As I have mentioned before I always had a fascination with transport and travel. It was more the doing of it than the technical and manufacturing side. In the 1980s, back in them days Summer holidays would be spent in Northern Ireland (we would have seen no need to leave our home country). This meant travelling to Portrush, Portstewart, Portballintrae or Castlerock, all on Northern Ireland’s beautiful north coast. That’s what people did back then for their holidays. It was a step up for my parents, whose Summer holidays would have been a trip to Bangor, Millisle or Donaghadee. As a child I was graced with so many holidays of which I thank my parents a lot for. During the 1980s I enjoyed holidays in various places, incorporating Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, England, France and Portugal. I defy any 1980s kid on a well managed budget (by my parents) to have been further afield. They were great times and one trip which I used to love was the Larne – Stranraer Sealink Ferry Service. Sealink and Townsend Thoresen went head to head at Larne harbour. For some reason they both preferred to operate via (relatively unknown) Larne instead of the world renowned port of Belfast (also Northern Ireland’s capital and where all the big business is). Perhaps the sectarian violence on my golden streets affected their decision, however I used to love the Larne – Stranraer ferry service. Belfast shipyard is famous as being the place where the Titanic was built…
The first trip I remember out of there was in July 1986. Northern Ireland had just been in the World Cup and my twin siblings Cathy and Marko were only 2 years old. I was 6 and my parents took us to Bideford in Devon, via Salisbury and some other random unknown places. You know what, I’m gonna ask my parents when I’m in Northern Ireland in two months exactly where we went and stayed and whether they have any photos. 1986 was as far as I remember my first ever trip across the Irish Sea to Scotland on the Sealink British Ferries line. We arrived at a grey and dark Larne harbour in our Silver Mazda car. My Mum would bring sandwiches, drinks and yoghurts for us. My Dad would drive wearing dodgy sunglasses and mixing up music cassettes of the likes of Dire Straits, The Eagles and Boney M. As we waited for the boats, I used to read the ferry travel magazines and stare at the massive car ferries wondering how they hell they didn’t sink and were so big. I used to wait eagerly in anticipation as to which exact ferry we would be on. On this particular trip from Larne to Stranraer, I remember seeing the gorgeous car ferry the “Galloway Princess” sail into berth. As we drove up the ramps I stared at the ferry name and gazed all around. Once out and settled upstairs I would be amazed! I was 6 years old and very happy to be on board the Galloway Princess. It was normally the Galloway Princess or the Antrim Princess which graced Sealink’s Larne – Stranraer lines. The Sealink ferries were much nicer to look at than the awful Townsend Thoresen ones. I used to hate the front rims on those red ships (see fateful post on the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry), but loved the way the bow doors on the Sealink vessels opened up like a Tyrannosaurus Rex ready to take in the cars. My parents would let me go out on deck with them and I used to love the view looking out at the Irish Sea and the world.
In July 1986 when returning from our holiday, we were stuck at Stranraer harbour as there was a major delay. We had seen the Galloway Princess come and go, as it was the earlier boat that day. Then after a wee dander round Stranraer we returned to our car for the trip back. I was eagerly anticipating the probability of being on board a different ferry, the Antrim Princess (which also unfortunately had a serious engine room fire in the early 1980s), however when the boat came in that night it was the St. David! Another new ferry, and it seemed to me to be smaller than the Galloway Princess. It was guesting on the Larne – Stranraer route as far as I was aware. I remember it was packed full of holiday makers in drab clothes, that was Northern Ireland attire in them days. For some reason I also remember being out on deck and a sun shining on the Ailsa Craig which me and my Dad used to look out for (A rock off the coast of Scotland) and I remember eating chips on board the St. David.
This was to be the first of many journeys on car ferries. It is so pleasing in life to now be working on car ferries every day and reminiscing on my childhood. Those were the dreams. Great happy times in a country torn apart by war. In two months time (September 2008) I am booked on to the Fleetwood – Larne ferry with Stena Line (the new name for Sealink British Ferries) and am anticipating a few moments of sentimentality on board. It will not be the Galloway Princess, the Antrim Princess or the St. David this time. I’m not sure what those ships are doing with themselves these days. I’ve managed to get some photos online to remind me of the ferry days. And remember when you’re travelling, don’t just read a newspaper, book or fall asleep, enjoy the transport you’re on, the sights you may see, the comfort you have, the people around you and relax. It’s your chance to chill out!!
STENA CALEDONIA (formerly the ST. DAVID which did the Larne Stranraer in 1986) leaves Belfast:
2 thoughts on “World Borders: Getting the Ferry from Larne, Northern Ireland to Stranraer, Scotland (The 1980s…)”
Larne developed as a port in the days when the ferries were owned and run by the railway companies, so people caught the train to Larne, got straight on a ship and then reversed the process in Stranraer. Larne is also significantly closer to Scotland than Belfast, so it offers a shorter crossing time and means the operators can get more trips in per day. Belfast – Stranraer only became feasible in the days of high speed craft, although with rising fuel costs the HSS lost Stena a lot of money over the years. The St David replaced the Antrim Princess in 1986 and was actually slightly larger than the Galloway Princess. The ‘Antrim’ went to the Isle of Man until 1990, then to Italy and was scrapped about 2006/07 I think. The ‘Galloway’ has operated as ‘Le Rif’ between Spain and Morocco since 2002, and the ‘St David’ remained at Stranraer, renamed ‘Stena Caledonia’ until 2011. She has been sold to an Indonesian company, but is still in Belfast awaiting departure as I write. Most of the Townsend Thoresen Cairnryan ships did not actually have bow doors at all, but used their sterns at both ports, with vehicles turning or reversing onboard. Only the ‘Pride of Ailsa’ and ‘Pride of Rathlin’ had the doors you describe, but by the time they came to Larne in 1992, they had been fitted with cameras and indicator lights so the doors could be monitored from the bridge.