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Holyhead Ferry I 1965 (17) br 2.jpg


The Holyhead - Dun Laoghaire route entered the car ferry age with the order for a new ship from Hawthorn Leslie (Shipbuilders) Ltd. Built at a cost of £1.6mn she was the first of two ships which were to be the last turbine steamers for the railway company.

The new Irish Ferry
Holyhead Ferry I model

Saddled with the un-imaginative name of Holyhead Ferry I she was launched on 17 February 1965. Her half-sister, the Dover was ordered from Swan Hunter and she beat the Irish Sea ship into service by one month.  To facilitate the Holyhead Ferry I extensive engineering works were carried out on both sides of the Irish Sea. At Holyhead the Mail Pier berth was modified and provided with a linkspan but at Dun Laoghaire things were not so straightforward and a temporary berth on the East Pier had to be constructed while plans for a more permanent solution were discussed. 

Holyhead’s new car ferry could accommodate 153 averaged size cars on her vehicle deck which was equipped with a turntable forward and aft to assist with positioning cars ready for disembarkation. A small mezzanine deck was accessed by hydraulically operated ramps port and starboard. Two hatches were also fitted fore and aft, primarily for loading mail into the ship but also to allow cars to be lifted out should the stern door fail. Passenger capacity was 1000 and 64 berths were available in a variety of cabins.


In 1969 Dun Laoghaire’s new IR£850,000 St Michael’s Wharf car ferry terminal was opened by the Holyhead Ferry 1 on 14 March. Capable of handling 650 cars a day the new 175m long pier offered linkspans on both sides of the terminal. While this meant that two vessels could berth simultaneously, the principal purpose was to permit a ship to lie on the more sheltered side of the pier.  The controversial temporary terminal on the East Pier was closed and after four years of operation some 95,000 cars had been landed on the site.

Holyhead Ferry I opening St Michael's Pier

In the early days many schemes were employed to get the Holyhead Ferry I alongside Holyhead's Admiralty Pier in a Northerly gale. One such move involved backing the ship into the inner harbour, then "Change Bridges" - which involved a quick sprint, cap in hand, navy blue raincoat flapping, along the length of the funnel deck before approaching the berth bow first from the station. Get the bow in and secure, then screw the stern in.

It was also customary to back in and before the bow began to pay off, fire a rocket line from the fo'csle. The shore gang would haul away on the line to which was attached a mooring rope and so "line ashore for'd". Capt Glynne Pritchard recalls that Holiday makers would walk along the upper pathway on the Mail Pier. "How someone wasn't injured by the rocket I don't know. It usually ended up snagged on the path railing and would spin around at about 2,000 mph!"

New Horizons

In 1973 the Holyhead Ferry I had her first spell of English Channel service after which she relived Fishguard’s Caledonian Princess for annual overhaul.

By now the “Ferry 1” found her self based at Dover with that port’s Dover being based at Holyhead!  The reason was the latter’s greater car capacity over her half-sister.  The confusion ended in 1976 when the Holyhead Ferry I was sent to Swan Hunter on the Tyne for conversion to drive through operation from which she emerged renamed Earl Leofric.

The ship saw one final stint of Irish Sea service before sale to Spanish breakers in 1981 when in February 1978 saw returned to the route for which she was built relieving during the St Columba's first overhaul. This coincided with what was to be your webmaster's first passage on the St Columba. Imagine the disappointment of an 8 year old to arrive at Dun Laoghaire pier to find the steamer's funnel peeking above St Michael's Pier rather than the bulk of the St Columba in the opposite berth!  However, years later I was glad for that passage in the turbine at an age when I could now appreciate my surroundings.

That a ship should be scrapped after just 16 years in service may be absurd, but thirsty steam turbines and a woefully inadequate vehicle deck design had no place in the modern age of double decked motor ships. Ironically her replacement at Dover in October 1980, the new St Anselm, was transferred to Holyhead in 1991 renamed Stena Cambria.

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