Our Cannon

In the Beginning

CSAC Canon

Like all clubs, we were strapped for cash. Money was needed to replace our ailing inflatables and to buy some sets of training equipment. At a Committee Meeting someone came up with a bright idea.

During World War II Larne Lough was used as a Royal Navy mooring area for some of its vast fleet. These moorings consisted of a huge float, or buoy, anchored to the bottom via huge chains.

Resting place of the cannon

After the war, rather than expend time and money lifting the moorings the Navy removed only the buoys, leaving the chain behind. As scrap these chains, we thought, might raise some much needed revenue, so the following Sunday’s dive was declared a ‘Club Scrap Hunting’ dive. A work colleague of John Houston’s (Derek Mathews) suggested a likely spot to dive.

On 6th October 1985 two boat loads of eager divers left Ballylumford slipway and headed into the Lough. After a quick visual scan, the suggested area was selected and the anchor was thrown over the side.

All the divers descended. Within minutes one pair (Billy Brown and Colin Boyd) surfaced shouting that they had found a cannon. This was received with the to be expected sarcasm and bawdy comments from the Cox.

However the humour ceased instantly when another group (Davey Russell, Simon Cosbey and John Houston) surfaced exclaiming that they too had found a cannon. Due to the lack of air, bad visibility and failing February light it was decided that they would abandon the dive, take transits and report back to the rest of the Club for advice and assistance.

That night all likely interested members were invited down to the Club Rooms where they were sworn to secrecy about what they were about to hear. Various ideas were put forward as to what was our next step and how were were going to recover the cannon before they became public knowledge.

A handful of members volunteered to take the next day off work and armed with two boats, miles of rope and every conceivable plastic container and lifting bag, they descended on Ballylumford. At this time we still didn’t know how far apart the cannon were, or if there were actually two of them. Visibility had been bad on the Sunday and there was a possibility that the same cannon had been found twice.

Note. The exact location has never been made public. The GPS marks quoted in Underwater Ireland’s “Guide to Irish Dive Sites” are incorrect.

The Raising

Armed with a 8mm cine underwater cine camera, Randal Armstrong was the first in to capture the cannon on film before the rest stirred up the silt. On descending the shot line he saw lying on the seabed what at first looked like an old cast iron gas lamppost. Surely the boys hadn’t made a mistake!

Once beside it he knew it was a cannon for real. On reversing way from it to get its full length in the view-finder he kicked something with his fins – it was the other cannon, lying approximately 12 to 15ft away from the first. Both cannon were parallel and pointing in the same direction. Was he looking at the submerged gundeck of a ship?

A quick scout around the immediate area revealed nothing more. By this time the recovery team (Tom Snowdon, Kenny Humphries, Davey Russell and Henry O’Neill) had descended armed with rope and lifting bags. Tom and the team put together a cradle of ropes and inflated the lifting bags. Slowly our first cannon headed for the surface.

Our Chinook dive boat towed the cannon to the nearest beach where it took 10 of us to lift it into the boat with much puffing and panting littered with a few swear words. Of course things don’t always run smoothly – the engine wouldn’t start again so we had to tow it back to Ballylumford behind our Dory. Again much puffing and swearing as we unloaded it into the back of David Cunningham’s horsebox where it was secured while we returned to retrieve the other cannon.

Having struggled with the first cannon, it was decided that once the second cannon was raised it would be towed behind the Dory back to Ballylumford slipway. We watched the lifting bags anxiously all the way back to the harbour. If the cannon had sunk during the tow we would have had a terrible job relocating and lifting it.

Thys Pese

That night saw us in Davey Russell’s garage constructing a freshwater bath for the cannon. This was the first time we were able to examine the cannon in decent light. They were solid bronze Elizabethan Falcons dated 1559 measuring 7ft. 8in.long with a 3in. bore, weighed in at approximately three-quarters of a ton each.Thys Pese

It would appear that for most of their time on the seabed that they had been covered in silt as there was remarkably little marine growth. The Tudor Rose was as clear as day on both of them, but the inscription was clearer on one than on the other. It read in old English :-

Elysabeth Regina

Thomas and John Owyn

made thys pese anno dni 1559

Click here for background on the makers of the cannon

The Receiver

By common consent, and to keep us within the law, it was decided that Randal Armstrong should inform the Receiver of Wreck and see if the site could be designated in order to keep other divers off it.

