Ship Building in Portaferry

Once A Ship Building Town

With Famous Ship Building Families

Courtesy of the 'Portaferry & Strangford Trust - PAST'

The period covering 1760 and onwards, when "for a century or so Portaferry was a busy thriving coastal town full of master mariners, ship-owners and shipbuilders, rope-makers and ships" chandlers. Its fishermen too flourished: sand smelt were sold in Belfast as 'Portaferry chicken'.

Portaferry - A ship building town
Portaferry - A ship building town

Portaferry was once a ship building town and was a centre for commerce and trade. Local punts would have piloted large vessels through the narrow navigation channel of the Narrows.

Early ferry boats would have used sail and oars as they transported people and livestock between Strangford and Portaferry. Local family names such as Curran, Murray, Tweedie and Brown are all associated with building smaller craft such as creel fishing, boats, to collect dulse, for leisure and for racing. "The St. Brendan", built by John Murray, is well known as a heritage tour boat on Strangford Lough.

In 1802, of the largest vessel ever built in Ireland at the time. "On Tuesday last (6th April 1802) there was launched from the dockyard of Captain Edward Conway of Portaferry, the ship BESS of 500 tons burthen and upwards, the property of George Mathews of Springvale 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 also noted the building and launch in 1826 of the Andrew Nugent from Thomas Gelston's yard "amid the cheers of thousands of spectators". This ship had two masts and a burthen of 164 tons. The ship's Captain was Hugh Crangle who was reared in the townland of Tara 2 miles from Portaferry. Captain Crangle was also part owner along with William McCleery Jnr. This ship sailed for a decade from Sligo to British North America, principally Quebec, and was lost on a journey from Sligo to London.

Ropes were made at the Ropewalk for the very important ship-building industry in Portaferry in the 18th century. Around that time, there were 30 vessels carrying in the range of 35-1500 tons in the ports around Strangford Lough. Cargoes of wheat and barley were exported to Liverpool, Lisbon and Dublin.

In the years 1812-1822 thirty ships were built, including the largest ship in Ireland at the time. These ships sailed from the ports of Portaferry and Strangford and took passengers, emigrants and cargo to North America and many other areas. Ships' captains from Portaferry were known all over the world. The grand houses along the shore are testament to the shipbuilders, merchants and master mariners who lived there. Sailors, ferrymen and boatmen lived on every street.

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