Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Ballymanus Disaster

The short version of this story is that on the evening of the 10th of May 1943 a German mine turned up near the beach at Mullaghduff, near Braade. It was reported to officials but three hours later it exploded, killing 19 young men. The details of those lost have been difficult to pull together, in spite of looking at photos of the memorial, a newspaper report, various grave markers and a Youtube video. To the best of my knowledge, after triangulating the sources, these were the lives lost:

From Ballymanus:
John Boyle (17)

From Braade:
John Joseph Carson (15)
Hugh Duffy (17)
James Duffy (16)
Manus O'Donnell (16)
Anthony Sharkey (16) 
John Sharkey (14)

From Mullaghduff:
Edward Gallagher (22)
John McKinley (19)
John Roarty (24) 
Michael Sharkey (14) 

From Rannyhual:
Dominic Gallagher (27)
Owen Gallagher (21)
Patrick Gallagher (20)
Denis Harley (16)
Joseph Harley (17)
Owen Harley (16)
Anthony Rodgers (34)
James Rodgers (33)

Reports say victims' ages ranged from 13-34, but I didn't find a 13 year old. James Rodgers' grave marker suggests that he didn't die in this disaster but was lost at sea the previous January, still horrible for his family, and his name appears on the memorial. It is said that seventeen people died at the site, two others died later in hospital. Sources describe the relationships between the boys differently, sometimes brothers other times cousins. Regardless of the details, reading the names, the ages, the townlands can't not convey a sense of horror at the loss suffered by these communities, all within a few miles of one another.

This incident constituted the second largest loss of life in the Republic of Eire during WWII. Ireland was neutral during "The Emergency", as they termed it, an expression of independence from Britain. Another incident in Dublin claimed more lives. According to the documentary, over a dozen other mines landed on beaches in County Donegal alone, during the war, but all the others were handled appropriately, thus preventing many casualties. It doesn't seem to me that Germany acknowledged Ireland's neutral status; either that or their mines had a terrible tendency to wander off course.

It would seem that after watching this particular mine bouncing in the sea and against the rocks for a few hours, several of the victims decided to try to rope the mine and pull it in, away from the rocks. Obviously not a great idea. Their actions suggest they didn't fully appreciate the danger the mine presented. 

There were questions later about why the authorities didn't cordon off the area, why there wasn't an official inquiry (where the government investigates and apportions blame), why various officials didn't respond differently. No answers to those questions would bring back the dead, however the documentary concludes that there were educational materials not disseminated, protocols not followed and an unfortunate tendency by the local priest and politician to blame the victims for their own demise. 

This film about the disaster is both sad and beautiful. Sad, of course, because of the loss of so many young people. Beautiful because it shows the scenery of Rosses and you get to hear the voices of the people, many speaking Irish.

I was vaguely aware of this incident before we traveled to Donegal, as Facebook advertised a memorial ceremony that was held in the week before Bill and I arrived. I must admit I didn't go searching information about it while we are there though we must have passed near to at least one of the memorial markers and I did see mention of it in the Kincasslagh cemetery. I would certainly look for those should we ever return. 

I doubt that the local people will ever forget this event. I doubt I'll forget having heard this story.

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