The first evidence for recreational use of Lough Neagh is in Bassetts “Book of County Armagh” of 1888 where he records “In summer pleasure boats are numerous on the Lough. Four belong to The Lurgan Boat Club, which also owns 4 practice gigs, 2 ‘fours’ and 2 pairs”. The Club was established in 1877, and has a good boat-house at Kinnego Cut. About 30 members pay 10/s a year each and the funds show a balance to credit. This seems to indicate a Club for both rowing and sailing. In the same year Portadown Rowing Club was also established.
Lough Neagh Yacht Club 1897-1920
Lloyds register of Yachts records the establishment of Lough Neagh Yacht Club in 1897 by which time it had gone aristocratically up-market to match its grander title, the Commodore being Lord O’Neill of Broughshane, and Shanes Castle and the Vice Commodore Viscount Masserene. Subscription was 10/s a year.
The Club disappeared from the register in 1920. The original burgee was a round tower in red on a white background. This was changed in 1904 to the burgee now used by the Lough Neagh Sailing Club.
Lough Neagh Sailing Club
At the same time there was also a Lough Neagh Sailing Club, less aristocratic and never appearing in Lloyds Register but perhaps enjoying better sport. It was centred at Kinnego Cut, and probably grew out of the earlier Lurgan Boat Club. By 1910 it had taken over much of the active sailing on the Lough, winning Lord Charlemont’s Coney Island Cup, and at its regatta in Kinnego putting up a valuable silver cup for competition by visitors to the Yacht Club. Lord O’Neill was Commodore of this Club also but as the rules of about 1915 show, its other officers and committee were from what is now the Craigavon area. The subscription was 5/s, but there was also a fee to enter a boat for a race.
In general the boats of the Sailing Club were smaller than those of the Yacht Club and with centreboards rather than fixed keels as befitted the shallower water at the Craigavon end of the Lough. It is hard to say why the Sailing Club collapsed soon after the 1914 -18 war. When the “land fit for heros” proved to be unfavourable and some members may have had to drop out, while perhaps those with money or leisure preferred to spread it on the new cheap motorcars.
There was little recreational sailing on the Lough between 1922 and 1942. By 1942 petrol rationing and war-time restrictions on sea sailing turned thoughts again to Lough Neagh and a group of local enthusiasts revived Racing for those who could find time in the evenings or at weekends.
Kinnego Cut was also becoming a less attractive Club centre. Having once been a favourite spot for swimming, it was now polluted and silting up due to increase in water-borne sewerage from the growing population of Lurgan. As Kinnego Cut could still be used for launching but was too silted and dirty to keep boats in, and the rest of Kinnego Bay was inaccessible by road, it was decided to base the Club in Ellis’ Cut at the entrance to the Lagan Canal, where by kind permission of the Morrow family, boats could be moored in safety to the banks,even though this involved for most members a long walk over wet meadows. The starting line at Morrow’s Point made use of a navigation post remaining from the days of canal traffic. By 1944 there were 17 boats taking part in the sailing and adjusting the clock for double summer time extended the dusk to near midnight and allowed long evening races in midseason. The subscriptions were 10/s and a further 10/s for boat registration.
Sailing continued from Ellis’ Cut and in 1945 with 19 boats on the register, the Club found itself strong enough to revive its own regatta, which took place in Castors Bay. In those entertainment starved times a regatta was quite an event, with yacht and fishing boat races, rowing and swimming races, games and competitions on shore.
Revived Interest in sailing led to the establishment of a short-lived Rams Island Sailing Club in 1945 and of Maghery Sailing Club in 1946 where the Lurgan Sailing Club assisted in running the first race; while the Club also supported locally organised regattas in Lady Bay and Sandy Bay and ran a challenge match against the Strangford Lough Yacht Club.
In 1948 the Lurgan Sailing Club changed its name to Lough Neagh Sailing Club to retain continuity with that operating in the Craigavon area up to 1920, and in the mistaken belief that a large balance from the earlier Club lay hidden in some bank.