Word of our find made the Belfast Telegraph and our secret was blown. Then, out of the woodwork appeared a counter claim of salvage and an attempt to ban us from the site from an individual who, unknown to us, had recovered a cannon two years before if the same area.

This cannon was earlier than ours and had Queen Mary’s name on it, making it a very rare piece indeed. However, he had not reported his find and had illegally sold it in England to the Tower of London where it still resides. The reporting of our find to the Receiver and our counter claim to salvage right (plus the fact that we still were in possession on the cannon) was enough to establish our rights.

The Museum

The Ulster Museum was an obvious choice for initial conservation to be carried out, and who knows they might even buy it at the end of the ‘year and a day’. Ralph contacted them and six days after finding them, they were transported to the Museum/QUB Conservation Laboratory.



Several visits were made during its stay with the Conservation Lab, and photographs were taken for the Belfast Telegraph. Meanwhile research was being carried out on how the cannon got there, and an extensive survey was carried out in the immediate area.

To cut a story short, we were unable to come to any definite conclusion as to their source, and the survey proved equally fruitless, however Derek Mathews was able to throw some light on the makers of the cannon.

The Heavies


Bad vibes were coming from the Receiver during the following months. We were concerned that he was not acting in the best interest of the club. A distinct “you’ll do what I tell you” attitude was present in every conversation with the department. Time to bring in the heavies!

Some months prior to our find, the Nan King Treasure had been auctioned off by Christie’s of London – they’ll do for us we thought. On contacting them they put us in touch with their solicitors Messrs. Stephenson Harwood of London.

Ralph McBride proceeded to explain the whole saga to their whizkid Mr. Richard Olsen. The result was that they took us on-board, and immediately wrote to the Receiver putting him straight on his position and our rights.

Instead of being treated with the ‘little boy’ attitude, it was ‘Yes Sir, No Sir’ from then on – its great the power of the legal profession!

A Year and a Day

As the ‘year and a day’ slowly came to a conclusion we costed out various options as to where and how to sell the cannon. At the end of the day the Ulster Museum was really the only sensible option in order to keep the cannon in the country. The price they offered us was very near the figure that Christie’s estimated they were worth, so the Ulster Museum became the proud owners of two Elizabethan Falcon Cannon.

How much did we get? – £15,000.

The Receiver took his cut (we also paid Derek Mathews £1000 fee) and after we had paid Christie’s bill (£1,150 well spent) we were left with £11,725. The money purchased 3 RFD inflatables, trailers and engines, and the rest was invested for a rainy day.

And the cannon? – They are in storage somewhere, unlikely to see the light of day in our lifetime due to lack of display space and money (and not in the Tower of London as stated in Underwater Ireland’s “Guide to Irish Dive Sites”) .

Lessons to be learnt? – Report the find and don’t allow yourselves to be bullied – get proper legal representation. Be professional in your approach. Follow up the find with research. Be patient. Spend the proceeds wisely.

Personnel involved

Billy Brown, Davey Russell, Kenny Humphries, Tom Snowdon, Simon Cosbey, John Houston, Colin Boyd, Henry O’Neill, Roy Reid, Derek McCall, David Cunningham, Ralph McBride and Randal Armstrong.

A Chronological History of Actual Events

6th October 1985

  • 2 cannon discovered by Billy Brown and Colin Boyd, and, Davey Russell, Simon Cosbey and John Houston. Cannon buoyed.
  • Dive was originally for scrap for Club funds.
  • Derek Mathews put us on the area.

7th October 1985

  • 2 cannon recovered by Kenny Humphreys, Davey Russell, Henry O’Neill and Tom Snowdon.
  • Randal Armstrong took underwater movie film of both cannon in situ.
  • Cannon transported to Davey Russell’s house by David Cunningham in a horse-box.
  • “Find” forms completed by Randal Armstrong.

