Seafaring Inishowen artist exhibiting in Maritime Museum

Home is the sailor home from the sea

A seafaring Inishowen artist who undertook a painting of every vessel on which he served, is exhibiting his work in Inishowen Maritime Museum.

George Doherty was born in Whitecastle, on a farm bordering the shores of Lough Foyle. He was reared watching all the ships trading with Derry, literally, passing his door.

Speaking to Donegal Live, George recalled, in the 1950s and 1960s, watching ships of the old established shipping companies passing by his home, in what was literally “the end of an era.”

George said: “There was the Burns and Laird Line’s ships carrying general cargo, livestock and passengers to Heysham and Ardrossan and the Belfast Steamship Company’s ships carrying cargo and cattle to Liverpool.

“Burns and Laird ran a feeder service between Derry and Coleraine using the 'Starfinch', a Clyde 'Puffer, with my uncle, Ernie Doherty, in her crew.

“The coasters of John Kelly and Sons, Belfast; Coe’s of Liverpool; and Gardner’s and Robertson’s, of Glasgow, supplied the whole North West with coal through Derry. Robertson’s 'Gem Line' would have had six, or seven, ships per week coming into Derry with coal for the city merchants and coke, from the Manchester Canal, and limestone, from North Wales and Norway, to feed the newly established complex of British Oxygen and DuPont, in Lisahally.

“Large ships brought grain from America and Canada to McCorkell’s Mills on Derry Quays, smaller deep-sea ships brought phosphate blend stock from Casablanca to the Ulster Fertiliser plant, in Lisahally,” said George.

In 1957, Shell opened a new terminal in Pennyburn which created more tanker traffic and this was further increased by the new oil jetty for Coolkeeragh power station. Larger tankers became frequent visitors.

George said: “Ships, of all shapes and sizes, were engaged in the potato trade. Seed potatoes from all over the North West were shipped to Egypt, Israel, Cyprus and the Canaries and some returned as “early’s” to the local merchants, all in large ships, whilst the smallest of “Chants” took seed to Boston, Lincolnshire.

“The Royal Navy had frigates and submarines attached to the NATO Anti-submarine training establishment in HMS 'Sea Eagle' at Ebrington Barracks. This establishment brought warships and auxiliaries from all the NATO navies to Derry and caused the positioning of RAF, RFA and Naval auxiliary launches at Dorman’s Wharf, on the Waterside.

“I watched all of these ships passing as I was growing up and watched out for them as I was fishing salmon in my family’s fishing punt. The salmon fishing and sailing these punts became another of my lifelong passions.

“I started MY sea-going career, in 1960, when I joined John Kelly and Sons' Ballylagan' as a 16-year old deckboy,” said George.

George continued at sea, both coasting and foreign-going, for the next 10 years. His passion for the salmon fishing did not desert him and he always tried to organise his trips so that he could be at home for the salmon fishing season.

This also coincided with the local regatta season so he got his punt sailing too.

In 1970, George took a job as AB / Signalman on the RFA tug 'Empire Rosa' which was based in Derry to service the naval ships in port and to provide port towage services to the Harbour Commissioners.

Smiling, George said: “The rest, as they say, is history. When the RFA tugs were withdrawn from Derry, I transferred to the 'Craigdarragh' which the Harbour Commissioners had chartered in to fill the gap before they started buying their own towage fleet.

“Since then I have served on each of the harbour fleet vessels.”

George Doherty was awarded the MBE, in the 2006 New Year’s Honours List, for services to the Port Industry.

He retired, officially, in 2011 but continued to work on the tugs, on a part- time basis, until 2013.

After his retirement, George, took up painting and set out to paint a picture of each boat on which he had served.

He said: “The Covid-19 lockdown gave me even more time and spurred me on to finish his task.”

The George Doherty Exhibition in the Inishowen Maritime Museum is sponsored by Foyle Port and contains all his portfolio of harbour vessels and a history of each of them.

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