50th anniversary of the MV John Buchan recalled

Sunday, February 10th 2008 marks the 50th anniversary of the Killybegs John Buchan trawler tragedy where five crew members perished when a 20 foot wave struck the boat just 300 yards out from the pier at Dunmore East, Co. Waterford.

For many local families the tragedy will live long in the memory.

This week a sister of Benny Armstrong called to the Democrat and reminded us of a terrible tragedy that saw five young men from this county lose their lives in a freak shipping disaster.

Since then we have opened our own files and bring an edited report on the tragedy. If you have more information on this tragedy, we would like to do a follow-up story. Please contact the editor-in-chief, Michael Daly at 074-9724211 or email him on michael.daly@donegaldemocrat.com.

The Donegal Democrat, February 10 1958, front page reported on the tragic loss of five lives under the headline.‘Killybegs a town of mourning’
‘Five die as trawler overturns’
‘Search for bodies still continues’

The poignant report noted: ‘A pall of gloom still hangs over the busy and once cheerful fishing village of Killybegs, four days after a fateful 20ft high wave overturned the fishing trawler ‘John Buchan’, sweeping five of the boat’s gallant crew to their death 300 yards off the pier at Dunmore East , Co. Waterford.

‘The local people mourning with the bereaved relatives wait anxiously from radio news bulletin to the next, hoping that the sea will soon give up its dead and, meanwhile, all Donegal, indeed the whole country had extended sympathy to those who have suffered so heavy a cross in the worst tragedy to affect the north west since the still vividly remembered Arranmore disaster.’

The paper added that Rev Fr F McIntyre and Garda Sgt Mark Thornton were entrusted with the task of telling the locals after they were informed by ‘phone.

On board were skipper George Buchan (40) who was at the wheelhouse, Denis McClafferty (45), James White (24), John Byrne (30) were all having tea down below, and Benjamin (Benny) Armstrong (18) who was on deck.

A sixth man, 24-year-old John James Lyons was swept from the desk by a huge breaker but managed to grab a fish basket and was hauled to safety on the Mairead. A seventh man, Frances Cunningham, 19, had stayed on shore to drive a car belonging to his brother – who was on the sister Mairead – to Waterford.Witnessed by towns people.

On New Year’s day 1958, the John Buchan and five other ships left Killybegs . On Monday, February 10 1958, amid a storm, they opted to dock at the Co .Waterford pier. The John Buchan was the first boat to make its way to the pier and was followed by the Mairead, Killybegs, under skipper Thomas Watson, and a trawler from Arklow named the Ros Aobhinn.

The tragedy, which occurred as they headed out again, was witnessed by a number of sailors and towns people from Dunmore East.

According to the Democrat report, the boat was upended by a huge wave and turned turtle. Her keel showed above the froth for many minutes before she smashed into the rocks.

Bottom-up, the capsized trawler drifted inshore before waves dashed her off the rocks.

Survivor, Mr Lyons, who was wrapped in blankets inside Mr William Power’s public house said, “I saw a very high sea coming straight at us. I told Armstrong to hold on but with a great crash the water struck my face and I dived overboard. I sank twice and when I caught the fish backet with one hand I was able to catch the rope the Mairead threw me with the other.”

Mr Cunningham, who had stayed on shore said: “I saw the boat leave the harbour and within 10 minutes saw it completely turn over. I heard Jimmy screaming for help and then I saw him being hauled on board the Mairead.”

The men who drowned
“George Buchan was from a family of fishermen. His brother Joseph skippered the Linnet off Dunmore East. Another brother, Eddie, was also fishing off the area. The boat he was on was built by and named after his father.
“Benny Armstrong began fishing at 14 after his father died. Benny was the eldest of Jenny Armstrong’s four children and worked to get money for the family.
-James White was married just nine months beforehand. He was the son of an ex-Garda named Thomas. He married Ann Carr, of Kindrum, Letterkenny just nine months beforehand.
- John Byrne was unmarried. His parents were dead but he lived with his farmer brother James at Largy, Killybegs.
- Denis McClafferty was from Rosapenna Cottages, Downings.

The Survivors
- John James Lyons was a gaelic footballer from Cashel, Kilcar.
- Patrick Cunningham from Island, Killybegs.

In Memoriam
50th anniversary of the crew of the Jack Buchan, drowned at Dunmore East, Co.Waterford, 10th February, 1958.

Cherished memories of our dear brother Benjamin:
Not till the loom is silent
and the shuttle cease to fly,
Shall God unroll the canvas
and explain the reason why
the dark threads are as heedful
in the weaver’s skillful hand,
as the threads of gold and silver,
in the pattern he has planned.

Remember always with love by brother, Bill; sisters, Marion, Flora, Olive and their

Courtesy of the Donegal Democrat