Local History by Seán Beattie

Buncrana, WWI

Destination Buncrana 1914

Destination Buncrana 1914

Charles M Schwab, one of America’s leading arms dealers, disembarked at Buncrana pier in October 1914 on a top secret mission

On 21 October 1914, the White Star liner Olympic left New York but was directed to lie at anchor in Lough Swilly. The Captain was warned about the dangers of German mines off the mouth of the Swilly and successfully sailed his ship into the Lough. Europe was at war and questions were raised in Buncrana about the purpose of the visit as the ship lay at anchor for four days. There was no communication of any kind with the shore. After a period of four days, two people were observed leaving the ship. It was reported that the passenger was a wealthy American who was accompanied by his valet. Their luggage was left on board. Both were on a top secret mission and the presence of German mines off Lough Swilly presented a serious threat to their safety, hence the delay in Irish waters.

Reporters who tracked the movements of the two men to London later discovered their identities. The well-dressed American was Charles M Schwab. The purpose of Schwab’s departure from the ship was to travel to London to negotiate an arms deal with the Allies. He was the head of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, which was the second largest manufacturer of steel in the US and was a supplier of armour plate and guns to the US government throughout the war.

On 3 November, the Olympic continued on its journey and was noted by Lloyds as it passed Inishtrahull.

Schwab (1862-1939) was descended from German Catholic grand-parents. He was the main figure in the supply of munitions to the US government in World War 1 – another  interesting connection between the town of Buncrana and the First World War.

Seán Beattie

1 Comment

  1. Thomas Cannon

    Thanks, Seán, for this fascinating piece of detective work!


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