The tragic drownings of up to 80 people, which many people refused to talk about because of fears of a witch’s curse, are being commemorated for the first time next Monday for the first time in 200 years.
A giant two-and-a-half tonne engraved Drumkeelan Sandstone rock, has been inscribed by local sculptor Gary McHugh and will be unveiled by Cllr. Frank McBrearty, Mayor of Donegal and Minister of State, Dinny McGinley, T.D. in a landscaped garden overlooking Bruckless Bay on Monday at 2pm, the eve of anniversary of the drownings.
Very few precise details are known about the exact details of the tragedy which still remains as one of Ireland’s worst fishing disasters.
Local legend has it that an old woman in the area used to run a “shebeen” where many of the fishermen used to drink but she fell out with them and then put a curse on them.
Later that evening on Feb. 12th. 1813 more than 200 small open boats, capsized in a sudden, violent storm with a tragic loss of lives.
No formal commemoration of the disaster, now called the Bruckless Bay drownings, has ever been held before but local records still indicate that between 46 and 80 people drowned.
Cllr. John Boyle who lives in the area and is chairman of the commemoration organising committee said, “Down the generations people just didn’t talk about it. There was so much sadness attached to it, but also many believed a spell had been cast by a local woman.
“Two centuries ago people believed in witchcraft and wouldn’t have wanted to talk about what she had done.”
TC McGinley, a noted school headmaster in south-west Donegal, recounted in 1867 a folk tale that the Bruckless Bay storm was brewed up by a witch performing incantations over a basin. In the tale, the woman was wreaking revenge for being scorned by the fishermen. Such was the lack of communications two centuries ago it took four days for news of the disaster to reach Dublin.
Historians have noted that Armagh observatory recorded freak weather over adjoining St John’s Point and Bruckless Bay, and a sudden change of wind direction, 200 years ago.
The commemoration will take place on Monday next at Rahan, St. John’s Point (directly opposite the entrance to Castlemurray House) and afterwards a lecture on the disaster will be given at Castlemurray House where light refreshments will be served.
Members of the committee have extended an open invitation to all those interested to attend.