Roamer: Obituary - Roy Snowden

Tireless heritage campaigner Roy Snowden
Tireless heritage campaigner Roy Snowden

One of Northern Ireland’s proudest legacies, heralded here and around the world, is shipbuilding.

Roy Snowden, a regular contributor to this page, was devoted to keeping our maritime heritage alive and sharing our unique nautical history.

Very sadly, Roy passed away peacefully at home in Portadown late on Friday night aged just 70.

His wife Geraldine was at his side.

As vice-chairman of the Nomadic Preservation Society, a key member of the Nomadic Charitable Trust and a leading light in the World Ship Society, Roy often shared his maritime stories – particularly about the Nomadic – with Roamer-readers.

It was just earlier last week that he rang Roamer to explain, with characteristic enthusiasm, that a full list of passengers’ names was available, detailing everyone who’d been ferried by Nomadic from the shallow waters of Cherbourg out to Titanic at her deep-water mooring.

The whole world knew about Belfast’s ill-fated RMS Titanic but it wasn’t until a decade ago that Northern Ireland became properly aware that the iconic White Star Liner’s historic ‘little sister’ – SS Nomadic – was languishing in Le Havre.

With heroic service in two World Wars, over 50 years’ experience of carrying thousands of passengers to the world’s largest trans-Atlantic liners and nearly 30 years as a restaurant and party-venue moored beside the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Nomadic had a million stories to tell.

Roy Snowden told them, and was one of the tireless team of stalwarts who campaigned to bring Nomadic back to the river where she was built and launched. He was a hugely influential figure during her restoration.

Educated at Wallace High School in Lisburn, Roy excelled at a number of sports including hockey, cricket, soccer and golf.

In his business life he was for 20 years the general manager of Holmes Catering Services, until he retired early for health reasons.

The success of the SaveNomadic.com campaign led to the formation of the Nomadic Preservation Society, with Roy as a founder member and first chairman.

Following Nomadic’s triumphant return to Belfast in July 2006, the Department for Social Development set up the Nomadic Charitable Trust and Roy was appointed a board member, representing both the NPS and the World Ship Society, as he was secretary of the Northern Ireland branch.

He was instrumental in organising much of the detail to get Nomadic home to Belfast.

As a result, he was asked to be a Trustee of the Nomadic Charitable Trust (NCT) in early 2006 - a position he held until now.

Preservation Society chairman David Scott-Beddard told Roamer “Roy put a colossal amount of work into the project, had an amazing range of contacts and had a wonderful ability to draw people in with his sheer enthusiasm. He was a very kind man who, despite the challenges, never seemed to lose his temper and was a great peacekeeper. The loss to his family and to the NPS simply cannot be measured and without doubt, SS Nomadic is his legacy.”

Denis Rooney, who was chairman of the Nomadic Charitable Trust, said: “Roy was very passionate about the Nomadic and he put a great of time and effort into it.”

In June 2014 Roy was delighted to tell Roamer-readers that, for a short time only, smoke was seen to be emanating from Nomadic’s funnel.

The experiment was “only a make-shift setup to give a rough idea of the final effect” he explained.

A ‘fogging machine’ had been temporarily hoisted up the front ladder of the funnel and the ‘smoke’ was not actually coming out of the funnel, but it added ‘a little extra’ to his beloved ship.

On several occasions in recent years Roy recounted his World Ship Society’s tours of visiting cruise liners. I reported on a Society visit to one of the vast, sleek vessels down at the harbour, and observed Roy’s characteristic geniality when he eloquently thanked the liner’s captain and crew and handed over a number of gifts commemorating the vessel’s short sojourn on the Lagan.

Roy shared an exciting piece of news here last year when he told us that Nomadic had been rated by Trip Advisor as first on their list of over 150 tourist attractions in and around Belfast!

This year he proudly announced that SS Nomadic in the Hamilton Dry Dock was shortlisted for a National Heritage Award by the Association for Heritage Interpretation’s (AHI).

Sadly, at AHI’s conference in October the winning nomination was revealed and it wasn’t the Nomadic!

But a mightily impressive Runner Up tag was not to be sniffed out and Roy was delighted.

Several months ago in September Roy told us on this page about a special fund-raising auction being held in April 2016 when a rare bottle of Titanic whiskey will come under the hammer, and the proceeds of the sale will go to Nomadic.

The historic hooch had been donated by Roy’s friend Des Cox, a cruise-company director who said “when he approached me with the fund-raising suggestion it was without a moment’s hesitation that I agreed to help!”

“Roy has been a phenomenal inspiration,” his close friend and Society-colleague David Young told me. “He was the backbone of our organisation and he never, ever looked for recognition.”

Roy Snowden is survived by his widow Geraldine, sons Mark and Michael, his five grandchildren and wider family circle.