History of the SS Lochgarry
One of Ireland’s most Popular Recreational Diving Wrecks
By Martin Baillie-Johnston
The first time I dived the wreck of the SS Lochgarry it was a hot day in June and I was sweating in my dry suit as I waited for the skipper to give us the signal to roll in. There were six of us were diving the wreck. I was last in when we finally got the signal to go. You could still feel the run of the tide as I swam to the shot. By the time I reached the line the buoy was under water with the weight of the tide coupled with the weight of five divers already holding on to it. I had been told previously about the strong currents that surround the wreck and I was getting first-hand experience of the same. I descended down the line and got my first glimpse of the SS Lochgarry.
The start of the story of the SS Lochgarry:
G and J Burns Ltd
George and James Burns were produce merchants. They became involved in shipping around 1824. The routes between Glasgow to Ayr and Belfast to Liverpool were prominent routes for the company for many years.
There is a famous story that in 1829, George Burns wanted his first steam ship called the GLASGOW to sail on the Liverpool service on a Saturday. This meant that the ship would be at sea on a Sunday. In order to achieve his wish Burns had a Chaplin accompany her en-route.
In the late 1890s G and J Burns Ltd ordered two steam ships to be built by A&J Inglis.2
A & J Inglis were shipbuilders founded in 1862 after the acquisition of a shipyard at Pointhouse, Glasgow. The firm built more than 500 ships in just over 100 years including many famous ones, such as the paddle steamer “Maid of the Loch” which is now a visitor attraction on Loch Lomond.
The two steam ships ordered by G and J Burns Ltd were launched in 1898, and when completed were 1280gt and 265 feet long. The ships were christened “Magpie” and “Vulture”. Some unusual design features of the time were that Magpie and Vulture’s passenger accommodation was placed amidships and a dining saloon was located in a deckhouse on the poop. Another unusual feature was that both ships were given fidded masts. This allowed the top mast to be lowered in the event that either ship needed to navigate the Manchester Canal.
Vulture was used mainly on the Glasgow to Belfast and Ardrossan to Belfast routes for much of her career, eventually being replaced. During the first World War Vulture was taken off her normal routes and used on the Aberdeen to Bergen route.
In 1922 G and J Burns Ltd amalgamated with Laird Lines to form the company Burns and Laird Lines Ltd. G and J Burns Ltd at this time brought 15 ships into the new company one of which was Vulture. By 1924 Vulture was over 25 years old and due for a refit. She was upgraded by the Scottish ship builders D and W Henderson who at the time were under the management of Harland and Wolff. They fitted new boilers and modified her accommodation. In May of 1929 all 15 ships in the Burns and Laird Fleet were renamed. As part of the rename all ships were given the prefix Lairds-. The Vulture was renamed the SS Lairdsrock. It is believed that between the end of the first World War and 1936 that Vulture/Lairdsrock continued to sail between Ardrossan and Belfast.