Roamer: An earl and a steamroller helped make history at two big boating occasions

(1)All Too Much for the Tractor. The Enniskillen Comes to a
(1)All Too Much for the Tractor. The Enniskillen Comes to a

The picturesque and historic island-capital of Fermanagh’s Lakelands is known world-wide, but there’s another Enniskillen that’s much less recounted.

And it came from Bangor, County Down, in 1930!

After journeying to Belfast on a heavy-duty ‘bogey lorry’ this lesser-known Enniskillen was loaded onto a specially modified railway wagon at Adelaide Station and after an arduous, seven-hour steam journey westwards, it finally

arrived at the town that it was named after.

Local folk were enormously excited, exactly 86 years ago today, when the 50-foot pleasure-boat called The Enniskillen embarked on her test-run on Lough Erne.

The trip ended after a few yards when the new boat’s engine wheezed, spluttered and stopped.

“A hurried examination revealed that there was no petrol,” the Impartial Reporter newspaper recounted, adding “a further search showed that there wasn’t a drop of petrol on board!”

With her tank duly topped up, The Enniskillen’s formal maiden voyage began at 9 o’clock in the evening.

The pleasure boat soon became one of the town’s top visitor attractions, but it was a hard-Erned success!

Local lady Joan Carson has some old pictures from a photo album belonging to Gladys Irvin which vividly recall a launch-day plagued with embarrassing glitches.

The boat was pulled very slowly by a sturdy motor tractor, inch by tortuous inch, from its ‘mooring’ in one of the railway station’s cattle pens to the nearby Pound Brae.

Even though this was only a few yards it was all too much for the tractor, which seized up and ground to an ignominious halt.

The marooned boat and its overheated tractor caused a long traffic jam.

One irate motorist suggested calling in the local police station’s tug-o’- war team.

Another driver shouted from his stationary car “Send for Councillor Bradley’s ass!”

But the civic donkey and the constabulary’s pullers were otherwise engaged!

“The boat rested until the arrival of Town Sergeant Boyd and his steam roller” the Impartial Reporter later recounted.

The Enniskillen’s problematic journey through the town was watched by local folk lining the streets - “like a funeral” the Impartial reported - until it was put into the water at Henry Street at 9pm on Tuesday, June 17 “amidst rounds of cheers from many hundreds of town’s people.”

After she’d been properly provisioned with petrol “the boat gave an excellent display of her prowess in the water.”

Licensed for 100 passengers, M.B. Enniskillen ran daily sailings and group excursions from May to October each year, with morning, afternoon and evening cruises arranged for special parties.

A return trip from Enniskillen to the Lough Erne Hotel cost 2s 6d in 1933.

A season ticket enabled holders to cruise throughout the season for 12s 6d.

The excursion allowed time for passengers to explore the monastic ruins at Devenish or have refreshments at the Lough Erne Hotel.

The Enniskillen continued in service until WWII, when she was requisitioned by the British Army and subsequently sank during gunnery practice!

Around 150 years ago there was another greatly-celebrated nautical event on Lough Erne, which is being recreated later this year.

I’ve mentioned the local Lough Erne Heritage community organisation on this page a few times recently, and one of the group’s leading lights, Fred Ternan, has been keeping us updated about the historic, flat-bottomed, wooden ‘cots’ that were once so abundant.

“We recently put the first coat of paint on our Lough Erne cot” Fred told me a few weeks ago, since when they’ve applied more coats.

The first of two traditional cots is now ready for people “to form teams of three who can then practice ‘pulling’ the Lough Erne cot after we put it in the water,” said Mr Ternan, adding “with some practice we can then run races between those teams on the day of the launch of the two Lough Erne cots in August. On that day we hope to recreate the famous cot race of the 1860s.”

The historic race around a century and a half ago was held after a yachting regatta, and in lieu of prizes, the crews of the winning cots asked the then Lord Erne to campaign for the return of local parish priest Father Clarke from America to Newtownbutler.

Father Clarke had previously “officiated at a mixed marriage which apparently was illegal,” Fred explained. “He was going to be arrested but was ‘tipped off’ by a friendly policeman.”

Dressed as a tramp Father Clarke escaped to America.

Lord Erne intervened, and the priest was allowed to return to Newtownbutler where he served out his days in the parish.

“Descendants of the original cot race competitors are still around and we hope to have them involved,” said Fred. “It will be a big day.”

The Lough Erne Heritage group also hopes “to demonstrate cot racing in various places throughout the Erne Waterway,” Fred explained. “This will encourage others to build their own cots and develop their own teams.”

“We will let you know the date of the big race day in August when we have it established,” he added.

Watch this space!