Keeping alive the story of lifeboat heroes from Donaghadee

MV Princess Victoria
MV Princess Victoria

A service will take place tomorrow in Donaghadee to mark the 65th anniversary of a ferry disaster which resulted in the greatest peacetime loss of life in UK waters.

On the morning of January 31, 1953 the MV Princess Victoria left Stranraer bound for Larne, but due to a severe storm it sank off the coast of Scotland with the loss of 134 people.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution's volunteer crew at ''Donaghadee in Northern Ireland, aboard the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat, risked their ''lives in monstrous seas to save 33 passengers.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution's volunteer crew at ''Donaghadee in Northern Ireland, aboard the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat, risked their ''lives in monstrous seas to save 33 passengers.

The Donaghadee lifeboat Sir Samuel Kelly rescued 33 of the 44 survivors from the wreck and brought in many more bodies the following day.

The Rector of Donaghadee Parish, Reverend Ian Gamble, said: “This is an opportunity to commemorate a disaster that made a lasting impression on Donaghadee.

“Many people still alive have painful memories of the awful news and the bodies being brought ashore following that dreadful storm.

“This service will be a time to remember those who died in the tragedy and the grief of their families, but also to celebrate the astonishing bravery of the lifeboat crews, and the crews of other ships that came to the rescue in the most extreme conditions.”

Sir Samuel Kelly

Sir Samuel Kelly

The service will be held in Donaghadee Parish Church (Church of Ireland) at 3.30pm on Sunday and will be accompanied by an exhibition in the church hall, organised by Donaghadee Heritage Preservation Company with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Ards and North Down Borough Council.

In addition, Stephen Cameron, who wrote the book on the Princess Victoria tragedy ‘Death in the North Channel’ gave a talk in the church hall last night.

Donaghadee Heritage’s chair Kenneth Walsh said: “Taken together, the service and the exhibition represents an important step forward for the town in obtaining recognition for the significance of the Princess Victoria disaster, and will give greater impetus to our campaign to create a permanent memorial to the tragedy in the shape of a heritage centre centred around the historic lifeboat.

“With help from Ards and North Down Council we are taking steps to conserve and restore the lifeboat, and we have submitted preliminary drawings to the planning office to begin the process leading up to a formal application for planning permission.”

An artist's impression of how the exhibit featuringthe  Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat could look

An artist's impression of how the exhibit featuringthe Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat could look

He continued: “The lifeboat is sitting at the marina, it’s in quite bad state.

“We’re raising money for the last few years to get the boat covered in the first instance. We have the funding available but need permission.

“And then hopefully it will be restored to not quite its former glory but a static display exhibit. That will depend on what funding comes.”

The last of Sir Samuel Kelly’s crew passed away last year.

Mr Walsh said: “We lost the last crew member last year. Hugh Nelson Jnr, who died about nine months ago, was actually the father of one of our directors Shirley Cochrane.

“I believe that there is a survivor still alive living in England, quite an elderly gentleman now. Unfortunately he can’t be with us this weekend.”

He added: “A lot of people remember what they were doing the day when the Princess Victoria sank.

“What we’re attempting to do is keep the story alive because the number of people who remember it are now 70 years plus.”