By 1954 interest in sailing on the Lough was fading . Fewer boats were launched, and it was hard to find crew for those who were afloat. No racing could be organised and the Club lapsed into hibernation. Most of the boats were sold or taken elsewhere by their owners. The Club at Ellis’ Cut faded out, partly because the end of petrol rationing made travel and other sports again possible and, for those still keen on sailing, because of the growing popularity of one-design class racing at Strangford, Carlingford and Belfast Loughs. These light trailable one-design dingy classes made use of recently perfected waterproof plywood, synthetic glues and terylene sails, and gave much more competitive sport than the older boats on Lough Neagh, which raced on an often contentious handicap system.
In September 1962 a group of members of the old Club, together with a number of other of other enthusiasts, some from as far away as Armagh, met to consider the revival of the Club. Further lowering of the water-level had rendered the starting line off Morrow’s Point unsuitable, and as the modern dinghy was launched from a trailer for each race and needed reasonable road access not available at Ellis’ Cut, a new site was required. Kinnego Bay offered all sailing advantages, and a site on the low neck leading to Oxford Island was found with reasonably deep water fronting it, which could be reached from the existing road by construction of a short driveway. The site was in time acquired, the starters hut brought from Morrows on a rick-shifter, a slipway and timber jetty constructed by members, and eventually a wooden Clubhouse erected.
The choice of dinghy was settled one cold day in October 1962 when one GP14 owned by H. Clendinning and one Enterprise owned by G. P. Bell were launched at the proposed Club site and demonstrated to members. The GP14 had the misfortune to capsize and the Enterprise was elected. Racing began in August 1963 with eleven Enterprises, numbers rising to over twenty in the following years. After a brief experiment with the Scimitar class keelboats, the Club by 1969 had decided to recognise the Flying Fifteen as their larger class with a dozen boats in 1970 growing to 21 boats The very successful Mirror class had previously adapted as the smallest class. Some modern type cruiser-racer yachts were also beginning to make an interesting addition to the fleet.
In 1966 the Craigavon New City Planners had decided that the Club site was needed as part of the recreational and nature reserve planned for the Kinnego area, but had been persuaded to consider leasing a new site on the outer end of Oxford Island when the Commission had removed the pig-farm and opened up the peninsula as a park. This suited the Club well as existing site was not ideal for racing courses and too far away from the open Lough, though heavy investment by the Club was needed on the new site to construct a breakwater, starting battery, deepwater slip and launching jetties, and to move the temporary timber Clubhouse. By 1970 the move was complete and the Club could begin to consider plans for a permanent Clubhouse.
The recovery of Lough Neagh Sailing Club was matched by added interest elsewhere – Antrim Boat Club was founded in 1967 and soon acquired a fine reputation as a sailing centre, with over 300 members and eighty boats. Though the silting of the channel and local troubles caused the virtual collapse of the Maghery Motor Boat and sailing Club a new and growing Club was started at Ballyronan.
In the 1990’s interest in dinghy sailing waned and with the cruiser-racer owners migrating to the new marina built on the site of Kinnego Cut. Club membership dropped dramatically from an average of 300 to around 100 which made the financing of the Club untenable. At the same time due to the isolation of the site the Clubhouse and boats became targets for thieves and vandals, on one night in particular resulting in a bill for £12,000 for damage to the Clubhouse.
The Club took the decision to try and realize our assets on the Oxford Island site and move to a new location. The Club was thrown a lifeline by Craigavon Borough Council who were looking for a site for a new Discovery Centre, and offered to purchase the lease from the Club. A deal was agreed whereby the the Council would purchase the lease and Lough Neagh Sailing Club would be accommodated in the new marina.
The Council constructed temporary office accomodation for the marina staff, and provided similar facilities to the Club. When a permanent structure was proposed (some 17 years later), the Club deemed the terms of us unsuitable for their requirements, and entered into a new contract with the Council to occupy a site beside the marina car park. A suitable sectional building was sourced and fitted out to our requirements, although much smaller that the building surrendered to the Council, it is more appropriate to the Club’s needs.
G.P. Bell — Lough Neagh and the local sailing Club. (Thanks to Mrs Allison Bell).
J.K. Charlesworth — The Geology of Ireland.
Lough Neagh Working Group — Advisory Report
Lloyds Register of Yachts 1899 – 1919.
