The Bannfoot Ferry |
By Ken Austin
If you had walked along the Bannfoot a hundred years ago, the clanging of the rope chain would have told you that the ferry was coming as William Wilson Snr. pulled the rickety ferry to the landing stage across the fast-flowing waters of the Bann.
Bannfoot is a small village in the townland of Derryinver and sits where the Upper Bann flows into Lough Neagh. The area was originally known as Bun na Banna, and this name has been anglicized to Bannfoot. The first crossing at the Bannfoot was recorded in 1760. Charles Brownlow (1st Baron Lurgan) began building the Bannfoot cottages in the 1820's and named them after himself, calling them Charlestown, hoping to cash in on the continued commercial success of the water routes which criss-crossed the southern part of the Lough. Barge loads of turf were sent from the Montaighs to Portadown and from there on to Scarva, Poyntzpass, Gilford and Banbridge. In 1831 Charles Brownlow planned to build a bridge across the river as it would have been a link between his Montaighs and Richmond Estates. Toll charges were drawn up, A coach drawn by 6 horses would cost 1s 6d, a carriage and one horse would be 3d and one man, woman or child would be charged a halfpenny. The Grant Jury approved the plan for the bridge as well as the proposed toll charges but the bridge was never constructed. The Canal Company objected as they felt the presence of the bridge would restrict the amount and scope of the future boat traffic on Lough Neagh, the River Bann and Newry Canal. Little did they know that the coming of the Railways in 1841 would all but wipe out their business anyway.
The 24-hour ferry service linked the Lurgan-Derrytrasna Road with the Columbkille-Maghery Road and it not only saved drivers a round trip of 14 miles to the nearest bridge, but it also became something of a tourist attraction over the years. In 1968, the ferry was featured in a BBC drama called 'Boatman Do Not Tarry', in which the operator of a ferry to a fictional Ulster peninsula went on strike. The last Ferryman Willie Wilson worked the ferry all his working life. When a car or cart arrived to cross, he would guide it onto the floating platform, chock it into place, and then he would pull the ferry across by hand, using a heavy rope strung across the river. His family had operated the Ferry for over a century until 1979, when Willie, aged 88 retired.
There have been many proposals since to build a bridge at the Bannfoot or at least a bicycle and pedestrian bridge, but none have come to fruition and so to this day it remains the only river on the shoreline of Lough Neagh without a dedicated crossing.
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