Waterside Quay remembered

A 'Kelly' ship making its way up the River Foyle during the 1950s.
A 'Kelly' ship making its way up the River Foyle during the 1950s.

We never used fishing rods in those days: simply because it was reckoned to be dangerous at the quay and the rod would be too difficult to hide from our parents.

Instead, we used a line, hook and sinker, normally purchased in Sweeney & Fitzpatrick, of Spencer Road, who, incidentally, were also the local barbers.

As Mr. Sweeney was a keen fisherman, he always kept a good supply of fishing tackle in his shop. The bait we used was a kipper or herring, usually purchased in Sidebottoms, of Carlisle Road. A pen knife was essential as the only fish we ever caught was the odd fluke and a few eels.

If the eels were not taken off the hook immediately, they would begin to curl up and make a complete mess of the line.

Those who fished off Waterside Quay included Billy and Melvin Rankin, Stanley Burns, Bertie Mitchell and many others. Hugh Kelly, of Chapel Road, was also a regular visitor to the quay, though he never fished, being more interested in keeping a record of ships in port at the Waterside and Derry quays.

Amazingly, he kept a record of all the arrivals during the 50s and 60s.

The docks were patrolled by Harbour Police or “Dock Horneys” as they were known to many in those days. Occasionally, when we found ourselves getting on the wrong side of the police, we had to make ourselves scarce.

My first recollection of ships at the quay is a large sailing vessel berthed up near Craigavon Bridge. This vessel, believed to belong to a lace millionaire, attracted many sightseers to the quay.

It stayed a few weeks, obviously storing up with provisions, before continuing on its round the world voyage.

Waterside Quay, which extended from Craigavon Bridge to the Midland Railway Station, contained many sheds and warehouses.

It was accessed from both Duke Street and Walker Street - a narrow street with houses to one side.

A red fire boat or launch named ‘Helene’ was always tied alongside the quay and occasionally you would see the firemen practising with jets or spraying water out into the river.

This vessel was owned by the Northern Ireland Fire Authority and was used in the event of fires on ships or at any of the many warehouses and premises dotted along the quayside.

However, I cannot recall ever seeing her in action. The main Fire Station was situated in the Waterside at the corner of Craigavon Bridge and Victoria Road.

Three ‘Dolphins’ (walkways out to a wharf) protruded out into the river forming a jetty which was used for small Royal Navy ships. Three of these vessels were named Aberford, Camberford and Shalford. They were used for joining in exercises with larger naval ships and submarines.

Other vessels were used for delivering mail and supplied to large Royal Navy ships either calling to or at anchor in Moville Bay.

The Royal Air Force had two tenders stationed at the quay and these were used for Air Sea Rescue in conjunction with HMS Sea Eagle and the airfields at Eglinton and Ballykelly. HMS Sea Eagle was the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force joint Anti Submarine Warfare School.

The Navy had a building alongside the quay, just around the corner from Walker Street; it was used by the Forces and civilian personnel. I think it was also used by the local Sea Cadet Corps and the Mine Watching Association, headed by Commander West.

On the demise of the Navy, the building was taken over by a local publican who had business interests in both Derry and in Spain. It was converted into a nightclub and became known as the Go-Go-Club.

It had a late license and attracted sailors and merchant seamen and, of course, some local “talent.”

A small motorboat was berthed at the quay and, on occasion, at the opposite end of the river. It was owned by a Mr. Alec Simpson who was known unofficially as the ‘Waterside Harbour Master’. It was called the “Dolphin”, as far as I remember.

For many years, the Harbour Commissioners owned and operated a bucket dredger called the ‘Hercules’ This vessel dredged both the river and Lough Foyle and could often be observed dredging in Rosses Bay which was prone to ‘silt up’ owing to or because of the curve in the river.

Eventually, when she came to the end of her working life, she was tied up at Waterside Quay to await disposal. After some months, she was sold for scrap and was towed to the breakers yard by the seagoing tug ‘Vanguard’. A familiar sight on the river, it was a sad occasion to see her depart.

Two small steam cranes were situated at the Northside of Walker Street, towards the railway station and one up towards the bridge.

These cranes were on railway lines so could easily be shifted along the quay. As they were coal-fired, the boilers were attended to by harbour labourers.

Coal for the cranes was supplied by an importer discharging the cargo; after completion locals would be seen gathering up the spillage.

The Derry dockers worked in very difficult and dangerous conditions, often blinded by coal dust in the summer and cold and wet conditions in the winter.

They all had a great sense of humour, they worked hard and deserved every penny they earned. I always had a great respect for them.

Their charitable attitude towards various good causes was well known. It was a pleasure and privilege to have known many of them personally.

Horse drawn carts were used to haul the coal from the boats to the coalyards and also to the Derry Gasworks on Lecky Road. Motor lorries took over in the early 1950s.

The last cargo vessel to berth at the quay was the Greenock, registered “M.V. Ardglen” in 1966.

This ship discharged its cargo of coal at the Derry Quay for the local firm of Kellys. The day the ship was unloaded the National Union of Seamen called a strike bringing all British ships to a halt.

The “Ardglen” was shifted to the Waterside Quay by my good friend and pilot, the late Maurice O’Donnell.

This vessel remained for the duration of the strike which lasted for seven weeks, after which she sailed for her next cargo.

It was the end of an era for the Waterside Quay.