09 Aug 2022

WATCH: Greencastle to Derry river 'motorway'

Paddle steamers on Lough Foyle

Turning her attention to the transport heritage on “God’s Side of the peninsula”, Rosie Moulden, Manager of the Inishowen Maritime Museum in Greencastle, revealed the first recorded steamer trip on Lough Foyle took place in 1816.

Rosie said: “On August 25, 1816, a Clyde based steamer took an excursion of 30 passengers from Derry to Greencastle. Unfortunately, there is no mention of her name, only that she had come from the Clyde earlier in the month.

“There are reports that a steamer was brought from Glasgow to Derry to provide towage services for barges between Derry and Strabane. She was also used to provide towage services on Lough Foyle and is mentioned as having towed McCorkell’s ship, ‘Marcus Hill’, down-river to Greencastle to catch a fair wind for her outward passage. The ‘Marcus Hill’ was operated by McCorkell’s between 1815 and 1827.

“There may have been two steamers offering towage on the Lough at that time. The ‘Britannia’ was a wooden-hulled paddle steamer, built in Port Glasgow, in 1815.

“In 1820, she made an excursion voyage from the Clyde to the Giant’s Causeway. In 1821, she made another four-day excursion voyage from the Clyde, calling at Derry, Culmore, Redcastle, Moville and Greencastle,” said Rosie Moulden.

The ‘Britannia’ was then bought by Alexander A Laird and Company for the Glasgow and Londonderry Steam Packet Company.

It began a regular Glasgow to Derry service in 1822, with additional calls at Culmore, Quigley's Point, Moville, Greencastle and Portrush.

According to Rosie Moulden, Alexander Laird became a founding partner in what became Burns and Laird, which ran a Glasgow / Derry passenger service until 1966.

She added|: “In 1829, ‘Britannia’ was transferred to the Clyde to Warrenpoint service. On her first trip on the route she was wrecked at Donaghadee.

“The ‘Argyll’ was a wooden paddle steamer, also built in Port Glasgow, in 1815. She was acquired, in 1824, by the Glasgow and Londonderry Steam Packet Company, for the Glasgow to Derry service until September 1826.

“Both of these ships were well appointed and took around 20 hours to make the passage. A First-Class fare from Derry to Glasgow cost about half the price of a voyage from Derry to America.

“Both ships called regularly off Moville, or Greencastle, to pick up and drop off passengers and ‘packets.’ The steamers did not actually stop but slowed down and passed a line to the small boat from shore which was then towed along until the passenger and / or packet exchange was completed,” smiled Rosie.

The wooden paddle steamer ‘Foyle’ was built by James Lang, Dumbarton, in 1829, for the Foyle Steamboat Company.

She serviced a Derry to Glasgow run but did not stop along the Foyle so often as the others as she serviced a ‘direct’ route.

Rosie Moulden said: “Regular local steamer services within Lough Foyle commenced in 1832, when the stern-wheeled paddle steamer ‘Moville’ began a service between Derry and Moville. The ‘Moville’ belonged to the Londonderry, Moville and Castlefinn Steam Boat Company.

“She had an iron hull and a draught of only four feet, which allowed her to get upriver to Castlefinn during the high water- level season on the Finn. The Castlefinn run was not economic so she was transferred to the Derry to Moville run, with request calls at Greencastle and Magilligan.

“A company called the Derry and Moville Steam Boat Company re-opened the Derry to Moville route in April 1836, using the Paddle Steamer ‘St Catherine.’

“The ‘St Catherine’ was a wooden paddle steamer, built in 1825, by John Wood and Company, Port Glasgow, for the Glasgow to Lochgoilhead and Arrochar service. She was bought, in 1836, by the Derry and Moville Steamboat Company, Derry, for the Moville / Derry service in 1836. She was sold to William Haslett, Derry, in 1838. She was reported sunk in 1842,” said Rosie.

The Paddle Steamer ‘Swan’ was subsequently bought by the Marquis of Abercorn, in 1836, to tow barges between Derry and the entrance to the canal at Strabane.

Rosie Moulden said: “’Swan’ also carried passengers on special occasions. ‘Swan’ was an Iron Paddle Steamer / Tug built by John Neilson and Son, Glasgow, in 1834.

“Many shipowners and shipping companies set up services on the Foyle but only those who could get supplementary work for their ships were able to survive for any length of time.

