The arrival of Western Ferries in Islay 40 years ago

The sixth of April 1968 saw a new beginning in ferry transport for Islay. On a beautiful sunny Saturday, forty years ago Western Ferries’ brand new red and white ferry, Sound of Islay sailed into Port Askaig for the first time and it seemed that the whole of the population of Islay was there to greet her. Captain Angus Mitchell, and First Officer, Sandy Ferguson were afraid to leave their brand new ship as it was overrun by enthusiastic sightseers. With the coming of the Sound of Islay came a revolution in sea transport as far as Islay was concerned as, up until then, cars were driven on to a net and swung into the hold of the mail boat. Now here was a roll on roll off ferry which brought Islay into line with the other islands on the west coast that had had roll on roll off ferries since 1964. For reasons best known to itself the Scottish Office built three identical ferries, the Hebrides, the Clansman and the Columba to service all the other islands from Mull to Lewis but Islay, as was always the case, was left out in the cold and had to make do with the mail boat.

Western Ferries boat, Sound of Jura in the Sound of Islay

With the coming of the Sound of Islay came a new timetable which was the forerunner of the one we have today, and very different from what Islay had been used to with the first sailing leaving from Kennacraig at 6.00am plus a Sunday sailing. Duncan Paterson was one of the first to sell papers from the bus shelter in Port Askaig to crowds of Ilich who, for the first time in their lives, were able to read their Sunday papers on a Sunday. Continue reading....July 1969, saw the arrival of the much larger and faster Sound of Jura capable of three trips a day leaving Kennacraig at 06.00, 11.00 and 16.00. The Islay excursion fare for two days or a weekend for any length of car was £5.00 return. imagine!! Jura people might be interested to know that, at that time, the Sound of Gigha did seven runs a day on week days plus Sunday sailings and the single car fare Islay/Jura was 90p for any length of car and 15p single for an adult. Alas, the good times came to and end in August 1976 with the sale of the Sound of Jura which set sail for Mexico in October 1976, renamed Quintana Roo. The Sound of Islay took up the run again and continued until the 30th September 1981 when she made her final trip to Islay. It was with great sadness we waved her goodbye as she sailed out of Port Askaig for the last time as she had been a 'pioneer' of her time. She was sold to the Department of Transport, Government of Newfoundland, Canada in 1982. We, on Islay, owe Western Ferries a debt of gratitude, for, had they not introduced the new service, how many more years would we have waited for Caledonian MacBrayne to supply Islay with a replacement for the ageing Lochiel?

The 'Sound of Islay' at Port Askaig

This story was writte by Peggy MacEachern and published with kind permission of the Ileach Newspaper

Tag: ferry history calmac western ferries

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