OUR latest maritime heritage story, by Roy Pedersen, looks at the history of Lady Killarney’s luxury cruises from Ardrossan harbour.

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As may be imagined, the editor has put me in touch with a number of people who have taken in interest in my articles on Ardrossan’s maritime heritage.

In response to one such, I was delighted to call at the Saltcoats home of Mr and Mrs Harry Brock.

Mr Brock is the son of former Ardrossan Harbour Master Captain Brock, also former master of the famous Lairds Isle of which I have written previously.

Harry and his wife conveyed a wealth of lore about Ardrossan’s port and ships, on which I intend to write in future.

For now, the subject of my essay, is the immaculate Cruise ship Lady Killarney, which as a child Harry recalls that the ship was so exclusive that he was forbidden to go aboard.

Before considering Lady Killarney, however, let us think about the matter of cruising.

READ MORE: How Salctoats, then Ardrossan took over as the main coal port on the Clyde

The traditional steamship routes, that once criss-crossed the world’s oceans and shorter coastal passages have long gone to be replaced by jet planes and vehicle ferries. Much more efficient of course, if a lot less romantic.

On the other hand, at least until the Covid pandemic struck, luxury cruising has never been more popular.

Back in the mid-Victorian period, when steam navigation had become established, a long sea voyage was, for many, something to be endured rather than enjoyed.

But there were those who relished the adventure and the chance to visit new ports of call.

Ship owners, like David MacBrayne were not slow to cotton on to the business opportunity that lay in boosting revenue by carrying tourists on their mail and cargo ships to enjoy the scenery of Scotland’s Highlands and Islands.

Likewise the North of Scotland, Orkney & Shetland Steam Navigation Company, who in 1887 built St Sunniva, the first ship specifically designed exclusively for cruising.

READ MORE: The history of the third Glen Sannox ferry and its journeys to Arran

St Sunniva was a success, offering cruises to the Baltic, Mediterranean and most frequently the Norwegian fjords.

Others soon copied the ‘yachting cruise’ concept, among them was a cruise operation by Messrs Langlands & Sons from Liverpool and Ardrossan to the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

Various ships were employed in the business during the late Victorian and Edwardian period, including: Princess Maud, Princess Alberta and Princess Royal, although, unlike St Sunniva, first-class cabins were removed in winter to enable the ships to be utilised on more prosaic cargo-passenger services

Langland’s ships were lost in the Great War, in the course of which the company was absorbed by Coast Lines.

Cruises resumed in 1922, firstly with Burns & Laird’s Tiger, then in sequence, Lady Louth and Killarney which, to enhance her ‘cruising yacht’ status, was given yellow funnels and a grey hull.

Killarney carried on the Liverpool, Ardrossan, West Highland cruises until the outbreak of the Second World War.

READ MORE: Maritime Heritage: The tale of Arran Mail and the two Arrans

Although she survived the war, she was considered unfit to return to her former trade and was sold in 1947.

Killarney’s replacement was the former British & Irish Steam Packet Company steamer, Lady Killarney.

She took up her cruising duties in 1947 thereby resuming the time-honoured calls at Ardrossan’s Montgomery Pier, northbound and southbound.

So what of the ship herself?

She was built in 1912 as Patriotic by Harland & Wolf Ltd. of Belfast for the Belfast Steamship Company’s Belfast – Liverpool route.

Of 3,220 gross tons, she was 325 feet in length and her twin screws were powered by a pair of tripe expansion engines.

During the Great War she was requisitioned by the Admiralty as a troopship and returned to the Belfast – Liverpool route on the cessation of hostilities.

READ MORE: Ardrossan ship Bayeskimo was doomed to an icy fate

In 1930, she was transferred to the British & Irish Steam Packet Company and renamed Lady Leinster to operate on their Liverpool – Dublin service, both the Belfast Co. and B&I being part of the Coast Lines Group by this time.

She was later renamed Lady Connaught and served during the Second World war again on the Belfast – Liverpool route until 1944 when she was converted to serve as a hospital ship.

In that capacity she attended the Normandy landings after D-day, ferrying the wounded back to England.

After the war, Lady Connaught was laid up at Belfast until 1947 when she was fitted out by Coast Lines for cruising and renamed Lady Killarney.

As Lady Killarney, under captain Mullen, who had served on her during the war, she carried a buff funnel and light grey hull.

The hull was changed to green in 1950 and in 1952 to black with the full Coast Lines Black funnel with white chevron.

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Her accommodation was lavish by the standards of the time with a spacious entrance hall with grand stairways leading to the promenade and main deck on the latter of which was a 100 seat dining saloon.

She also had a comfortable observation lounge, card room and smoke room.

Her final cruise was in September 1956 visiting Lamlash, Corrie, Tobermory, Ballachulish, Oban and Crinan.

There is no doubt Lady Killarney was the most exclusive ship to call at Ardrossan’s Montgomery Pier in those somewhat austere post-war years and her like is not to be seen at Ardrossan today.

If you do want to experience luxury cruising round the Western Highlands and Islands, there are several options, of which the most classy is possibly Hebridean Princess , based at Oban.

You will need deeper than average pockets, but I’m told it is a wonderful experience.