than 100 died on that fateful night.
A death toll of this magnitude makes the disaster the worst fishing loss and the second worst peacetime maritime disaster in Irish recorded history. The worst was the sinking of the MV Princess Victoria, a ferry which went down between Larne and Stranraer in 1953, claiming the lives of 133 people.
The Bruckless Bay disaster has never been forgotten and, over the years, many authors ascribed a supernatural cause to the events. Local author T.C.McGinley recounted a folk tale which held that the storm was brewed up by a witch performing incantations over a basin. She was wreaking revenge for being scorned by the fishermen, who would not sell or give her any fish, according to the tale.
A group of local people - Cllr. John Boyle, Bríd Ward, Tony O’Callaghan, Martin Howley, Francie Boyle and the late Clive Evans - have organised a commemoration on the 100th anniversary of the tragedy, which has never been formally marked.
The ceremony will take place at 2pm on February 11 at a site overlooking the bay near McSwyne’s Castle and Castle Murray House.
The commemoration will comprise an Ecumenical Service and the unveiling of an engraved stone. This will be followed by a lecture, by Aidan McConnell of Bruckless and Dublin, who has published research on the disaster. This will take place in Castle Murray House and Restaurant. Light refreshments will also be served.