Scraps of Strangford History.
THE HONEYMOON FERRY BOAT
Capt. R.H. Davis tells of the maiden trip of the Lady of
the Lake, which took over the service at Portaferry on
June 18, 1836.
Her first passengers included James S. Stronge, Tynan
Abbey, Co. Armagh, and his bride, eldest daughter of
Andrew Nugent, Portaferry House, and niece of Viscount de
Vesci, who had been married that morning in Ardquin Church.
A short while ago Portaferry was in the public eye when
the new ferry service to Strangford was inaugurated by the
Lady Nugent. This service should be a great boon to the
people of the Lower Ards peninsula and the Strangford area,
and as it will be able to handle motor-cars it will no
doubt be much appreciated by motorists wishing to make
the round of Strangford Lough.
The new ferry or ferries will be the now familiar
flat-bottomed landing craft, L.C.M.I's, fitted with twin
engines, and capable of accommodating about 36 passengers
and two motor cars. Without motor cars they could probably
take up to 80 or 100 passengers.
The tide ebbs and flows very quickly through the narrow
channel between Portaferry and Strangford (it runs
sometimes at the rate of eight knots), but the new ferries
with their powerful twin engines should be able to negotiate
the crossing at all times of the tides and under any weather
conditions. From the strength of this tide, the name
Stong-ford, and hence by corruption, Strangford, is derived.
For almost three and a half centuries without a serious
break a ferry service has been maintained between Portaferry
and Strangford. The townland of Ferryquarter, which takes
in part of the town of Strangford, was granted by James 1
in 1612 to one Peter Tumolton, and the patent under which
the townland is held grants two quarters of land, one quarter
called Carhomada, on the Portaferry side, and the other the
Ferryquarter, on the Strangford side. The grant contains a
covenant on the part of the grantee to the effect that -
"His heirs and assigns, at his and their expense for ever
to maintain, keep and have in readiness, in and upon the
ferry of Strangford, a good strong and sufficient ferry
boat and four able and efficient ferrymen to attend the
ferry, for the transport of men, horses, and other cattle,
and to perform such other services at the said ferry as
were theretofore used or accustomed to be done."
Carhomada is believed to be the townland on the opposite
side of the ferry from Strangford, now Bankmore,
and two ferry boats have been and are maintained, one at
either side of the river at the cost of each proprietor.
The ordinary oar-propelled ferry boat would be of little
use to transport the "horses and other cattle" ; they
would probably have to swim across at slack or nearly
slack water, and the ferry boat would be used to keep
them heading in the right direction.
To Portaferry belongs the honour of having the first
steam ferry in Ireland ; this was in 1836, thirty-six
years before Belfast could boast of having a steam ferry
on the River Lagan.
In the 18th and early years of the 19th century both
Portaferry and Strangford were places of some importance
to ships and shipping. At Strangford there was a
Custom House and a King's warehouse, and as the Co. Down
coast was a favourite one for running a cargo of tobacco
or spirits, many a smuggling craft was carried into
Strangford by the revenue cutters, and both ship and cargo
would be afterwards sold by public auction.
Several of our privateers were fitted out and sailed
Portaferry, where there were at least two ship yards,
one of which could make claim to constructing "the
largest vessel ever built in Ireland." This was in 1802,
when it is mentioned that - "On Tuesday last (6th April)
there was launched from the dockyard of Capt. Edward
Conway of Portaferry, the ship Bess of 500 tons burthen
and upwards, the property of George Mathews of Springvale
Esq., and Capt. John Downey of Portaferry. This ship is
esteemed by judges as one of the handsomest merchant
vessels ever built in Ireland, and is intended for a West
Indian trader. It is worthy to note that this vessel is
the largest ever built in Ireland except the Cardiff,
which exceeds her by 30 tons.
The Cardiff was probably also built at Portaferry, as
there is no mention of that name having been built at
Again, in 1811, the remarkably stout and elegant
brig Andrew Savage, of 180 tons, was launched, and two years
later, the Rodger and Barbera, was launched from Mr.
Gelson's yard. She was followed by the Lord Castlereagh
in 1814. This Mr. Gelson, in addition to being a ship
builder, was a large ship owner, and he had a number of ships
trading regularly to the United States and Canada with
emigrants. He was the owner of the Aurora, which was
scuttled off the west coast of Ireland by her master and
mate, who were afterwards arrested and charged with the
Scuttling in those days was a hanging affair, but both
prisoners managed to escape, the mate by turning
King's evidence, and the master by bribing his escort when
being escorted to Carrickfergus jail after his arrest
In 1825 another of his ships, a snow named the Portaferry,
took 145 emigrants to Quebec, and on her homeward passage
made a providential rescue. At noon the captain was taking a
meridian altitude of the sun and owing to its glare on the
horizon used a coloured shade. When he brought the sun
down, at the exact spot where its limb touched the horizon
he observed a dismasted and water-logged ship. He stood
over towards her and rescued the six survivors remaining
But to return to our ferries. On May 29, 1836, the
Belfast Commercial Chronicle reports the launch of the
beautiful new steamer, the Lady of the Lake, from the
shipyard of Mr. Alexander M'Laine [McLean?], recording
that she was built expressly to ply between Portaferry
and Strangford. The account of the launch goes on to
say that "the inconvenience and delay hitherto felt
in crossing Strangford Lough will now be removed by a
safe and comfortable passage every 15 minutes, and
will afford to all who travel an opportunity to visit
a beautiful and interesting part of the country."
The Lady of the Lake arrived at Portaferry on June
18, 1836, and her maiden trip was a romantic one. On
that day the eldest daughter of Mr. Andrew Nugent of
Portaferry House, and niece of Viscount de Vesci, was
married to Mr. James S. Stronge, son of Sir James
Stronge, of Tynan Abbey, Co. Armagh, the ceremony
being performed in Ardquin Church by the bride's
uncle, Rev. William Savage.
The account goes on to say - "After the ceremony the
company partook of a splendid dejeune at Portaferry
House, and at three o'clock the happy couple embarked
on board the beautiful new steamer Lady of the Lake,
which had just arrived from Belfast only two hours
before. They sailed amidst a salute of artillery
from the old castle, Windmill Hill, and the steamer,
on their route to Narrow Water House, the seat of
Rodger Hall, Esq., to spend their honeymoon."
When the Lady of the Lake was established on her
run, a number of letters appeared in the press
expressing appreciation of her services and mention
is made in one of them that she could take across a
horse and chaise.
History does not record her fate but she is not to
be confused with the iron Lady of the Lake that for
a while in the '60's was a Holywood boat.