Always locally referred to as the ‘Scotch Boat’ or the ‘Derry Boat’ , the passenger and freight service that ran for many years between the city and Glasgow first ended on September 10, 1966. Yet, this was far from the end for the boat itself.
The vessel’s original name was actually the Lairds Loch. And, in fact, it is little known that the boat that spent the majority of its lifespan traversing between here and Scotland had a direct link to the Arab-Israeli conflict of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Built at Ardrossan Dockyard near Glasgow for the Burns and Laird lines, the Lairds Loch was launched on March 9, 1940, beginning her service between here and Glasgow in 1944.
She was 275 feet in length and was propelled by two eight-cylinder diesel engines and was capable of a speed of up to 13 knots.
The ship had acommodation to carry a few hundred passengers, with sleeping quarters available for first class passengers. The ship’s job was to provide a cross-channel service between Londonderry and Glasgow three times per week in each direction, leaving Glasgow each night at 7pm enroute to this city’s quayside.
She worked this route from 1944 until 1966, when the service ended.
However, after a brief two-week overhaul at Ardrossan Dockyard, the Lairds Loch relieved the Irish Coast on the overnight service on the Glasgow-Dublin route with reduced passenger rates for accommodation and berthing.
The boat, the Irish Coast returned to service on the Dublin route on June 6, 1967. The Lairds Loch then was returned to service again on the Londonderry route, but this time minus her human cargo and instead carrying general cargo and cattle. This continued right up until the end of 1968.
It was felt by many in the city and beyond that when her connection with the city was finally broken towards the end of the 1960s, it was the final curtain call for Londonderry’s port and its centuries old tradition of of merchant and naval activity.
The city’s papers recorded in 1966 that, as the Lairds Loch left for the last time with passengers aboard, heavy rain made the sight all the more forlorn.
The Derry Journal recorded: “her siren blew long, mournful blasts as a crowd of 200 on the quayside watched her go. The rain lifted as she neared Pennyburn and as she rounded the bend, she went out of sight and into history. While most of the passengers on the final run were Scottish, including one little boy in a kilt, there were a number of Derry and Donegal passengers. These included Donegal persons going for seasonal work in Scotland.
“The youngest of the passengers was about one year old. Among the oldest was Rose Morrison, a 70-year-old widow born in Moville but now living in Greenock. She said she had been coming back every summer for 67 years.
“I don’t know how I will travel in future,” she said.
Also on board were a newly married couple –James and Olive Campbell from Culdaff – who were embarking on their honeymoon in Edinburgh.
The Lairds Loch Captain, a man called Campbell, said: “This is a very sad occasion for a person like myself who has been coming here for 30 years and now goes away leaving friends behind.”
As 7pm approached, a blast from the ship’s siren heralded the start of the final journey.
The Journal’s report continued: “The crewmen started loosening the ropes at the gangway. The last person to board was a man from Bridgend. He walked up the gangway at the stroke of 7pm. A minute later, the vessel was in motion.
“As she moved down the river, with her siren blowing, naval ratings at Sea Eagle piped out the Lairds Loch and ‘Will ye no’ come back again?’ was signalled to the departing vessel.”
The Lochs Laird was not in fact the first ‘Scotch Boat’. All in all, the cross-channel service lasted 140 years and was linked at its inception with the rise of the shirt industry here – Glasgow of course being Londonderry’s first industrial export market.
Yet, almost a century before, the city’s records note a collision of two ‘Scotch Boats’ on the Foyle that in the end claimed the lives of 17 men. On Wednesday, September 20, 1865, the collision happened between the ships the Garland and the Falcon.
A newspaper report said: “On Saturday evening, about half-past six o’clock, news was received from different sources that a collision of a somewhat important character had taken place in Lough Foyle.”
The Garland, a vessel of the Derry and Glasgow Steam Packet company was heading down the Foyle from the quay bound for Glasgow and was carrying livestock and about 50 passengers. Between Quigley’s Point and Whitecastle, the Garland struck another steamer, the Falcon, on the port bow, cutting her down almost to the water’s edge. The Falcon, owned by the City of Glasgow Steamship Company was heading up the Foyle towards the city carrying local people returning after working at the Scotch harvest.
The Derry Journal carried reports of the recovery of the bodies and from the inquests. In September 1865, the paper reported witness statements, including those regarding the simultaneous deaths of a John McDaid and William George Patterson.
The report of one witness, William McDaid, said: “I saw a dead body examined in the Scotch steamboat yard this morning. It is that of my brother John McDaid. He lived in the village of Tirk, about four miles from Buncrana in the county of Donegal. He left home on this day week for Glasgow to purchase sheep.”
The inquest also recorded that John McDaid was “aged about 47 years, and has left a widow and five children, the eldest child aged about ten years of age.”
In all, as said, 17 men died in the incident. Two were killed in the collision, and a further 15 drowned.
So, given that the passenger service between this city and Glasgow began in 1829 and concluded in 1966, there was a 137-year maritime link between both places.
However, given that the headline of this article is ‘Whatever happened to the Scotch boat?’ and the second paragraph mentions a direct link between the Lairds Loch vessel and the Arab-Israeli conflict, the story of the boat didn’t end completely in the 1960s.
In January of 1969, the Lairds Loch was sold to the Israeli company of Sefinot Ltd.
The sale included all of the ship’s original furnishings, fittings and tableware. She left Ardrossan Shipyard near Glasgow on January 7 and sailed for Eilat via the Cape Town route.
The Israeli company renamed the ship Hey Daroma. The ship commenced its run between Eilat in Israel and Sharm el-Sheikh – an Egyptian city and tourist destination on the southern tip of the Sinai Pennisula. The service ran three times per week and took eight hours.
In late November, 1969, the Hey Daroma was moored in the port of Eilat when she suffered minor damage to her hull after limpet mines attached to it exploded. A second ship – the Dahlia – was also attacked.
Given the upsurge in violence between Egypt and Israel at the time, it is thought that Egyptian Special Forces planted the explosives, although this has never been proven. It is perhaps ironic as conflict brewed in the city she had served loyally for so many years, she travelled to another continent only to be bombed.
The Hey Daroma resumed her normal services very quickly after the attack. Yet, it seems she was not destined to survive much longer anyway.
On September 3, 1970, the ship departed Eilat under the control of her Captain, 45-year-old, Ike Ahronowich hauling a cargo of fresh water. An hour later, the ship struck the inshore reef near Nabq, a few miles north of Sharm el-Sheikh. The crew were safely rescued but attempts to refloat the stranded vessel all failed. The Hey Daroma was written off as a total loss and remained on the reef until she eventually sank into the Red Sea, where she is now part of a shipwreck tour for travellers every year.