How the Carraig Úna fishing tragedy unfolded off Donegal coast

40th anniversary of disaster that claimed five lives

Sue Doherty


Sue Doherty

How the Donegal Carrig Úna trawler tragedy  unfolded

An Alouette army helicopter involved in the search at the time of the tragedy.

Forty years ago, on November 23rd, 1976, five fishermen perished when the Carraig Úna struck a reef off Raithin O'Beirne island. The Donegal Democrat has been looking back at our reports on the tragedy and in this piece we recall the events of that tragic night.

The Carraig Úna and her crew left Burtonport at 3.30pm on Monday, November 22nd to fish off Rosbeg.

That evening, they told other fishermen they were going to head to Donegal Bay and overnight there.

Shortly before 4am, in perfect conditions, the trawler struck a treacherous reef off Rathlin O’Beirne island.

Skipper Ted Carbery radioed another local trawler, the Onedin, whose skipper Liam Duffy alerted Malin Head Coast Guard. An official at the station said at the time, “The message we got was that the Carraig Úna was on the rocks on Rathlin O’Beirne. The Arranmore lifeboat was immediately launched.”

The skipper of the Marguerite Marie, James Sweeney from Burtonport, was six miles away from the ill-fated boat when he picked up the emergency signal on the radio. "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. The Carraig Úna is on the rocks. The Carraig Úna is on the rocks."

He tried to radio back but could not make contact.

Flares were sent up but it is not know which vessel fired these.

The Marguerite Marie, the Onedin and Sean Boyle's Family Crest, which were all fishing in the area, sped to the scene where they found the wreckage of the Carraig Úna scattered over an area of two or three square miles.

They also spotted lifejackets and the inflatable raft, which was unopened, but there was no sign of any of the lost crew.

The next day, garda divers using the Bundoran Inshore Rescue Craft, recovered the body of skipper Ted Carbery. The entire community of Burtonport turned out as his remains were brought home.

The search

The ensuing search was the biggest and most expensive to date in Irish history.

The Air Corps, Army, Navy and Gardaí joined forces, along with 30 trawlers, a fisheries vessel, 31 divers from as far afield as Dublin and Queen’s University, the RNLI and Coast Guard and countless other local volunteers. Two helicopters also combed the seas and coast.

None of the other four bodies were recovered, however, before the search operation was stood down due to adverse weather.

Six weeks later, Johnny McCallig, skipper of the Marie Angelique, crew member Conal ‘Ban’ Gallagher, and Patsy Gallagher, skipper of the Loradon, found and recovered the remains of John Boyle. He was laid to rest in the family plot in Cill Bhride cemetery on Cruit Island.

The bodies of the three remaining crew members - Doalty O’Donnell, Micheál Coyle, and Anthony McLaughlin - were never recovered.

* Memorial services will be held this Saturday at 6pm in St Columba's Church, Acres, Burtonport on Sunday at 11am in St Mary's Church, Killybegs and on Wednesday, November 23rd at 7pm in St Mary's Church, Kincasslagh.