Great storm on Lough Neagh – 1893

Mid-Ulster Mail – Saturday 18 February 1893

Great storm on Lough Neagh

Two Lighters sunk and three lives lost

Lurgan, Tuesday.

A storm of unusual violence was experienced in Lough Neagh this morning between the hours of nine and twelve o clock. The wind was blowing almost in a westerly direction, and swept with great force across the waters of the lough, causing the utmost danger to navigation, and extremely perilous to those whose duty called them to conduct the traffic to and from the various points from shore to shore. This morning the steam tugboat Elizabeth Jane left Maghery, on the Tyrone side, with three lighters in tow, Mary Jane, Violet, and Whealt, belonging to the Inland Navigation Company, of which Mr WR Rea is managing director, and, loaded with sand, intended to cross the lough to Derryclone Point, which is about ten miles from where they started, and which is the entrance to the Lagan Canal, and which is between three and four miles from Lurgan.

When they started on their journey the weather was moderate. After being a short time out the wind blew a fearful hurricane, and the waters rolled over the lighters with such terrible force that the decks and hatches were sprung, and quantities of water entered the holds of two of the lighters, the Mary Jane and the Violet. Very little headway was made against the violent storm and, on reaching Derryclone Point, the captain of the steam-tug, Patrick Christie, had evidently noticed the perilous condition of his charge, and sounded his whistle for assistance, which was noticed from various points of vantage on the shores of the lough.

Very shortly after passing the point two of the three lighters, which were in tow, began to settle down and sank in about ten or twelve feet of water, precipitating their charge and occupants into the water. On the Mary Jane, a lighter of about 75 tons burthen, were Thomas Donnelly, his wife, and daughter aged about six years, and a boy who assisted, called Donnelly. The Violet is a lighter of 66 tons burthen, and on board of her were John Ryan and his son. A number of people witnessed the occurrence, amongst others Thomas McClury, toll collector to the Navigation Company, and two fishermen called Skelton, from Derryclone Point. So fierce was the wind blowing at the time that none of the small boats, that had put out with a view of rescuing the unfortunate occupants of the lighters, could reach the point at which the catastrophe had occurred but that of the Skeltons, which was seemingly nearest, and from the point at which they set out had evidently the advantage of the weather side. On reaching the scene they were enabled to rescue John Ryan and his son and the boy Donnelly.

Thomas Donnelly, who is aged about sixty years, his wife, and daughter, aged about six years, were drowned. The circumstance is all the more melancholy considering that Donnelly had only one child, which was drowned with the mother and father, and that the poor man, it appears, in the stormy passage across the lough had lashed himself to the deck, the wife and daughter being below in the cabin. Every assistance possible was rendered by Captain Patrick Christie, of the tug Elizabeth Jane, and strangely enough the lighters were towed the one after the other, and the last boat, the Whealt, kept afloat. The lighters are the property of the Inland Steam Navigation Company. None of the bodies has as yet been recovered, owing to the position in which they were when the sad occurrence took place.

The matter is in the hands of the police authorities, who will make every effort to recover the bodies of deceased. The occurrence has created a profound sensation in the neighbourhood, and the disaster has been the subject of much comment amongst those who were eye-witnesses, and in the district generally.

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