Bangor Bay & Harbour - A Pictorial History
Authors: Ian Wilson & Andrew Jaggers
Publishers: North Down Heritage Centre
Publication Date: 2002
Bangor, on the southern shore of Belfast Lough, has a maritime tradition extending back to seafaring Early Christians and their seventh-century missionary voyages. With the development of the town as a thriving seaside resort in Victorian times, Bangor Bay was the focal point for regattas, fleet visits and steamer excursions, and attractions like Pickie Pool and Laird's Boats became popular. Meanwhile cargo vessels passed in and out regularly.
All these are featured among the hundred photographs in this book, very few of
which have been published before. The story is brought up to date with a colour section depicting highlights of recent years since the establishment of a new harbour and splendid Marina.
"From curraghs to catamarans" might be an appropriate summing-up of Bangor Bay through the centuries! Early in the seventh century, it was from Bangor that the great Irish missionary Saints, Columbanus and Gall, departed on sea voyages to the Continent, and there was constant coming and going to the Christian sites of the West of Scotland. The sea was the busy highway when land routes were dangerous and impassable. As the most convincing explanation for the name "Bangor" comes from the Irish for horns it may well have been the shape of the bay with its symmetrical headlands, seen from the sea, that gave the place its name.
Columbanus, Gall and their fellow missionaries did not set off in frail craft praying for miraculous conveyance; their hide-covered curraghs would have been fifty or more feet long, carrying perhaps sixteen or seventeen. After all, nearly a thousand years before, the Greek navigator Pytheas had sailed through the North Channel on his pioneering exploration of the British Isles! All sailors in these waters today are heirs to a long tradition.
Bangor,harbour is situated at a geographically very accessible point near the mouth of Belfast Lough, on the southern shore. Nowadays that makes the marina and harbour very appealing for cruising yachts and sheltering fishing boats. However, until the construction of the huge North Breakwater in 1984, a crucial vulnerability to northerly winds badly hampered commercial and leisure use. The continuing need of shelter for the bay is revealed by many of our photographs. Even in the late 18th century, attempts were being made by local landlord Colonel Robert Ward to build a mole, and well within memory are winter gales which left Queen's Parade strewn with seaweed and stones, while buffeted pedestrians dodged the breaking waves!
It was largely due to this disadvantage that, as a port, Bangor did not progress much beyond supplying local needs. At three points, though, it almost became established as an important cross-channel passenger terminus : in 1807 when a mail station was required, but a new harbour at Donaghadee was preferred; in 1889, when a service ran to the Isle of Man, but was discontinued; and in 1912, when Scottish holiday-makers could sail direct from Greenock. But, as our photographs will show, there was plenty of varied trade over the years, and the harbour had a useful role in World War Two.
More leisurely times around the bay are also depicted, memories being evoked of Pickle Pool, the most famous in Ireland, Jimmy Laird's rowing boats and fishing from the old wooden pier!
Now, in the 21 st century, the bay is still busy, not just with yachts seeking the excellent facilities of the marina. In the harbour regularly can be seen large trawlers, mussel dredgers, restored sailing vessels - even "Tall Ships" occasionally - Naval and Customs vessels, salvage, research and survey ships - all availing of the proximity of Bangor to the main Irish Sea shipping routes - and the same tides, landmarks and rocks familiar to the Early Christian navigators!
This is a super book which contains 100 photographs including the following HM Ships, Diadem 1900, Majestic 1900?, Majestic again about 1900?, Naval Steam Pinnace 1894, Naval Whaler, King Edward VII in a whaler, Royal Naval Armada about 1900, The Channel Fleet 1908, includes 3 cruisers of the Gem class, battleships of the King Edward class & some Majestic class. There are also coastguards, HMS Hood, HMS Renown in the 1920's, and many photographs of the D-Day ships, the Queen's visit in 1958 and at the end in colour HMS bangor visits
HMS Belfast was built at Harland & Wolff Shipyard. Below is a Review of "From Belfast Lough to D-Day" a booklet Published by the North Down Heritage Centre.
From Belfast Lough to D-Day
A booklet published by North Down Heritage Centre
North Down Borough Council, Town Hall
Bangor Castle, Bangor, Co. Down
Northern Ireland. BT20 4BT
ISBN 0 9511562 17
This very interesting booklet, (64 pages, including many photographs), was first published in 1994 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of D-Day.
On the back cover of the booklet is a photograph of a plaque which is on the North Breakwater at Bangor in Co. Down. The plaque reads, "From here started the long hard march to allied victory - Dwight D Eisenhower. Opposite this point was the gathering area for a massive convoy of mixed ships which sailed to arrive at the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, 6th, June 1944".
Ask most people what the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast (Harland and Wolff was formed in1861 by Edward James Harland (1831-1895) and Hamburg-born Gustav Wilhelm Wolff (1834-1913 ) is famous for, and they will reply that it is where the Titanic was built. True, but it should also be famous for its contribution to the war effort between 1939 and 1945 when its workforce of 30,000 delivered some 30 new ships each and every year of the war, as well as undertaking countless repair jobs.
I always knew that Northern Ireland had played a significant role in the Second World War, but it was not until I read this booklet that I realised how important that role was.
Northern Ireland was, of course, and still is, a part of the United Kingdom, and occupied a crucial geographical and strategic position, with Atlantic ports denied to Britain because the Irish Republic, (Eire), remained ‘neutral’ throughout the war.
Belfast Lough and indeed Londonderry, (Lough Foyle), became important rendezvous points for convoys.
This excellent booklet also mentions the many new airfields - a dozen or more, that were built in Northern Ireland to provide air cover and reconnaissance out over the Atlantic. In addition, Lough Erne had several bases equipped for flying boats, and it was in fact a Catalina from Lough Erne that spotted and reported the position of the ‘Bismark’.
The importance of Belfast, the shipyards and the nearby Shorts aircraft factories was not lost on the Germans who launched many air raids on the area. On Easter Tuesday 1941 two hundred tons of bombs and eight hundred incendiaries were dropped causing the most costly air raid in the U.K. in human terms, outside London, of the entire war.
Much of the booklet is taken up with personal stories from local people, naval ratings from both sides of the Atlantic, and other memories. They are all extremely interesting, and I am so pleased that they were included.
Once America had joined the war the build up of strength in Northern Ireland really took off with an estimated 300,000 U.S. servicemen passing through, and with a pre D-Day peak of 120,000 stationed at one time.
As the build up to D-Day progressed, the scene in Belfast Lough must have been inspiring. At the end of May 1944, the following ships, (amongst others), were moored in readiness:- U.S.S. Battleships Texas, Nevada, and Arkansas. U.S.S. Cruisers Tuscaloosa and Quincy, the Royal Navy Cruisers Glasgow, Bellona, Black Prince, Enterprise and Hawkins, and the Free French Cruisers Montcalm and Georges Leygues.
The booklet then describes the roles that these various ships and their crews undertook during D-Day and afterwards. In my view this book is a mine of information for anyone interested in naval history of the Second World War. Long may it remain in print.
Andy Day. 2007.