An impromptu trip down to the familyís ancestral home near Buncrana in County Donegal presented the chance to get a sail on the new Lough Foyle Ferry between Magilligan Point (County Londonderry) and Greencastle (County Donegal).
The vessel on the service is the Carrigaloe, which was originally built in 1970 as the Kyleakin for the Kyle of Lochalash to Kyleakin service in Scotland for David MacBrayne, later Caledonian MacBrayne. The Kyleakin and her sister Lochalash, were sold in 1991 when larger ships were introduced on the route, with both ships finding their way to Cork in southern Ireland.
The Kyleakin was renamed Carrigaloe while her sister ship became the Glenbrook. Both ships were introduced onto a new service across Cork harbour, linking the two places whose name they now carried. The Carrigaloe was transferred to the new Lough Foyle Ferry Company Limited and introduced on the Magilligan Point to Greencastle route in 2002.
The new service has started with a bang, running a shuttle service all day the Carrigaloe is kept busy with cars, coaches and even lorries wishing to use the service. A lot of people from Northern Ireland cross to the Republic of Ireland to fill their cars with petrol or diesel, taking advantage of the lower fuel tax in the Republic.
The Irish all head to the North and the closest towns, Coleraine and Limavady, intent on doing serious shopping. The impact of the ferry service on Greencastle is remarkable with local businesses experiencing a boom of mammoth proportions. Magilliganís Point is just a ferry slip and a pub that was on the brink of closure before the ferry but now has experienced a new lease of life. The closest neighbour to the Magilligan Point ferry terminal is Magilligan Prison some two miles to the east.
Arrival at Magilligan Point is greeted by friendly staff who issue a security pass and usher cars and passengers into a small security compound where the cars line up for boarding. Adjacent to the car compound is a brand new toilet block and waiting room although most passengers choose to wait in their cars. Passengers are never waiting for more than about half an hour. I only had time to pop into the toilet and pick up a few brochures before the Carrigaloe breezed across the Foyle.
The slipway at Magilligan is brand new for the service and the Carrigaloe drives right up to the slipway and drops her own ramp onto it. Her engines are left ticking over and this is enough to hold her on the berth while she discharges and loads up to 30 cars at a time. Embarking almost a full load in only a few minutes the barrier on the ship went down and the engines roared as the captain gave them plenty of throttle to drive the Carrigaloe off the berth and out into the swell of Lough Foyle.
The ticket collectors then went to work collecting the fares, which for our car and two passengers was only £5 single. Despite the swell running out the Lough the Carrigaloe was very smooth and had us across the mile or so to Greencastle in only 10 minutes. Threading her way through the many trawlers berthed in the enclosed harbour at Greencastle the Carrigaloe was on the slip and the cars were driving off only 15 minutes after boarding. The Carrigaloe is a double-ended ferry and is similar to an aircraft carrier in that the bridge is on the starboard side. This means that the ship is sailing bow first from Greencastle to Magilligan and in reverse from Magilligan to Greencastle. After visiting my relatives I returned via the road through Londonderry, not nearly so interesting on the trip on Carrigaloe!
All in all the operation is extremely slick with the staff very friendly. A polite request to take photos was met with a huge grin and the reply, "photo away boyo!" The company is off to a successful start and is the spark that stimulated the boom currently underway in the region. Long may their success continue.