GALLERY: Enjoy Donegal's rich transport heritage

The Moville Steamship Company on Lough Foyle

It is full steam ahead for the locked down staff of Donegal's Inishowen Inishowen Maritime Museum. Their research and archiving activities are continuing apace.

Speaking to Donegal Live, Rosie Moulden, the Museum’s Manager outlined the history of another of the peninsula’s transport heritage gems, the Moville Steamship Company.

By the 1890’s, paddle steamer services in Lough Foyle had become well established. Services were provided for the carriage of freight and passengers and for towage services for sailing ships entering and leaving the port of Derry.

According to Rosie: “The main player was the Glasgow based company of Steel and Bennie who had commenced services on the Foyle and had opened an office in Derry, in 1871. Whilst not having a monopoly, it certainly was in a prime position to control freight rates on the Lough and complaints were frequently made about price fixing.

“To resolve these complaints and to introduce competition on the Moville to Derry route the Montgomery family, of Moville and Derry, decided to put their own steamers on the route. The Montgomery’s were an Ulster-Scots gentry family who had first settled in South Donegal. 

“In 1750, Samuel Montgomery came from there to Derry, where he was a wholesale wine merchant. He married Ann Porter, from Greencastle, and bought an estate of sixty acres at Moville to build a family home called ‘New Park.’

“Over the years, the Montgomery family members called ‘New Park’ home but most of them spent long periods abroad. In spite of this, they spent thousands of pounds developing the area as part of a plan to establish Moville as a seaside town and spa. They built houses, roads, a school, a church, and a wooden wharf to encourage trade by steamers in Lough Foyle,” said Rosie Moulden.

Henry Hutchinson Montgomery was an Anglican bishop and author. Ordained, in 1871, he served as curate in England. In 1879, he was appointed Vicar of St Mark's Kennington and from there, he was appointed to be Lord Bishop of Tasmania in 1889. 

Bishop Montgomery inherited ‘New Park’ in 1887. He, and his family, returned to London, in 1902, and spent the summers at ‘New Park.’ He retired in 1919 and from 1921 lived in New Park, where he died on 25 November 1932.

According to Rosie: “The Montgomery family had already built the ‘Wooden Wharf’, in Moville, around 1869, so they established the Derry and Moville Steam Packet Company, in 1896, to add competition to Steel and Bennie on the Moville to Derry service. The company name seems to have been changed to the Moville Steamship Company, in 1898.

“The company ran paddle steamers on Moville to Derry daily services and was later contracted to supply tender services for the Anchor Line’s trans-Atlantic liners calling into Moville Bay.

“Competition between the two services appears to have been very gentlemanly, by today’s standards. The Montgomery’s owned the ‘Wooden Wharf’ but allowed their competitors to use it on a first come, best berth basis. The competition lasted until Steel and Bennie withdrew from the Foyle, in 1906.

“The trans-Atlantic liner trade was disrupted by World War I and some of the company’s steamers were requisitioned by the Admiralty for wartime services. After the war, whilst the liners returned, the War of Independence and the Civil War disrupted trade on the Foyle,” said Rosie.

The local IRA raided ‘New Park’ for guns on one occasion and later raided the ‘Lady Clare’ as she tied up at the Wooden Wharf on arrival from Derry. Passengers were searched and cargo was taken. 

Bishop Montgomery was on board, dressed in his full bishop’s rig. He was assisted ashore unsearched.

Rosie said: “As motor coaches and freight lorries increased, real competition began for the Moville Steamship Company. 

“When the Anchor Line contract was cancelled in 1928, the writing was on the wall and the Moville Steamship Company went into liquidation shortly afterwards.

“The Company operated a number of paddle steamers on the Foyle. The ‘Jeanie Deans’ was built by Barclay, Curle and Company Limited, Glasgow, in 1884, for the North British Steam Packet Co to run on the Clyde. She was sold to the Derry and Moville Steam Packet Company in 1896.

“She was 271 grt, 210.0 ft long with a beam of 20.1 ft and powered by a 166 HP engine. When she arrived, she was well fitted out and capable of doing 17 knots, but she was not maintained very well on Lough Foyle. She made her first trip on the Derry to Moville run in March 1896,” said Rosie.

‘Jeanie Deans’ was sold to Mr A Dawson Reid, in 1897, and operated by Clyde Steamers Limited. She was broken up in 1920.

The ‘Earl of Dunraven’ was built by JT Eltringham, South Shields, in 1888 for the Earl Towage Company ((Martin and Marquand, Cardiff) for use as a tug and summer excursion trade in the Bristol Channel. She was 174grt, 122.6 ft long, with a beam of 20.3ft and powered by a single cylinder, 98nhp, engine.

Rosie Moulden said: “’Earl of Dunraven’ was purchased by Moville Steamship Company and came to Lough Foyle, in 1896. 

“On the evening of June 28,1914, the Anchor Line’s ‘California’ ran aground, in dense fog, on Tory Island. The ‘Cynthia’ and the ‘Earl of Dunraven’ were despatched from Lough Foyle to go to her assistance.