Myth: The story that Finn McCool picked up a clod of earth and threw it at a rival across the Irish Sea, thus creating Lough Neagh and the Isle of Man, must be fairly late, involving as it does some knowledge of geography and comparative areas.
Myth: That the lake was caused by a woman leaving a magic well uncovered may be older.
Fact: Lough Neagh is not only the largest lake in the British Isles, it is also the oldest. Many millions of years ago, long before the Ice Ages, the Tertiary basalt’s of the Antrim Plateau, with the underlying chalk, sagged into a great basin lake which slowly filled with Lough Neagh clays, over a thousand feet thick at Washing Bay. As the glaciers melted, Lough Neagh was again a large lake, outflowing from the Newry River and the Lagan Valley before resuming its outlet down the Lower Bann. By the time Irelands first human inhabitants crossed from Scotland it was much the same size
and shape as it is today. By about 2000BC people had penetrated up the Bann to Lough
Neagh, leaving the Bann Flints as evidence of their culture.
Later ages have left their mark, from the cross at Arboe, Churches at Cranfield, Rams Island Round Tower, Salters Castle and the unfinished Shanes Castle. The Viking called Thorkils, whom the monks latinised as Turgesius, ruled most of Ireland from his fleets on Lough Neagh and the Shannon. In the Elizabethan wars there were rival fleets on the lake and again in the wars of 1641 to 1647.
‘On Lough Neagh’s banks, as the fisherman strays,
When the clear cold eve’s declining,
He sees the round towers of other days,
In the waves beneath him shining’
may be based on a paragraph in Caxton’s History of Ireland of 1497.
The Great Sailing Accident 1904
One boat well known in the Sailing Club was the Osprey, an unballasted centreboard half-rater similar to most of those in the Club. It belonged to the Greer family, coal merchants, who lived in the large house at the head of the Cut.
On Tuesday 25 August 1904 a party of five boys and two girls set out in Osprey to visit Coney Island. The two girls were Winifred and Dorothy and one boy were children of W.J. Green of Kinnego, two others were sons of Isaac Green of Belfast, and the remaining two were school friends from Guernsey. Ages ranged from sixteen to twenty two.
Though the wind was so light on the outward journey that they had to use the oars for part of the way, by six o’clock when set out for home the wind and sea had increased, but they did not seem to have considered reefing the sails. Shortly after seven o’clock when about three miles off Ardmore Point, in a severe squall the boat either capsized or was swamped by the waves, leaving the crew clinging to the up-turned hull.
There is a suggestion in the inquest report that one or more of the boys may have been injured by spars or rigging, perhaps in trying to lower or cut the sails though it is doubtful, even if this had been done, that the crew could have righted the boat, which, though unsinkable, would have been little better than awash.
One or two tried to swim ashore for help, the others numbed by cold, were washed away and lost, until only Winifred, the oldest at 22, managed to struggle ashore. The Osprey was wrecked on the shore.
The disaster was a tremendous sensation, as the Greer family were so well known. Hundreds of fishing boats took part in the five day search for the bodies, the names of McCaughley, Tennyson, McAlinden, Plenderleith and Baxter appear in the reports. The funeral was enormous and protracted, and the many sincere but sad commemorative verses were printed in local papers.
In considering this accident, which cast a blight over Lough sailing for decades, it must be remembered that it was almost another fifty years before small centreboard boats had built-in flotation tanks and would be comparatively easily righted after a capsize. Although the Club racing rules required the carrying of lifebelts or buoys there is no evidence that these were on board that day to help even some of the party. Lifebelts were bulky work jackets seen on old pictures of life-boat men and too cumbersome to be worn in a small sailing boat; the modern buoyancy aid depended on the invention of PVC and plastic foam.
The Osprey was not exactly over-loaded by seven people, all of whom were used to sailing, though the Club limited the racing crew to four, but a large party of tired, cold and possibly seasick young people may have hindered speed of action at a critical moment.
The disaster fortified the general opinion that Lough Neagh is dangerous. Any large expanse of water can be dangerous but the Lough is less so than other places such as Carlingford Lough where squalls descend from the surrounding mountains.