Recent Sheephaven SAC activity and Napoleonic engagements around the coast of Donegal

Feb 17 2015 Posted by Office Administraton

15th February 2015.

Sheephaven’s Saturday morning dive was from the a shore at Mucross Channel, which connects North Water with Broad Water on the Mulroy Bay system.

For the Sheephaven divers in the water it involved a 42 minute dive to a maximum of 18 meters. Water temperature remains noticeably chilly at no greater than 6 degrees Celsius, while in-water visibility was good at over 3 meters horizontal. Fish life was sparse, with just the resident Goby and Blennies on site. However in the past this site has been the location for the observation of the Bobtail Squid, scientific name Sepiola atlantica. At no more than 8 cm it was an aggressive little devil as it repeatedly charged the divers torch light.

Sunday mornings snorkel was out from PortnaBlagh on a dry, bright and calm February morning. For the snorkelers it was ideal opportunity to fin out to the Golf course point, the Pink Cave or towards the Pól Dubhs, with no swell and just the beginning of a southerly wind. It was beautiful morning for a snorkel and it presents a welcome to club members to get back into the water as the Spring beckons

While the two World Wars produced a number of important confrontations off the Donegal coast the 1798 Battle of Tory Island could be argued to have the most profound effect on world history. On the 12th October 1798 Admiral Warren of the British Royal Navy took on 10 French warships under the command Commodore Jean Baptiste Francois Bompart at a location between Arranmore and Tory Island, where four French ships were captured, three were destroyed and only three making it back to France safety.

The Battle of Tory Island was considered to be a turning point in the Napoleonic wars as prior to that Napoleon had viewed a sea borne assaults on Ireland as viable military strategy, but afterwards did not make any further landing attempts. Earlier in 1796 Napoleon dispatched 44 ships loaded with 25,000 soldiers to an unsuccessful landing at Bantry Bay, followed in 1798 by a very successful landing by General Humbert at Killala. After that there was another unsuccessful attempt at Burtonport when Nappy Tandy landed and subsequently left Rutland Island having heard that Humbert had been beaten by General Cornwallis at the Battle of Ballinamuck.

Commodore Bompart put out from Brest on the 16th September 1798 with a force of over 3,000 men and the leader of the United Irishmen, Wolfe Tone, who was on board the French flagship Hoche. However Bompart’s departure was spotted and two British ships HMS Ethalion and HMS Sylph gave chase, while HMS Boadicea took news of the French breakout to Commodore Warren who was in command of the Irish Station. A long sea chase ensued, first out into the Atlantic as Bompart pretended his squadron was sailing to America and then back to Ireland where he always intended landing his force at Lough Swilly, with the intention of meeting up with Humbert forces.

Warren caught Bomparts’ force in a trap just  off Arranmore between his ships sailing from the east and those shadowing the French ships since they had departed from France.  A brutal battle commenced at 7.00 am on the 12th October 1798, with the Hoche surrendering by 10.50 am after taking a terrible battering with 270 wounded or killed. As the battle ensued the French ships scattered and were given chase south along the west coast of Donegal and back to France. The Battle of Tory Island involved 10 French ships against a force of 8 British ships and resulted in 700 French killed, 2,400 captured and 7 ships captured or destroyed, while the British had 150 casualties and no ships lost.

The fate of the Hoche was to be towed to Buncrana, where Wolfe Tone was recognised, imprisoned and eventually died in Dublin. The guns from the badly damaged Hoche were taken off and used to provide a fortification of Lough Swilly, while the ship was then brought into the service of Royal Navy as HMS Donegal a 76 gun third rate ship of the line. Subsequently HMS Donegal was involved in the battle of San Domingo off Barbados, where she forced the surrender of the French ship Brave when the British Royal Navy took on two French squadrons on the 6th February 1806.

Just a bit of the maritime history that had its origin in waters off the Donegal Coast, which is home to Sheephaven divers and lies waiting for new club members to immerse themselves in as the dive season begins to kick off once again.




Duckworth's Action off San Domingo, 6 February 1806' by Nicholas Pocock. HMS Donegal is on the left of the painting, engaging the Jupiter

Duckworth’s Action off San Domingo, 6 February 1806′ by Nicholas Pocock. HMS Donegal is on the left of the painting, engaging the Jupiter