“As part of the rescue, the Greencastle lifeboat, ‘Brittan Willis’, was launched at 21:00 and taken in tow by the ‘Dunraven’ and towed to Tory. The lifeboat remained on station there for 12 hours before returning to Greencastle. She was recalled to the ‘California’ on July 1, to standby the large number of men who were engaged in the salvage operations. She remained in attendance until July 5.

“During WWI ‘Dunraven’ was taken up by the Admiralty, converted to a paddle minesweeper but released from Admiralty service shortly afterwards. On May 9, 1917, she was off Malin Head, waiting to pick up a sailing ship to tow into Derry, when she was run down by the patrol trawler HMS ‘Sethon’ and sank six miles WNW of Inishtrahull Light,” said Rosie.

The ‘Lady Clare’ was built in 1891 by J MacArthur and Company, Paisley, for the North British Railway Company’s service up the Gareloch from Craigendoran, and latterly Greenock.  She was 257 grt, 180 feet long, with a beam of 19 feet, and powered by a single cylinder 115hp engine.

Rosie said: “In 1906, ‘Lady Clare’ was sold to the Moville Steamship Company for employment on Lough Foyle, based at Derry. 

“Her duties included tendering to the deep-sea passenger ships, which called off Moville on their way from Glasgow and Liverpool to the United States and Canada. 

“At the start of the First World War the transatlantic liners ceased trading and she was laid up.

“In WWI, ‘Lady Clare’ was requisitioned by the Admiralty, from May 25, 1917 until December 24, 1918, and converted to serve as a minesweeper, based at Belfast. She survived the hostilities unscathed and returned to Lough Foyle, sailing principally to Moville but also visiting Portrush. The liners returned to Moville Bay but a change to immigration laws in 1925 led to a downturn in trade and the ‘Lady Clare’ was laid up at Derry,” said Rosie.

‘Lady Clare’ remained for three years until she was towed back to the Clyde in March 1928. She was broken up in Dumbarton, in 1927.

The ‘Cynthia’ was built by JT Eltringham & Company, South Shields, in 1892 for William Watkins, London. She was 244grt, 153.4 ft long with a beam of 21.4 ft, powered by a 2-cylinder 98nhp engine.

She traded on the English South Coast, out of Ramsgate and Hastings, and was bought by the Derry & Moville Steam Packet Company in 1907.

According to Rosie, ‘Cynthia’ worked as a tug on Lough Foyle, as a tender to the Anchor Line ships in Moville Bay and on the Derry to Moville run. She also made excursion trips to Portrush and Tory Island.

She added: “When the SS ‘California’ ran aground on Tory Island in June,1914, ‘Cynthia’ took 300 Irish passengers off the liner and took them to Derry. She was accompanied on this rescue by the ‘Lady Clare’ and the Greencastle RNLI lifeboat.

“’Cynthia’ was requisitioned by the Admiralty as a minesweeper, in February 1917, but was returned to owner on May 24 of the same year. 

“She continued working on the Foyle and was bought by the Anchor Line, in 1927, and retained on the Foyle as a tender. She was sold to Stewart and Hewitt, Dublin, in 1931.

“She was lost on February 25, 1933, when she broke her moorings in Dun Laoghaire during a gale, and was wrecked on the West Pier,” said Rosie.

The ‘Flying Fox’ was built by JT Eltringham, South Shields, in 1885, for the Clyde Shipping Company. She was 174grt, 122.5 ft long, with a beam of 20.3 ft, and powered by a single cylinder 98nhp engine.

Rosie Moulden revealed: “’Flying Fox’ was used as a tug for the Clyde and Cork services. During WWI. She was requisitioned by the Admiralty for Harbour and Dockyard services and renamed Flying Fox II.’

“She took part in the rescue operations after the “Lusitania” was torpedoed by U-20, off the Old Head of Kinsale, on May 7, 1915.

“She was bought by Moville Steamship Company, on 24 April 1919, and renamed ‘Cragbue’ in August 1919. Her two funnels were mounted athwartships, instead of fore and aft, and she is reported to have been the ugliest thing ever seen afloat on the Foyle. 

“When Moville Steamship Company went out of business, in 1927, she was sold by liquidators to Anchor Line Limited. She was scrapped at Holywell, North Wales, in October 1929,” said Rosie.

And finally, in a Parliamentary Question, in Dáil Éireann on May 23,1928, Frank Carney, Fianna Fail TD for Donegal asked: “The Minister for Industry and Commerce, whether he is aware that the Anchor Line Steamship Company are about to dispense with the services of the Moville Steamship Company in doing their tender work, as a result of which the latter company will be forced into liquidation; and whether he is aware that the boat engaged in the tender work, which belongs to the Moville Steamship Company, is the only means by which produce and livestock can be transported to Derry for shipment, and that very considerable hardship will result on its removal?”

Minister Patrick McGilligan, Minister for Industry and Commerce (Fine Gael) replied: “The Anchor Line has provided a tender of its own for this service, and in consequence has given notice to the Moville Steamship Company of the termination on June 14 of that company's present contract. 

“The position is a serious one for the Moville Steamship Company, which is only a small concern. Its representatives have interviewed my Department on the matter, which is considering whether any steps could be taken to mitigate the resulting hardship.”

“The Government gave no assistance and the company went into liquidation,” concluded Rosie Moulden.

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