Sunday, 4 August 2019

Belfast Steamship Company

Full steam ahead!

I couldn't resist posting the nostalgic advertisement (below) placed the in the 1974 street directory.

We frequently sailed to Liverpool on these ships.

They were very popular in Northern Ireland.

I seem to recall that it took ages for the ferries to negotiate the series of docks at Liverpool!

Do any readers have memories of their voyages in the MV Ulster Prince or MV Ulster Queen?

I believe there was an MV Ulster Monarch, too.

The Belfast Steamship Company was taken over by P&O in 1975.

First published in May, 2010.


Sandy said...

Always just known as the "Liverpool Boat". Once, while travelling with my father at a young age I was woken around midnight by the cabin door being smashed down. Terrified, I sat up only to see Dad and the Bursar behind him with an axe! Apparently I had locked the door as instructed and then fallen asleep, the plan being that Dad would tap on the door to wake me up when he was ready for bed and I would let him in. A good plan, the only problem being that I didn't awake. Ship's engines have a soporific effect on me!

PeterC said...

I remember them well, as I was a regular traveller between Belfast and Liverpool during the 1960s (and also on the service between Belfast and Glasgow also operated by Coast lines). The ships in the advertisement were introduced around 1967 to replace two older ships - the Ulster Monarch and the Ulster Prince. The former was the sole remaining member of a trio built in the late 1920s - the other two (Ulster Queen and yet another Ulster Prince) hadn't survived the war. I was on one of the first trips to Liverpool of one of the 1967 ships (I can't recall which one) - it broke down in the Mersey and had to be towed into dock by a tug.

At the time I lived in Holywood, and could watch the nightly procession of cross-channel steamers going down Belfast Lough. The Liverpool service was first, leaving Belfast at around 8.30. Then came the Glasgow service about 30 minutes later, and finally the British Rail service to Heysham about an hour after that (it had a much shorter journey, as it had no river or locks to negotiate at the other end). And during the summer there were daytime sailings to Ardrossan and the Isle of Man as well.

The advertisement extoling the standard of service was largely a myth - the ships were very uncomfortable in rough weather and the cabins (especially in steerage) were cramped and very basic. The earlier ships had notices in the passenger lounges stating how many people they could hold "when not occupied by cattle or other animals!"

Stephen said...

When were these fine ships taken out of service? I think if they still existed until 1987 I was on one of them at least.

School trip to York in about 1982, the school bully suffered the humiliation of mal de mer, a teacher left his cabin door open out of what was, in retrospect, a sense of social justice. His bullying days were over!

Sandy, it was probably the diesel fumes that knocked you out!

TerryDean said...

I used to work on these both these ship's, the MV Ulster Prince & Queen for about 5 yrs. I started off as a galley boy, pantry boy & then on to 2nd class bedroom steward, aft barman, 1st class barman, 1st class bedroom steward & then went on to engineer steward & finaly officer steward. Whilst on the ship I past my steering ticket, steering the ship even in force 9 gales! I was well impressed with myself at the time. I remember all the officers with fond memories as all of them were not just officers but friends & colleagues. Neither of these two ships carried cattle only frieght, cars & passengers.

madpierre said...

I remember travelling across to see a Manchester united game using this ferry, It was late August or early September and i had arranged to stay with a friend from university and watch United play Leicester City, I got on the boat in Belfast and we set sail at about 10pm. Now, being a first timer to this particular boat i decided i would be able to catch a few hours of sleep on my way over once the bar had closed, unfortunately , i hadnt allowed for the gale on the night we sailed and the little old lady swaying from side to side through the bar telling everybody "it can only get worse"!.
As you said, once we arrived in the Mersey it took about 2 hours to get to the dock at Liverpool. I learnt from my experience and got a cabin for the return journey and for the record United won 5-0 so it was not a wasted journey!!!!

madpierre said...

Did you know that although most of the captains who sailed on the Belfast / Liverpool route were not not from Northern Ireland and would take the long way round the Copeland Islands. Those with local knowledge of the waters would take the shorter route between the Islands and the Mainland during the better weather. On its last voyage to Liverpool the Captain of the vessel, a local man whose name i have forgotten, sailed between the Copeland Islands and the Mainland to allow a last view of the ship and people on shore flashed their lights to say farewell.

Geoff said...

I travelled on the Ulster Queen from Liverpool in March 1968 (we arrived in Belfast on my father's birthday on the 29th) so she was only about 9 months in service then. I was my first time to Ireland, we were to live in Cookstown for about six months while my father worked on the cement works, and I can remember it clearly as I was so excited - I wasn't quite eight years old at the time.

I've always had a soft spot for the old lady and recently did some research. She served the Liverpool-Belfast route until it closed in 1985 from whence she went to the mediterranian and after changing hands a few times settled down to the Brindisi - Igoumenitsa route under the name of Poseidonia until 2003. After being laid up for a time she was renamed AL Kahfain and was assigned in 2004 to carry pilgrims from Egypt to Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately in November 2005 there was an explosion in the engine room and she sank in the resulting fire. There were no passengers on board but one crew member lost his life. I got this information from this site.

Trefor said...

