On the 4th of December 1811, the HMS Saldanha struck the Swilly Rocks near Fanad Head as she sought to shelter from a gale by returning to her anchorage in Lough Swilly. The Apollo-class frigate of the Royal Navy was only two years old and fresh off the capture of a notorious French privateer when she finally ran aground near Ballymastocker Strand with the loss of all on board. The ship has lived large in local lore ever since.
One story has Captain William Pakenham surviving the wreck but dying shortly later on shore, the poitin given to revive him most probably accelerating a death of hypothermia. Pakenham is now buried in the graveyard of the Abbey in Rathmullan. Another story has a local shooting a bird a few days after the wreck, only to discover that it was a parrot wearing a collar inscribed with ‘Captain Pakenham of His Majesty’s Ship Saldanha’. The Saldanha’s bell supposedly graces the church tower in Portsalon, and salvaged timbers can be found in the roof of Ramelton’s Town Hall.
The inaugural Saldanha Cup Regatta marks the 200th anniversary of the sinking of the HMS Saldanha and commemorates Lough Swilly’s rich maritime heritage.