8th October 1985

  • 2 cannon immersed in bath of fresh water.
  • Water to be changed daily.
  • Article appeared in Belfast Telegraph.

9th October 1985

  • Brian Scott from Ulster Museum/QUB inspected cannon. Is to approach Head of Antiquities about restoration and storage. Approx. cost £500.
  • Mentioned on Radio Ulster and Good Evening Ulster news programmes.
  • Form WRE5 obtained from Receiver of Wreck.
  • Receiver informed us that someone may try for court injunction to ban us from site. (He discovered a cannon in the area eight years ago).
  • Receiver of Wreck to confirm “Yes” or “No” for us to continue.
  • Water in bath changed.

10th October 1985

  • Impromptu meeting discussing cannon.
  • Derek Mathews finders fee – 10% overall agreed.
  • Quote from Ulster Museum to be vetted by solicitor arranged by Archie Culbert.
  • Valuation from Billy Brown’s friend, an arms expert from Sotheby’s to be arranged.
  • Water in bath changed.

11th October 1985

  • Permission to continue to dive site granted by the Receiver of Wreck.
  • Brian Scott of Ulster Museum now informs us that fee is £800.
  • Admiralty chart ordered and Ordinance Survey map 6″ to 1 mile purchased.
  • Water in bath changed.

12th October 1985

  • Site bearings taken by Eric McKillen.
  • Random diving reveals nothing. Viz – 2ft.
  • Water in bath changed.

13th October 1985

  • Organised search of surrounding area reveals nothing.
  • Water in bath changed.

14th October 1985

  • Consolidation of all relevant information of use to us and Receiver of Wreck by Randal Armstrong.
  • Admiralty Chart collected.
  • Water in bath changed.

15th October 1985

  • Meeting held at Club Rooms.
  • Organising Committee elected.
  • R.McBride to liase with Receiver of Wreck and Brian Scott (Ulster Museum/QUB).
  • WRE5 form completed and signed.
  • Planned delivery to Ulster Museum on 21/10/85.
  • Plans for full-scale seabed search discussed.
  • Water in bath changed.

16th October 1985

  • Water in bath changed.

17th October 1985

  • Form WRE5 and relevant documents returned to Receiver of Wreck by Randal Armstrong @ 9am.
  • Quote of £800 for preserving cannon received from Ulster Museum.
  • Most of Committee consulted on its content, so reply typed out.
  • Water in bath changed.

18th October 1985

  • Reply to Ulster Museum hand delivered by Randal Armstrong.
  • Transport arranged for Monday 21st October 1985.
  • Water in bath changed.

19th October 1985

  • Sieve rigged up for airlift.
  • Water in bath changed.

20th October 1985

  • Datum line from cannon position to a prominence laid down and pegged.
  • Trial run with airlift carried out. Compressor on loan from Derek Mathews.
  • Modifications needed to airlift nozzle and to sieve, otherwise should prove useful.
  • Cannon transferred to trailer for delivery to Ulster Museum tomorrow. Trailer from Ralph’s brother, Roy McBride.

21st October 1985

  • Cannon transported to Ulster Museum (QUB Conservation Laboratory) by Ralph McBride, David Cunningham, and Randal Armstrong. Billy Brown went straight there.
  • Belfast Telegraph took group photographs. Emphasised that Colin Boyd’s name be mentioned in blurb about photograph, if published. Roy Reid arrived too late for photos.
  • Dr. Brian Scott gave us a receipt for cannon.

22nd October 1985

  • Copy of receipt and accompanying letter typed out, for Receiver of Wreck.
  • Photographs appeared in Belfast Telegraph.

27th October 1985

  • Attempted to mark out two 30yds x 30yds squares but only succeeded in laying out “T” section of 2 squares.
  • Ralph McBride, Randal Armstrong, Hugh Morrison and Davey Russell involved.
  • Not enough air to complete the job.

