The Maid of Antrim
Currently being refurbished, the Maid was a common sight on Lough Neagh until 1998
At present, the passenger vessel the Maid of Antrim is standing on the shore of Lough Neagh, being refurbished. Between 1967 and 1998, however, the Maid sailed daily across the lough from Easter to October, its classic lines and easy gait distinguishing her from any other vessel.
The Maid of Antrim was built in Liverpool in 1963 and ran for two years out of Queensborough up the Gareloch and Holy Lock as the Scots Guard. It was bought in 1965 by John Rainey of Larne and operated at Antrim in 1965 and Carrickfergus in 1966.
The Maid’s first cruise on Lough Neagh was from Toome to Coney Island on the morning of Saturday, June 16, 1967. The remainder of that day was spent running one hour cruises from the Coney Island Festival. The family crew slept aboard at Coney Island and made passage to the Sixmilewater on Sunday in time to operate further one hour cruises starting at 2pm.
For the next 32 years the Maid operated full-time during the summer months, conducting varied cruises from and around the existing harbours and islands. Seasonal highlights included late night party bookings with stops and barbeques at Rams Island, Coney Island, Ballyronan, Cranfield, the Gaugers, the Battery, Maghery, Toomebridge and Portglenone. High winds and river floods were, of course, the cause of many cancellations.
Disaster overtook the Maid and her family crew on September 6, 1974, when James Rainey Jnr, aged 17, was lost overboard during a night cruise. His body was not recovered until ten days later near Hutton’s Point. This family tragedy almost resulted in the demise of the Maid of Antrim’s operation, but for the tenacity and foresight of the remaining young family, who voted to carry on in recognition of the work and interest that James had put into the operation.
And so it was that during 1975 and 1976 the Maid was taken out of the Lough for cruises on Lough Foyle for two weeks in May and two in September, giving the crew a welcome and interesting change of venue—and the local residents a chance to view the city and surroundings from their own beautiful River Foyle, which had been without a permanent passenger cruise vessel for many years. The remainder of those years were spent as usual on Lough Neagh.
The Maid was bought by Antrim Borough Council in 1977 and continued plying cruises until the end of 1998, exclusively on Lough Neagh except for a two week visit to Belfast Lough in July 1991 to coincide with the Tall Ships visit. In all, she gave a total of 32 consecutive years of sterling service, providing locals and visitors with the opportunity to see our largest lough and unique lower River Bann at close quarters and in relative comfort. The Maid of Antrim had, in those years, become part of Lough Neagh’s attraction and history—and something of a pet to those who crewed and skippered her!
By Jim McGarry. Reproduced with kind permission of the River Bann and Lough Neagh Association 2004.