Marine Minister will not attend Bruckless drowning commemoration

Marine Minister Simon Coveney has turned down an invitation to attend the anniversary service of what is believed to be Ireland’s worst-ever fishing disaster

Commemoration organisers said he told them last week that his schedule under Ireland’s presidency of the EU won’t permit him spare time to attend the 200th anniversary of the Bruckless Bay drownings.

Drownings of up to 80 people are being commemorated for the first time next month.

A giant two and a half tonne engraved Drumkeelan Sandstone rock will be unveiled in a landscaped garden overlooking Bruckless Bay on February 11, the eve of anniversary of the drownings on February 12.

More than 200 small open boats, like currachs, capsized in a sudden, violent storm for Ireland’s worst fishing disaster in February, 1813.

T C. 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. She was wreaking revenge for being scorned by the fishermen.

It took four days for news of the disaster to reach Dublin.

A report on the storm by Rev. Edward Stopford, the Anglican rector of Killybegs, who prepared his figures from burials, said 42 men were lost leaving 30 widows and 102 children.

Other eye witness reports state that up to 80 men were drowned, with many bodies not recovered.

Donegal county councillor John Boyle said there was one report that the drownings figure could be even higher – with 90 widows left in the Teelin area alone – but it was impossible to confirm the numbers now.

Local historians say a death toll of this magnitude makes the disaster the worst fishing loss and the second worst peacetime maritime disaster in Irish recorded history.