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Salvaged from the depths... gun from a Belfast liner sunk in 1917

By Fiona McIlwaine Biggins

An Ulster diver spoke last night of his delight and relief at leading the successful recovery of an historic gun from the wreck of a First World War liner more than 40m under the water off the coast of Donegal.

Kevin McShane (49), originally from Lurgan, was the chief diver on The Laurentic salvage project. He described his joy and apprehension when he first saw the 10.2 tonne gun finally reach the surface after 90 years below the sea.

"After all the hard work and preparation, we could hardly believe it when we saw the gun come out of the water.

" And our delight quickly turned to concern as we faced the task of towing it back the 14 miles from the lift site to the safety of Downings harbour.

"But we were not to be beaten this time - it was definitely third time lucky as we were able to bring the gun successfully in after nine hours and were greeted by hundreds of local people who were waiting on the pier to welcome us."

The Laurentic salvage project aimed to retrieve one of eight guns from the Harland and Wolff-built sister ship of the Nomadic, which went down off Malin Head in 1917 after hitting two German mines.

The local dive enthusiast and a team of divers who managed to retrieve the artillery piece on Sunday are now putting behind them two other failed attempts to lift the giant piece over the past three years.

Mr McShane went on to explain: "The recovery of the gun was only possible this time with the help of a £4,200, 15-tonne lift bag ... kindly paid for by the Downings community and a compressor hose provided by Mark McKee in Belfast - after previous attempts using different methods proved unsuccessful.

"It was lying under 40m of water at the mouth of Lough Swilly where there (are) strong currents and deep water.

" But, thankfully, it is finally safely ashore."

However, the 6m long monster is now sitting at Mr McShane's home awaiting vital funds to be raised for its restoration.

He added: "We urgently need resources to restore it and have it mounted on display on the pier at Downings Bay by this time next year.

"So we hope the promises of funding assistance from various agencies will now come to fruition."

The divers also have one last trip to make back down to the wreck to recover the stand for the gun to sit in at its final resting place.

And they might even be lucky enough to come across the 25 gold bars - worth £4m today - that remain unrecovered from the wreck which sank en route to Nova Scotia carrying more than £5m worth of gold bullion to pay for American munitions.

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