Amazing Grace – an Inishowen story

Amazing Grace is more than just a song. It is someone’s salvation. As you’re about to find out, it’s a place, too

When it comes to arrivals in Ireland, however, few can match that of John Newton.

Stormy Seas

“At 23, John Newton was a foul-mouthed sailor working in the slave trade. Newton had rejected Christianity and delighted in mocking and criticising people of faith.“

In fact, during his passage back to England from Africa in 1748, Newton was so unpopular with “his crew that the captain blamed him for the violent storm which so nearly claimed their lives”.

And while that storm off Donegal’s coast didn’t take John’s life, it did change it.

Any port in a storm

During the storm that almost took his and his fellow passengers lives, Newton felt utter and complete fear and turned to God for mercy. That mercy came in the shape of Lough Swilly, a mirror of a lake between Inishowen and Fanad peninsulas in County Donegal. It was in Inishowen that the boat was repaired and the crew housed.

Calm after the storm

“I often feel that same sense of peace and “refuge” when I walk along the banks of the lough and gaze out across the water or listen to the waves gently lapping at the shore,” Ruth tells us. “No matter how busy I’ve been, a few moments by Lough Swilly are like taking a deep breath!” But Newton and crew wouldn’t have only been pleased with the surroundings. The care and attention they received at the hands of the locals was something unique. In the intervening years that warmth has not dimmed.

Welcome to Inishowen
Whether it was Lough Swilly, Inishowen or his salvation from the storm, Newton was a new man. From this point on he renounced his work in the slave trade, became a friend and political ally of the abolitionist William Wilberforce and of course, penned Amazing Grace.

So the next time you sing Amazing Grace, spare a thought for John Newton and remember that neither he, nor the song, would be here without the calm of Lough Swilly and the Inishowen Peninsula.

Now that’s a sweet sound.

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