“William Coppin was born in Kinsale, in 1805. He was apprenticed as a shipwright and was sent to St John, New Brunswick, at the age 17, to work for a relation who owned the shipbuilding firm, John W Smith, there.

“He went to sea and began trading between Canada and the Caribbean, where he met Derry shipowners also engaged in the sugar trade. New Brunswick already had a good reputation for building well-found ships for Derry owners, so John Kelso, a Derry shipowner, ordered a ship for the timber trade. Coppin built the ‘Edward Reid’ and sailed her to Derry in 1831. He went to work for Kelso and, later, for other Derry shipowners,” said Rosie Moulden.

In 1839, William Coppin bought Skipton's shipyard at Strand Road, Derry, and went back to building ships.

At the same time, he set up the Foyle Steam Towing Company to provide towage services to sailing ships entering and leaving Lough Foyle.

Coppin built several paddle steamers, some as tugs and some as passenger ships for the cross-channel trade and for local services in Lough Foyle.

Rosie Moulden said: “These vessels included the ‘Ardentinney’, the ‘Lioness’, the ‘Lady Franklin’ and the ‘Alexandra.’

“When the Allan Line trans-Atlantic liners started calling into Moville, in June 1860, Coppin’s tugs were contracted in as tenders to these liners.

“In 1866, the Anchor Line started calling at Moville which prompted the need for more tenders. The Dominion Line operated a service to Canada, also calling at Moville.

“With all these liners calling regularly off Moville on their trans-Atlantic routes, tendering services to the liners became the staple earners for local steamers. There was also work for small tugs towing sailing ships in and out of Derry, towing barges, and as general local freight carriers,” said Rosie.

In the late 1860’s, the North-West of Ireland Deep Sea Fishing Company, which was based in Derry, tried, unsuccessfully, to break into the Derry to Moville trade.

They appear to have used chartered in vessels, the PS ‘Lady Brisbane’, later ‘Balmoral’, the PS ‘Faugh a Ballagh’ and the PS ‘Rosneath’, later ‘Erin.’

Rosie Moulden added: “In 1872, the Glasgow towage firm, Steel and Bennie, started sending paddle steamers to Lough Foyle to provide a tug, tender and passenger steamer service. Steel and Bennie companies changed names frequently, but they maintained a Derry to Moville service until 1906.

“Steel and Bennie was the largest tug / tender operator on the Foyle and they frequently exchanged ships between the Foyle and the Clyde, making it difficult to trace ships and crews in the records.

“Amongst their paddle steamers on Lough Foyle were the ‘Admiral’, the ‘Albatross’, the ‘Lough Foyle’, the ‘Samson’, the ‘Seagull’ and the ‘Vanguard.’ Steele & Bennie withdrew from their Lough Foyle services in 1906.

“By the 1890’s, there were complaints that Steel and Bennie had achieved a monopoly on freight and passenger services on the Derry to Moville route so, in 1895, the Montgomery family, of Moville and Derry, set up a rival company, the Derry and Moville Steam Packet Company, known locally as the Moville Steamship Company. It went into competition with Steel and Bennie, using two steamers, the ‘Earl of Dunraven’ and ‘Jeannie Deans,’” said Rosie.

The Moville Steamship Company operated the ‘Lady Clare’, the ‘Cynthia’ and the ‘Craigbue’ at various times.

The company lost the Anchor Line tender contract in 1928 and could not survive on the Moville to Derry service alone so it went into liquidation.

Rosie Moulden said: “The Anchor Line took over the two tenders, ‘Cynthia’ and ‘Cragbue’, from Moville Steamship Company and bought the tug / tender ‘America’, which had been operated in Cork by Clyde Shipping.

“She had been sold to Dutch breakers but was rescued by Anchor Line, in May 1928, who based her in Derry, renamed ‘Seamore.’ ‘Seamore’ was stationed in Derry until 1939.

“There were many small paddle steamers on Lough Foyle, which operated independently as freight and ferry services. There were, at least, three small paddle ferries operating across the river in Derry city quays, the ‘Foyle’, the ‘Roe’ and the ‘S M Alexander.’

“Some paddle steamers were retained as minesweepers and tenders on the Foyle up until the end of World War II,” concluded Rosie Moulden.

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