When the boat was recently exhibited at Bangor’s North Down Museum visitors relived happy times at the old Bangor Bay at the Kinnegar Jetty beside the open air gospel site. The Spectator was delighted to meet the talented craftsman who brought a piece of local history back to life, through his tireless dedication and skill.
He explained how his labour of love came about saying, “Some of my fondest early childhood memories are of taking a Laird’s boat out when I was about 12.” Many Spectator readers will remember that Jimmy Laird took over the jetty from Mr Leneghan in the 1920s and set about changing the aging fleet of rowing boats. The new boats were built at Laird’s workshop at Bangor’s Manse Road using larch planking, oil ribs, keels gun whales and bow stem with mahogany top strake, transom and seats. All of the boats were clinker built and copper fastened.
Andrew explained that for many Bangor daytrippers a visit to the town would not have been complete without a trip around the bay in one of the rowing boats. “There were 108 boats available for hire back in the hey day of the 1950s. Laird’s had 46, Caulfield’s 25, Harvey & Brown had 25 and Walsh had 12. There were also motor boats running short sea trips.”
Recalling his own childhood, Andrew said, “I’m a local Bangor boy and the boys who would work down at the boats were called ‘scouts’, they would haul the boats up and down to the water.” Sadly, the era of package holiday’s abroad marked the demise of this popular pastime. Andrew explained that after Mr Laird died in 1976 his son Eddy ran the boats for a further 10 years until they were finally closed to make way for Bangor’s new marina.
Some years later, the local craftsman happened upon the Laird’s boat quite by chance. “I got it off a lay preacher in Groomsport. I had searched about and couldn’t get one. “Then I saw the skiff lying on a beach. I put a note on the boat asking the owner if they would consider selling it and I was lucky to get it.” It was then Andrew’s labour of love really got underway, as he set about removing the rotten wood, breathing new life into this piece of history.
Steaming the timber proved to be one of the most difficult of tasks, as Andrew explained, “Wooden boats are dying off, so it is only this type of artefact that requires these types of skills, most boats are made of fibreglass.” Such was his ingenuity, that Andrew even invented his own steamer. “I had a large pipe covered in insulation and this was powered by a Burco boiler.” Andrew was delighted that the restored Laird’s boat was enjoyed by so many museum visitors.
And there may yet be more pieces of our local history that Andrew could restore. “I also have a Caulfield’s skiff and boat, so I nearly have the whole fleet. “I have a garage where I do a bit of work on them. I did this restoration back in 1999, so I would dearly love to get back to it properly.” With a young daughter now occupying Andrew’s spare time, we look forward to the next piece of Bangor history he brings back to life.