Cannon from sunken liner unveiled in Donegal

 

A CANNON linked to a fortune in gold has been unveiled as a tourist attraction at Downings Pier more than 90 years after it sank to the seabed 39 metres down in the mouth of Lough Swilly, Co Donegal.

The 7m-long gun weighing more than seven tons was lifted on to the pier at Downings 2½ years ago after a three-year salvage recovery operation headed by a team of local divers.

It was lifted from the wreck of the 15,000-ton Laurentic, a luxury liner built in 1908 by Harland and Wolff in Belfast and sunk by German mines in January, 1917, shortly after sailing from Buncrana when on service as a first World War merchant cruiser.

Still lying at the bottom of the sea are 20 gold ingots which the owners of the wreck, Derry-based Ray Cossum and his family, believe are worth up to €8 million.

The gold bars are all that is left of a consignment of 3,211 such bars being transported from Liverpool to Nova Scotia as British payment for American munitions, when the Laurenticsank with the loss of 354 lives of the 722 passengers on board.

Most of the bullion was recovered over seven years up to 1924, but experts reckon the remaining 20 bars are beyond reach beneath the wreck. Mr Cossum, a former English Channel swimmer said: “Those bars are still down there. There’s no way of getting them within reason.” An operation to find and raise them would cost almost as much as they are worth.

The Downings-based diving team, led by Kevin McShane, which raised the cannon, spent three years on preparatory dives, loosening the massive gun from the bow deck and securing heavy lifting chains to a specially designed flotation bag.

Fine Gael councillor Noel McBride, who persuaded Donegal County Council to donate €8,000 to the €15,000 cost of turning the gun into a tourist attraction, paid tribute yesterday to the divers and the Cossum family.

During the first World War, the White Star liner Laurenticwas converted from a luxury passenger cruise ship to an auxiliary gun ship. While on a mission to purchase arms and munitions from the US and Canadian governments, the “gold ship” – as it became known – struck German landmines as it rounded Malin Head shortly after leaving port at Buncrana.

It originally made way under steam from Liverpool docks bound for Halifax, Canada, carrying a payload of some 35 imperial tonnes of pure gold, worth in excess of €300 million today.

Shortly after departing Liverpool, some crew members showed signs of fever and it was decided to leave these men at Buncrana for medical attention. Just one hour after leaving Buncrana, on January 25th, 1917, the ship was holed and it rapidly sank.

Divers plunged as far as they could at the time to lift the 140lb boxes of gold ingots to the surface. After seven years, the admiralty in Britain decided to cease operations, leaving 25 bars of gold lying unrecovered on the seabed.

Five were later recovered by an independent operator but it is widely believed that the rest are buried deep under the wreckage of the liner.