I travelled often on these ships from 1932 to the early 50's. During the war I heard tales of an older ship, the Graphic, which refused to surrender to a U'boat in the first world war and ran for Belfast. I was told she entered the harbour 'with her funnels red hot'! On my one crossing during the war my father insisted I get out the lifejacket below the berth and put it on.The Irish Sea was full of u-boats then.
I travelled often in the post-war years. I liked the Ulster Prince best, she seemed bigger than the Monarch. The Ulster Duke looked as if she had been refloated from somewhere.You could see what looked like tide marks on her walls.
The first class in these ships was wonderful: all panelled walls, linen table cloths, soft lights and respectful stewards. The steerage was dreadful: a semi-circle of seats around a broad bare floor stinking of stale Guiness and piss.
There was always a sense of travel, especially of departure. An older generation ( before the first war) could remember when a man used to go round the decks with a bell, shouting 'any more for the shore?'
It was above all very pleasant to get up early, go on deck, and watch the Ulster coast slowly emerge out of the dawn.

Neil McK said...

I travelled on the Ulster Prince and the Ulster Monarch on several occasions. In fact, my late father, who arrived in Normandy by glider on D-Day was subsequently wounded and taken back to England on the Ulster Monarch, then serving as a hospital ship. As an Ulsterman he knew many of the crew...
The Ulster Prince was the larger of the two ships and more modern than her venerable sister. I have a very clear recollection of the clock on the Liver Building in Liverpool striking 9.30pm and immediately the sound of the 'donkey engine' used to pull the bows out {no bow thrusters in
those days}. These ships left Belfast at 8.30pm, whilst along the same Quay, the Burns & Laird liners left at 9pm for Glasgow and the Heysham ships at 9.40pm. I remember all these ships and considered them a civilised way of travelling.

Nellie Wark said...

While visiting Titanic Exhibition in Belfast I looked out at the docks and remembered my journeys with my parents on the LIVERPOOL to Belfast boat.
My parents were from the north west of Ireland but went to England in 1937. I was born in 1943. Every year we went to IRELAND on holiday travelling with our motorbike and sidecar, the van , then car - notice the progress as we became better off! We drove from the midlands to Liverpool and had to arrive by the middle of the afternoon because the car had to be loaded- by crane, in a big rope net!
There is lots more I could add - relating to the class system!!- but I am just trying to find out which dock was used at Belfast.

Timothy Belmont said...

They tied up at Donegall Quay, where the new Lagan footbridge is. Tim.

Anonymous said...

Well remember the feeling of dread when going Belfast-Liverpool, because that meant another term at ghastly boarding school...and the bliss of getting on board to come back Liverpool-Belfast. How different the Liver Building seemed then. This in the mid 50s.

Carrick boy said...

Remember them well and as others have said the advertisement didn't quite deliver. I do remember some awfully rough crosssings and my father insisting that sea sickness was 'only a state of mind'. My mother didn't agree. Once we got an upgrade to an owner's cabin with wonderful panelling. That was special. Certainly better than crossing the Irish Sea by Easy Jet!

Unknown said...

From time-to-time I google ‘Belfast Steamship Company’ to try and conjure memories of wonderful 1960s childhood holidays spent at my maternal grandparents in Bangor. And so I alighted on this blog and the realisation that I was not alone in missing the service. For a young boy, the excitement of the trip from Euston to Lime Street was only surpassed by the sight of either Ulster Prince or Ulster Queen in the docks. The boats might as well have been ocean liners from my then small perspective. To my parents despair, I don’t think I ever slept on the voyage to Belfast lest I might miss Bangor in the dawn light. As the boat neared Donegal Quay, there on the dockside would be my grandfather waving up.

Whenever I hear Van Morrison sing ‘Into the Mystic’, and more specifically the line ‘…when that foghorn blows I know I’m going home’, I wonder if he too was reflecting on that very journey. And when the foghorn did blow, I would jump out of my skin.

Jennifer Deakin (Nee Todd) said...

I have just seen your blog and thought I would add my memoires too. My father John Todd was the Chief Engineer for most of his working life and proudly served on the Ulster Prince, Ulster Queen and the Ulster Monarch before becoming Commodore Chief Engineer after the amalgamation with P&O. As children my sister and I felt extremely privileged to go on Daddy's ship, and occasionally eat with the other officers in the mess and stay in his cabin. A trip to his ship whilst it was in dry dock at Harland & Woolf in Belfast and being taken down into the bowels of the engine room was something not forgotten.
I remember lots of crisp starch cotton, wood and brass and reminiscent of 'the Orient Express' as far as its splendour. Having relatives in Belfast we seemed to spend most of our childhood between UK and NI at a time before 'the troubles' began. Seeing Van Morrison before be became famous and just starting out! Happy days :-)

Unknown said...

As a child, I would have given my eyeteeth to have such opportunities. Oddly, the other day while sitting in a Perth, Western Australia, traffic jam, I found myself recalling eating plaice, chips and peas - at eight or nine this seemed so sophisticated - in the dining room aboard the Ulster Prince or Ulster Queen during the 1960s. The tablecloth was, I am almost certain, starched white.

Unknown said...

Hi It was interesting reading your post ! My daddy was passenger manager on the Belfast side ,so a bit like you we spent alot if time on Daddys boat !! And alot of time in Liverpool with friendss daddy had made ,50 years on we are still friends !I loved the Liverpool boat it was like a family for us children ,I loved the Christmas tree in the foyer,the porter who had a trolley for our luggage.Nostalgia made me google Belfast steamship co.and I have loved reading them .