3rd November 1985

  • One 30yd square completed. Second leg of 2nd square laid down. Only need to put on cross-rope to complete.
  • Next stage is to divide up squares into smaller sections.
  • Randal Armstrong, Ralph McBride, Mark Carlisle, Dave Courtney, David Cunningham and Helen McVeigh involved, with surface support of Hugh Morrison & John Houston.
  • While diving elsewhere Alan Beattie and Norman McBride discovered an anchor with a shaft 10ft long and weighing an estimated 2 tons.
  • Received an article from Derek Mathews on the makers of the cannon for publication in “Mouthpiece” and also NIFSAC’s “Viz” magazine.

7th November1985

  • Derek Mathew’s article published in “Mouthpiece”.

10th November 1985

  • Dive aborted due to bad viz.

17th November 1985

  • Succeeded in finishing off second square grid line. Weighted swim line laid down ready for next week.
  • Divers – John Houston, Randal Armstrong, Ralph McBride, Davey Russell, Henry O’Neill and Billy Brown.

9th December 1985

  • Colin Boyd received a letter from his uncle, Christie’s agent in N.I., John Lewis-Crosby, estimating an initial value of at least £5,000 per cannon.
  • He is to write again after consulting their Arms and Armour experts.

22nd January 1986

  • Colin Boyd received letter from Christie’s agent.
  • Initial value is now starting at £10,000 each.

13th April 1986

  • First dive of the year, owing to bad weather.
  • Ropes badly caught up in seaweed. Suspect at first glance that some ropes have come off the pegs. Viz not too good, so left this task until next time.
  • Tried “spot digging” as an experiment to see if the current would carry away the silt. It did not.
  • An airlift or waterpump seems to be the next option.

20th April 1986

  • While carrying out a roped diver to tender, Henry O’Neill came across a timber buried in the silt near the spot the cannon were found. It appeared to be curved with a cross-section of 6 – 8 ins.
  • Due to a misunderstanding in rope signals, Henry had to leave the bottom before he could mark the spot. A search will be organised to locate it.

17th September 1986

  • After having been in touch with Christie’s we got in touch with their solicitors Messrs. Stephenson Harwood of London, who had dealt with the “Nan King Treasure”.
  • We asked them for advice on our legal stance over ownership of the cannon; our say in where and when they were auctioned; and what percentage we were likely to receive.

25th September 1986

  • Received a reply from Stephenson Harwood’s Mr. Richard Olsen. See letter dated 22/09/86.

30th September 1986

  • Ralph McBride rang Mr. Olsen and requested that they act on our behalf.
  • A file containing copies of all documents furnished to the Receiver of Wreck was posted off to Mr. Olsen for scrutiny.

7th October 1986

  • Mr. Olsen informed the Treasury Solicitor of our find and proposed claim. See letter.

9th October 1986

  • Letter from Mr. Olsen acknowledging the receipt of out documents.
  • He requested that each Member involved in the finding and raising the cannon should sign their claim to a share over to the Club.
  • He also sent a draft of a letter he wished to send to the Receiver of Wreck on our behalf. We furnished him with various other details by phone.

14th October 1986

  • Stephenson Harwood received acknowledgement from the Treasury Solicitors.
  • No claims to ownership of the cannon had been received during the statutory year and a day.

21st October 1986

  • Received a copy of final draft of letter to be sent to Receiver of Wreck by Mr. Olsen.

24th October 1986

  • Receiver of Wreck phoned Randal Armstrong to give update of current proceedings.
  • Ulster Museum to submit their offer without delay, on request of the Receiver.

4th December 1986

  • Received a copy of Ulster Museum’s offer of £15,000 for the pair. Our solicitor advised.
  • We must now cost out any expenses/commissions etc. involved in selling via Christie’s, to determine whether or not it is a fair offer.

6th December 1986

  • Ulster Museum sent photos they had taken of the cannon to Ralph McBride and Randal Armstrong. Drawings and sketches to follow.

17th December 1986

  • Advised by our solicitor to write to Receiver of Wreck advising him that a decision still has to be made by the Club, and that he will be informed of the result as soon as possible.

