‘Pain and loss’ of Princess Victoria disaster still felt on 70th anniversary

The devastating impact on the community will be reflected upon in a series of events in Larne to mark the 70th anniversary of the MV Princess Victoria disaster.

As well as the annual service at the memorial to the 1953 tragedy that claimed the lives of 135 people, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is hosting a radio recording, memorial lecture, theatre performance and exhibition.

The Princess Victoria was one of the first roll on roll off designed ferries and made daily return crossings from Larne to Stranraer. It was caught up in severe weather during the great storm 70 years ago. The heavy seas led to the stern gates of the car deck being forced open and within four hours the Princess Victoria sank.

It is thought that 177 people were on board including 49 members of the crew. The tragedy had a huge impact on Larne with 27 of the victims from the town.

MV Princess Victoria at Larne.

The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Alderman Noel Williams, said: “The sinking of the Princess Victoria devastated families and communities here, in Stranraer and further afield. It may have happened many years ago but the pain and loss is still felt by many families across our borough.

“The memory of that terrible day remains with many families who lost loved ones, neighbours and friends in the disaster - it is an awful reminder of the power of nature.

“Council has worked closely with a number of organisations to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the disaster and remember all those involved.”

Radio Recording

The memorial at Chaine Memorial Road, Larne.

The 70th anniversary programme commences on Wednesday, January 25, with a BBC Community Service recording at First Larne Presbyterian Church. It has been organised on behalf of council by Larne Ministers’ Club. Members of the public are invited to attend and should be at the church for 7pm sharp with recording to begin at 7.30pm. The service will be broadcast on Sunday, January 29, on BBC Radio Ulster.

A book launch and history talk on the Princess Victoria disaster will be held at Larne Museum on Monday, January 30 (7.30pm). The inaugural Princess Victoria memorial lecture will be given by renowned author, researcher and writer Peter McCabe, who will be speaking about his research into the tragedy and notably the graves of the victims.

A member of the Northern Ireland Tour Guide Association and History Hub Ulster, Peter has had a long-standing interest in the disaster with his latest book featuring the final resting place of 70 of the victims. Seats must be booked in advance by emailing [email protected] or by phoning the museum on 028 2826 2443.

The 70th anniversary commemoration will be held at the Princess Victoria Memorial, Chaine Memorial Road, on Tuesday, January 31 (11am).

The annual event has been organised by the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes MV Princess Victoria Lodge 5050 in association with council.

The service will be conducted by local clergy and traditionally has representation from the rescue services and maritime bodies as well as community groups and families who lost loved ones in the tragedy.

Wreath laying will be led by Jane Allen, Deputy Lieutenant for County Antrim and the Mayor, Alderman Williams.

A wreath will also be laid on behalf of Dumfries and Galloway Council, while a Mid and East Antrim wreath will be laid at a similar ceremony taking place at Agnew Park in Stranraer - location of the Princess Victoria memorial in the Scottish port.

Among those attending the event are family members of those lost in the tragedy, including the son of one of the victims who was a young child when his father drowned.

The service is open to members of the public and will be followed by refreshments at the McNeill Theatre. Those attending are asked to RSVP for catering purposes to [email protected] .

Special Performance

A special performance focusing on the story of the loss of the Princess Victoria will be held on Thursday, February 2 (7.30pm), at the McNeill Theatre, Larne.

‘For those in Peril on the Sea’ will be presented by local readers and musicians and has been developed by author and historian Dr David Hume.

The story will explore the relationship with the sea over generations and reflect on the worst maritime disaster to affect the communities of east Antrim and Galloway and Dumfries.

A poignant tune commissioned to mark the tragedy will be performed at the event, which will also combine poetry, drama, music and readings.

‘MV Princess Victoria’ was written by Ivan Black and commissioned in 2008 by the legacy Larne Borough Council. Written for the accordion, it will be performed by East Antrim Seniors Accordion Orchestra.

Among those taking part will be the Major Sinclair Memorial Pipe Band, which was formed in 1957 and named in memory of Major John Maynard Sinclair, one of those lost in the disaster, and soloist Catherine Hamilton.

Admission is free. Tickets for entry are available at MVPrincessVictoria.eventbrite.co.uk .

Donations can be accepted for the Mayor’s Charities on the night - young people’s mental health charity ‘Pure Mental’ and the Royal Air Forces Association.

An exhibition marking the loss of the Princess Victoria is being held at Larne Museum, February 1 - 4 (10am - 4pm).

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The exhibition will tell the story of the ship and the fateful day on which she sank, through panels and artefacts on display. It will also include letters of sympathy sent to the family of James Arthur Morrow of Carnalbanagh who was lost in the disaster.