A wonderful note has arrived in Roamer’s mailbox about the old ferry that sailed between Ardrossan and Portrush.
More about that in a moment but first we’re back with Mary Poppins, thanks to another note signed by Reba.
She read Friday’s account of Lurgan-born poet, painter and writer George William ‘AE’ Russell who was friendly with Australian author Pamela Travers and inspired her to publish her Mary Poppins stories.
“I sent the article to my cousin who lives in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia,” Reba’s email continued, “who shared it with a lady called Carmel who is involved with the Mary Poppins Society.”
Helen Lyndon Goff (Pamela Travers was her pen name) was born in Maryborough in 1899, where her Irish-descended father Travers Robert Goff was a bank manager.
They lived above the bank, still standing on Maryborough’s main street, until they moved on when Helen was a youngster.
Some think she named her umbrella-borne singing nanny after the town of her birth, where Poppins and Pamela are much celebrated today.
As well as a museum and regular commemorations, folk flock to the town for “a jolly ‘oliday with Mary”!
There’s a life-sized Poppins statue outside the bank where her author was born.
Reba’s cousin explained what happened when Carmel received Roamer’s article.
“She said the council is converting the building next to the Mary Poppins statue into a literary museum which will have two sections devoted to Mary Poppins. One for her books and stories and the other about the life of the author. Carmel said she would have the article framed and hung in the museum.”
Another note in Roamer’s mailbox related to Friday’s short account about the Scottish ferry that plied the sea between Ardrossan and Portrush in days of yore.
Accompanied by some old photos of the ship, the topic was introduced in a reader’s letter which began: “Portrush is expecting a large number of folk for the Golf Open Championship this year, well, here is what was happening some 100 years ago on a daily basis through July and August, the SS Hazel delivering visitors from Ardrossan in Scotland.”
The photo on Friday’s page showed the ferry docking in Portrush with Scottish passengers in 1909.
Roamer asked for further information about the Hazel and was delighted to get a quick response from a very knowledgeable source, Hugh McGrattan, former editor of the Coleraine Chronicle and author of the book Portrush: The Port on the Promontory.
His letter started: “I was intrigued to see the item on the TSS Hazel last Friday.”
TSS stands for ‘Twin Screw Steamer’, and the rest of today’s page about the vessel comes from Hugh.
The Hazel with its single bright-red funnel is the Portrush ferry boat that everyone remembers, although it was only one of a score of vessels that operated between the north coast and Scotland in the 19th and early 20th century.
Some of the ships’ names – such as Melmore and Ganiamore, along with Hazel – are now immortalised in street names in Portrush.
The first steamer services between Scotland and for a time the north of England (Morecambe and Heysham) began soon after construction on the Portrush Harbour was started in 1827.
The work went on for about eight years until the harbour we know today was completed.
The Hazel – better remembered as The Scotch Boat, which was the collective term for the vessels linking Portrush with the Clyde ports – had a top speed of 19 knots and could do a round trip between Portrush and Ardrossan every day. Portrush was then a town with around 1,500 inhabitants, so with several hundred Scottish visitors arriving each morning the Scottish dialect was heard more often in the streets of Portrush than the familiar North Antrim accent.
The one-way trip took about four hours but the Hazel, having been designed especially for the route, had a shallow draft, to ease her entry into and out of Portrush Harbour.
As a result, she had a reputation for rolling quite a bit in even calm seas, making it quite an adventurous crossing!
The golden era of The Scotch Boat ended in August 1914, of course, when the Clyde routes quickly disappeared as war broke out.
The Hazel made her last trip on August 6 with 232 passengers. Then she sailed off to a new role as a grey-painted Admiralty messenger ship.
The Scotch Boat never returned to Portrush, despite several attempts to reinstate it over the years.
In terms of numbers, of course, the Hazel’s daily complement of several hundred passengers falls far short of the scores of thousands expected to visit Portrush for the Open next July. But, while on the subject of numbers, it is worth mentioning that on one of the first of the famous Portrush fireworks displays held after the Secord World War, a huge crowd of 16,231 spectators crowded on to Ramore Hill for the big event.
Special safety patrols were organised by the Urban Council as there were fears that some people might start falling over the headland and into the sea!
Thanks to Hugh McGrattan for sharing Portrush’s intriguing maritime and pyrotechnic history here.
Amazon seems to have run out of copies of his book about the Port on the Promontory, published around three years ago, but Hugh says: “I believe they may still have copies in Waterstones and Easons.”