A mosaic-tiled viewing platform has been unveiled to mark the spot where the author of Amazing Grace began his conversion to Christianity.
Opened yesterday by the DUP’s Jonathan Bell and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, the site commemorates anti-slavery advocate John Newton.
Sited on the edge of Lough Swilly, close to Castle Bridge, Co Donegal, it has been placed as near as possible to the site where he came ashore after surviving a near-shipwreck.
Thereafter he referred to it as the moment he began his spiritual journey.
Ruth Garvey-Williams, secretary of the Amazing Grace Initiative, said the whole idea began back in 2006 when member Mike Mullins read about Mr Newton’s remarkable story and raised it with the local council.
Speaking about Newton’s arrival on the lough’s shores, Mrs Garvey-Williams said: “It was at a very crucial point in his life.
“Up until that point he was self-described as a wretch. He was involved in the slave trade.
“He was travelling to Liverpool from Africa, and because of the trade winds they had a very circuitous route.
“He was caught in a violent storm, and found himself crying out for mercy. He thought: ‘what mercy can there be for me, a wretch?’”
In real danger of sinking, and with its crew in despair, the ship nonetheless managed to make it to safety.
According to Mrs Garvey-Williams, Newton “stepped ashore a changed man”, and even visited Londonderry’s St Columb’s Anglican Cathedral in Londonderry to take communion as the vessel underwent repairs.
She said he nonetheless remained actively involved in the slave trade for a further six years, although he later became a staunch opponent of the industry – and even mentored leading abolitionist William Wilberforce.
The platform project cost around E30,000 and was paid for by the Inishowen Development Partnership using European funding, and by Buncrana Town Council.
Its mosaic design incorporates the words “Amazing Grace” plus an image of the ship itself – The Greyhound.
Joining the Northern Ireland ministers at the launch were the Inishowen Gateway Singers.
Marking the occasion, Stormont junior minister Mr Bell said: “It is extraordinary to think that John Newton’s safe delivery to these shores at Buncrana on that fateful night of April 8, 1748 inspired him to write one of the most well-known and best-loved hymns in the world.”
Mr McGuinness said: “As one of the world’s best-known hymns, ‘Amazing Grace’ has worldwide appeal that will draw people to this beautiful part of Ireland, where John Newton started his spiritual journey.”