18th December 1986

  • Letter hand-delivered to Receiver of Wreck, and a copy set to our solicitor.

22nd December 1986

  • Had Committee Meeting to discuss Ulster Museum’s offer.
  • Agreed in principle that the cannon should stay in N.I. if at all possible. It was felt that the offer was on the low side, so Ralph McBride was instructed to ask our solicitor to try to bump up the offer. As a guide, we decided on a figure of £13,000 net, for the solicitor to bargain for.

30th December 1986

  • Received letter from our solicitor acknowledging receipt of the copy of letter sent to Receiver of Wreck.
  • He also suggested that copies of the Ulster Museum’s photos be sent to Christie’s via him.

5th January 1987

  • Contacted our solicitor regarding photos and about bargaining with the Ulster Museum.
  • Mr. Olsen suggested a direct approach to the Museum, to try to get them to raise their offer. Photos of cannon posted to Mr. Olsen.

29th January 1987

  • Receiver of Wreck phoned Randal Armstrong to enquire of our decision on the Ulster Museum’s offer. He was told that we were waiting for reply from our solicitor.

30th January 1987

  • Ralph McBride got in touch with Brian Scott and the outcome was that the Ulster Museum may be open to further negotiations.
  • Museum said they could not cancel the £800 restoration fee.

2nd February 1987

  • At Committee Meeting it was decided not to do anything until word came from our solicitor.
  • Ralph McBride informed the meeting of conversation with Brian Scott of Conservation Laboratory.

5th February 1987

  • Receiver of Wreck phoned to find out if we had any word from our solicitor. He was told that solicitor was due back from holidays tomorrow.
  • Randal Armstrong to phone Receiver on Monday 9th.

6th February 1987

  • Solicitor informed of possibility of Museum being open to offers.
  • Our solicitor to draft a letter for us to send on our own notepaper, pleading our case.

9th February 1987

  • Receiver of Wreck informed of our intention to negotiate with Ulster Museum.
  • Receiver requested a copy of our proposal, and to be kept informed of events. Receiver is keen to see early settlement.

27th February 1987

  • Ralph McBride received draft of letter to send to the Ulster Museum, as well as copies of a letter from Christie’s to the solicitor advising him on the latest valuation, having seen the photos.
  • The photos were also returned.

3rd March 1987

  • Letter re-drafted by Randal Armstrong and sent to Ulster Museum.
  • Copies to Receiver of Wreck and our solicitor.

9th March 1987

  • Receiver of Wreck phoned Randal Armstrong to enquire as to who was contacted in Christie’s regarding the valuation mentioned in our letter to the Ulster Museum.
  • He said he was also going to ask them for details on commission rates, transport and storage costs as well as insurance. Receiver then informed Randal that he had received a letter from Mr. Flanagan of the Ulster Museum regarding our letter.
  • The Museum was, in brief, prepared to waive the £800 fee for restoration, but that was all.
  • In light of this Randal obtained a copy of the letter with a view to Committee discussion, and would report back to Receiver.

11th March 1987

  • Committee Meeting held to discuss Ulster Museum’s letter.
  • It was decided to accept the offer of £15,000 and the waiving of their £800 restoration fee. A unanimous decision by all present.

12th March 1987

  • Randal Armstrong informed Receiver of Wreck of Committee’s decision.
  • A letter of acceptance was delivered by hand to the Receiver.

12th May 1987

  • A cheque for £13,875 from the Receiver of Wreck was delivered by mail to Randal Armstrong’s home address.
  • The cheque was re-delivered to the Club Treasurer, David Cunningham, at the Northern Whig.

29th May 1987

  • Letter sent to our solicitor requesting his final bill, and thanking him for his assistance and advice.

4th June 1987

  • Letter of acknowledgement received from our solicitor. Bill to follow.

27th July 1987

  • With still no bill received it was decided by the Committee to pay Derek Mathews the sum of £1,000 on account, until the bill came in.

1st August 1987

  • Ralph McBride received our solicitor’s final bill.
  • They rounded the bill down to £1,000 plus VAT (£1,150).

End of history.