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1000 Years of the Strangford Ferry, Just One of Eleven Lectures at Bangor Maritime Heritage Conference

23rd February 2023
Mayor Karen Douglas (centre) with conference organiser Moira O'Rourke (right) at  Bangor City Hall Chamber for the Surging Sea and Quiet Lough conference
Mayor Karen Douglas (centre) with conference organiser Moira O'Rourke (right) at  Bangor City Hall Chamber for the Surging Sea and Quiet Lough conference

A full turnout of Maritime Heritage enthusiasts from around Co. Down gathered last weekend in the Bangor City Hall Chamber for a Conference to hear eleven illustrated presentations on subjects ranging from 1000 years of the Strangford Ferry to new discoveries by a LIDAR (Laser Imaging, Detection and Ranging.

The event was arranged by Ards and North Down Borough North Down Museum Team and the Heritage Cluster It was titled By Surging Sea and Quiet Lough.

Robin Masefield, one of the founders of Ulster Maritime Heritage, is a local historian with interest in the built and natural environment. The UHM aims to promote knowledge of and interest in traditional crafts and their associated culture in both coastal and inland locations and it aspires to become a representative body and provides a voice for the sector with central and local government and the wider public. Robin gave a comprehensive overall picture of County Down’s maritime history.

From a completely different and somewhat technical aspect, Colin Dunlop, Marine Historic Environment Advisor the Dept of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, talked about new discoveries by the coastal LIDAR survey on land and sea. These discoveries included newly discovered structures at the Nendrum Monastic site on Strangford Lough.

Moira O’Rourke, North Down Museum, talked about the maritime archaeology of the coastline and lough shore.

Donaghadee on the North Down coast is the location chosen for the conservation of the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat, which is remembered for its rescue of some of the passengers of the ill fated Princess Victoria cross channel ferry in 1953. The lifeboat is currently under a transparent cover near the Harbour in the town. It is planned that the town will have a future Heritage and Education Centre in Donaghadee. Alan Couser who is currently Chair of Donaghadee Heritage Preservation Co. and Branch Chair of Donaghadee RNLI, presented the history of the Sir Samuel Kelly which was subsequently involved in the 1979 Fastnet disaster.

Billy Carlisle is the chairman of Ballywalter and District Historical Society. He talked about the history of the lifeboat at this small village on the North east coast of Co. Down and about the treacherous rocky coastline, especially the Skullmartin Rocks which claimed many shipwrecks.

Strangford ferry in 1180

James Elliot is the chair of the Portaferry and Strangford Trust (PAST), constituted in 2013 with the aim of helping people regain an awareness of the fascinating maritime history of Strangford Lough. Apart from acquiring considerable territory after he arrived in Ireland in 1176, John de Courcy the Anglo/Norman knight, is recorded as setting up the first Strangford ferry in 1180 making it probably the oldest in the world. Today the ferry is a roll-on roll-off vehicle and passenger vessel plying across the Narrows. PAST holds events and exhibitions in The Ropewalk Museum in Portaferry Portaferry.

Denis Mayne is a local historian and former Field Monument Warden, who gave an illustrated talk on the Nineteenth Century Coastguard Estate showing types of coastguard buildings with emphasis on fortification and a calculation from the number of stations of the population of coastguards and families living along the narrow coastal fringe. He asked the question; “Why have the coastguards and their buildings been ignored?”

Decline of fishing boats

Portavogie on the east Down coast was a major fishing port where Ashley Moore was born into a fishing family who fished as far back as they can trace and on leaving school in 1981, he joined as crew on his father’s fishing boat. Ashley became Skipper of the family boat after four years and when the fishing industry diminished Ashley joined the staff in Belfast Harbour. He talked about when you could walk across the Harbour on fishing boats to the decline of the industry when some owners were forced to get rid of their vessels.

Portavogie New Harbour

Wild Deer wreck

Ivan McFerran is very familiar with the land of the Upper Ards and is curious about old buildings, harbours or hill forts and one item which caught his interest was the wreck of the Wild Deer an emigrant ship which came to grief on the North Rock off Cloughy on the east coast. She had made several emigrant voyages to New Zealand.

Figurehead of the Wild Deer credit De Maus Photo: National Library of New ZealandFigurehead of the Wild Deer Photo: De Maus, National Library of New Zealand

Ivan’s interest was sparked upon realising that the ship’s figurehead, which sat in the grounds of an old house belonging to his father, came from that very wreck. He embellished the talk with songs reflecting the subject.

Shipwrecks around the Co Down coast  credit Dept Agriculture, Environment and Rural AffairsShipwrecks around the Co Down coast credit Dept Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs

Schooner ran ashore

Leo van Es from the Ulster Archaeological Society talked about another shipwreck, this time at Ringneill Quay on Strangford Lough, about five miles southeast of Comber in the northwest corner. The schooner ran ashore in 1938 and was broken up where she lay. It had been hoped to survey the remains of the wrecked schooner but a storm on the day meant the proposed survey had to be abandoned, but it was done on 27th July 2019


The final presentation was by Clare Ablett, the Curator of the Transport and Industry at the Ulster Transport Museum at Cultra, east of Belfast, on the ship, Result. The vessel, which was the last Ulster built a cargo sailing ship. She was a product of Rogers’ yard in Carrickfergus in 1893 and in 1917 served as a Royal Navy armed decoy vessel. Result returned to her previous trade in January 1951 and was employed up until 1967, by which time she was the last vessel of her type still in operation. Result was subsequently in Jersey being converted into a charter yacht when the owner Capt. Welch died, and she was sold to the Ulster Transport Museum. She sailed into Belfast in late 1970 and in 1979, was transported to the museum's site at Cultra, where she remains on display.

Workers at Paul Rogers' shipyard courtesy Carrickfergus MuseumWorkers at Paul Rogers' shipyard courtesy Carrickfergus Museum

Mayor Karen Douglas posted on Facebook, “ Congratulations to Ards and North Down Borough Museum team and the Heritage Cluster for the organisation and delivery of the successful Maritime Look forward to the conversations and partnership continuing.”

Betty Armstrong

About The Author

Betty Armstrong

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Betty Armstrong is Afloat and Yachting Life's Northern Ireland Correspondent. Betty grew up racing dinghies but now sails a more sedate Dehler 36 around County Down

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