A salvage operation has begun in the waters beneath Bantry Bay in County Cork on the wreck of the 18th century French frigate 'La Surveillante' part of the ill-fated Wolfe Tone invasion force of 1796.

The vessel was discovered in 1982 by Cork divers Tony and Sue Balfe. Five years on, the first steps in their salvage operation got underway, when two 18 pound iron cannons were recovered from the ship. 

Tony Balfe explains the frigate was part of Wolfe Tone’s invasion fleet of 1796. However, this fleet was scattered due to bad weather. ‘La Surveillante’ was the last of four French ships to enter Bantry Bay, arriving on 31 December 1796. The frigate carried equipment for the cavalry, but due to her poor condition, the crew was transferred to the other vessels and the ship was scuttled.

The 140-foot long vessel remains intact and is, 

In very good condition, allowing she is 200 years old, all the artefacts are contained within what remains of the hull of the vessel.

As part of the salvage operation, Tony would like to raise the complete wreck, as happened with the Tudor warship the 'Mary Rose’. He would love the wreck to be brought into Bantry to be part of a museum.

We have here a really unique time capsule and, I mean, it would be a pity to leave it there.

Tony thinks raising the wreck would be a straightforward diving operation, although a time-consuming and costly job. But he is convinced the cost would be outweighed by the employment the project would bring to the locality. He would like to see the wreck raised by 1996, in time for the 200th anniversary of the invasion.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 11 June 1987. The reporter is Bryan Dobson.