Ferry Me Across The Water

The man to ask, if you were a bona fide traveller between Scotland and Ireland in 1709 was John McIlrevie described as a "sailor" of Machrimore on the Scottish side. So promising did he find trading to the Glens of Antrim that he paid the Dowager Duchess of Argyll "Forty of Sterling money for the privilege of the Ferry twixt Kintyre and Ireland, yearly, she "expressly prohibiting any other the said privilege." But the privilege required that "the said John hereby obliged himself that during the space (probably a nineteen year Argyll lease) he shall not carry over any passengers who are not of known or undoubted fame and integrity in boat or vessel wherein he may be master and whom he may stop from any port of Kintyre to Ireland, without a certificate of such passenger from the Chamberlain of Kintyre and allowance from them first had thereto."

The problem of keeping a check on folk. coming and going across the North Channel had been reported over a hundred years before by Marshal Bagenal to Elizabeth I of England when writing of the Glynn "… there are many small creeks between rocks and thickets where Scottish scallops do commonly land…the force of this country is uncertain for that they are supplied from Scotland with what numbers they list to call, by making fires upon certain steep rocks hanging over the sea. "Those same creeks were a source of annoyance to the officers of customs at Charles Moncke, Surveyor General, details in his report on the customs in the northern ports of Ireland in 1637 (P.R.O.N.I. T. 6153) "The pedlars out of Scotland take advantage of such creeks unguarded and swarm about the country in great numbers and sell all manner of wares which they may afford at easier rates than poor shopkeepers that…are begared by these renegades."

By 1790, wool smuggling on a large scale drew this comment form the customs officer "When it is that the Western Coast of Scotland from its many creeks and inlets is particularly favourable to such a traffic, there can be no doubt but that large quantities of wool, find their way to a foreign market".

If the pedlars were a problem on the Irish side in the early sixteen hundreds, by the late 18th century beggars and vagrants out of Ireland were an affliction to the Scots, especially on Islay. These unfortunates would ship over on illegal boats and would be put ashore with the horses or cattle so that the locals would awake one morning to find a new beggar on their doorsteps.

The ferry continued to run with Kenneth Morrison of Machrimore as operator, though not always according to the Argyll rules. On the 15th June, 1790, Donal Connoly and John Smith, servants of Kenneth Morrison, in his absence, took four horses to Ireland without customs entry or payment of duties. Morrison offered to pay the duty of 5s 6d on each horse. His offer was accepted but he and all traders were informed that "if in future they did not comply with the law they will assuredly be prosecuted."

At the turn of the century the ferry boat "Eliza" half-decked, about eight tons burden, owned by James Mitchell, with James Cumming, master, was involved in the illegal shipment to Ireland of eight horses from Dunaverty in Kintyre. Prosecution was suggested to serve as a warning to others since at Southend "there is daily communication with Ireland not only by vessels to that Quarter but by those belonging to Cushendun in Ireland the immediate opposite coast." But the tide waiter complained that though he had witnesses about the shipment of the horses "he could not call them lest they incur Mitchell’s and Cumming’s displeasure. They would study to hurt such witnesses the first time they would have it in their power."

In 1802, the ferryman was one Charles McAllister of Cushendun using an open boat ‘Rattlesnake’ under 15 ton burden. An incident in September of that year indicates how important the ferry was for travellers from any part of Ireland desirous of a quick passage to the north of Scotland and the Highlands. Colonel Porter of the Argyll Fencible Regiment disbanded in Dublin following the Act of the Union had dispatched his charger and mule all the way from Dublin via Cushendun to Scotland. The animals were impounded at Campbeltown and in correspondence with H.M. Customs Colonel Porter underlined the regularity of the ferry service. "The horse has repeatedly gone to Ireland and returned home again, indeed as often as I was permitted to come home from the Regiment or my duty called me to join again."

There was an echo of the Emmet Rising when in 1803 Thomas Russell, "the man from God knows where" was thought to be in Scotland. A reward of £500 was the inducement to traders between Ireland and Scotland "to prevent the said Russell escaping from this country by sea; if discovered he is to be immediately secured and all his baggage and papers; the assistance of the civil and military authorities to be obtained if necessary; and sent with the said Russell in safe custody to Edinburgh; by officers of Custom to use utmost vigilance in this matter." The unfortunate Russell evaded the Scottish law but his luck did not hold out and he was hanged outside Downpatrick gaol for his part in the Rising.

The Tidewaiter Archibald Thompson of Southend on the 20th April, 1807, had occasion to search the house of Kenneth Morrison described as a ferryman, of Monerua, (the old name for Southend) "where passengers to and from Ireland resort to." About 700 yards of unbleached linen cloths and 100 yards of bleached linen cloths were found having been landed from the "Rose" of Cushendun, 6 tons burden, John McVey master but the certificates accompanying same stated that they were to be shipped in the "Loyalty" of Cushendun, James McNeill, master, for Campbelltown. The "Rose" was in trouble again in August of that year when carrying 743 yards of Irish linen cloth.

A new name was added to the list of ferry boats in 1813, the "Diana" of Dunaverty, Dugold Sinclair, master. She was involved in shipping horses to Ireland and in his declaration the tidewaiter McNaughton provided the remarkable information that the owner of the horses had ‘droved’ them 250 miles to ship them on the "Diana."

An entry which might be described as topical to-day is worth recording in full.
Reports that George McMillan, Tidesman at Dunaverty had brought to the Custom house a cask containing 58lb gun-powder found on the beach at Dunaverty concealed in an old Matt about to be shipped on the smack "Swift" of Girvan about 13 tons burden for Cushendun In Ireland.

The "Swift" was just making loose to sail for Cushendun with passengers, when a man with an Irish accent claimed the cask saying there was "nothing more in it than sugar candy," but when the contents were discovered he made no further inquiry and is supposed to have gone with the "Swift" to Ireland.

So busy had the ferry become that by 1834 the Crommellins of Cushendun had been instrumental in having a Cushendun Harbour Act passed at Westminster whereby a great terminus to cost £30,000 was to be constructed at Cushendun on the south east side of the Bay where the Dun river joins the sea. There is a plan of this proposed harbour in the Public Records Office, Belfast, yet by 1834 the ferry had been abandoned. It is said that the newly constructed Antrim coast road made transport so much easier from the middle Glens the people turned their backs on the sea and its perils for easier inland trading.

The last sailing ship to ply between Scotland and the Glens was the "Margaret Witherspoon" a regular visitor to Red Bay with coal in the 1930’s until a steamer sliced her in two one night off the Isle of Sanda.

The Larne-Stranraer steam packet service became the main crossing point from County Antrim and the little harbours and creeks further along the coast saw little traffic. It was about 120 years after the Dunaverty-Cushendun ferry ceased that John McMillan of Campbeltown brought the "Cramond Brig" and later the "Quesada" to Red Bay with, of all things, golfers for Sunday golf in Ballycastle.

People talked excitedly at the time of the revival of the ferry service and when a group of farmers from the Glens crossed to Campbeltown it seemed like old days again; but talk was stilled with the news that John McMillan and seven others had lost their lives when the "Quesada" perished off Campbeltown. He had been expected in Red Bay on that day but bad weather in the channel caused a change of plans with tragic results. Still the "Cramond Brig" had made her point and today Western Ferries with a fine drive-on ferry boat "Sound of Islay" have renewed the ancient sea link between Kintyre and the Glynns.

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