A bell salvaged from the wreck of the SS Laurentic which was sunk by German mines at the mouth of Lough Swilly in 1917 has been sold at auction to Derry City and Strabane District Council.
The bell was sold for £12,000 and a spokesperson for Derry & Strabane Council said they intend to exhibit it in the near future and it will eventually become one a significant part of the collection of the planned Maritime Museum for Ebrington. The bell was salvaged from Lough Swilly in 1979 and was previously owned by Bembridge Maritime Museum in the Isle of Wight.
While the career of the SS Laurentic was short lived it was marked by some remarkable events and even after her tragic demise that saw her sink below the waves at Lough Swilly her story would continue to hold our fascination not least in the rumours of lost and elusive gold bar treasure.
In 1914 the SS Laurentic, a passenger liner built for the White Star Line, was commandeered by the admiralty for the war effort and served as a merchant cruiser for three years.
On the 25th January 1917 the ship was heading from Liverpool to Canada with a cargo full of gold to pay for arms. She made an unscheduled stop in Buncrana in northwest Ireland to allow passengers sick with yellow fever to disembark. But less than an hour after setting off again, the ship would strike two mines that had been left by a German submarine at the entrance to Lough Swilly.
The Laurentic quickly sank taking with her 354 souls and around 3,200 gold bars. The rest of the passengers, 121 in total, managed to survive the freezing water and made it safely to shore on lifeboats.
After the sinking, the Royal Navy organised several dives to retrieve the lost gold. But rumours went, and persist, that 22 bars still remain unaccounted for and could still be found within the wreck.
This year marked the centenary of the sinking of the SS Laurentic and earlier this year the legacy of the ship was remembered in an exhibition in the Tower Museum in Derry.