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The Harbour

Groomsport owes its existence to the harbour which is sheltered by Ballymacormick Point, Cockle Island and the rocky outcrop where, from the time of the Vikings in the 9th century, a quay was built.  The second Lifeboat in all of the province of Ulster was based in the harbour from 1858 to 1920.  The quay was improved in 1902 and the building of a sea wall in the 1970s led to the provision of a dinghy park, a car park and green area around the Boathouse.  In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the harbour accommodated many fishing vessels, which were owned and crewed by village residents.  Today the harbour provides sheltered moorings for Cockle Island Boat Club and it is used for other water-based leisure activities.

THE PAST & PRESENT

Harbour and Boathouse 1944IMG_2905-scaled

Discover The Harbour

Painting of Groomsport Harbour, late 1890s

This photograph is of a painting by James Lawson Balfour, an Australian artist who lived in Bangor for some years in the 1890s. This painting dates from between 1895, when the second National School was built and 1900, when the artist moved to New Zealand.

It shows, on the left, the quay before it was improved in 1902. It clearly shows the cottages on Main Street, with back gardens running down to the harbour. These cottages were demolished in the 1960s. The painting also shows Cockle Row (with one cottage in ruins), the second National School, beyond the cottages, and the Presbyterian Church.

0169 Photograph of the painting taken by Peter Gibson with the permission of Lou Tinman.

For more information about the artist James Lawson Balfour, go to:
https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/balfour-james-lawson-5114

Plans for the improvement of Groomsport Harbour c.1902

Plans drawn up by Down County Council after Robert Perceval-Maxwell had gifted the harbour to the council in 1901. Unfortunately, potentially important information (including
the date) in the bottom right-hand corner has not survived. However, most of the signature
“John Graham, Contractor” can be seen, indicating that his company – Grahams of Dromore – undertook to build according to the plans.

0029 Photograph: Peter Gibson.

Document in Public Record Office of Northern Ireland,
Perceval-Maxwell papers (D3244/E/42)

Cockle Island from the air, 2023

This image shows Cockle Island at low tide.  At high tides, the island can all but disappear.  Cockle Island is a breeding ground for a number of seabirds including ArcticTerns which travel to Groomsport from the Antarctic. On a number of occasions high tides have washed nests into the sea.  The National Trust, which owns the island, believes that, over time, the birds may relocate to safer nesting places on the Copeland Islands.

0005 Photograph: Amanda McWhinney

The harbour, Watch House and Coast Guard cottages - 1890-1900

A view of the harbour which shows the Watch House before it was altered in later years, the row of Coast Guard cottages which were demolished in the 1960s and the quay, before it was improved c.1902.

0030 Photograph: Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Perceval-Maxwell papers (D3244/E/42)

Harbour and Boathouse, 1944

A view of the Harbour and Boathouse taken by a US soldier who was billeted for six weeks in Groomsport House in 1944. The simple original structure of the Boathouse can be seen – before it was extended and disfigured in later years.

0011 Photograph: Sgt. John Blankenhorn, 166th Signal Photographic Company, US Army

Anchor on the Tarred Rock, 2023

After the redevelopment of the harbour area in the 1970s, only the top of the Tarred Rock was visible. It was marked by placing an anchor on it. The origin of the anchor is not known. It was netted by a boat skippered by John Waterson, the grandson of the man who appeared in the earlier photo of the Tarred Rock. The Boathouse is seen in the background.

0013 Photograph: Peter Gibson

John Waterson and Diver on the Tarred Rock

Fishermen met and tarred their nets and ropes at the Tarred Rock. This photo shows John Waterson (1841-1922) and his dog, Diver, at the rock.

Find out more about the Waterson family at: https://discovergroomsport.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Watersons-version-2.pdf

0012 Photograph reproduced with the permission of the Waterson family.

Groomsport Harbour - bye-laws, rules, regulations and penalties. 1904

Notice issued by the Office of Public Works in Dublin in 1904, after the improvements had been made to the harbour.

0007 Photograph: Peter Gibson. Document in Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Perceval-Maxwell papers (D3244/E/42)

Insect dinghy "Grasshopper" in Groomsport Harbour c. 1954

James Nixon and Ed Wheeler had sailed the Grasshopper from Ballyholme. It was one of the Insect class of dinghies which Ballyholme Yacht Club had designed for those who were learning to sail.

0015 Photograph: W M Nixon. Reproduced with permission

The Harbour - early 20th century

A view of the harbour including the Boathouse and Cockle Row Cottages. The image was taken after the improvement of the harbour (1902) and before the Lifeboat Station closed in 1920. The RNLI flag can be seen flying from the Boathouse.

0008 Photograph by Raphael Tuck Postcards. Downloaded, with permission, from: https://www.tuckdbpostcards.org/items/130156-the-harbour/picture/1

Groomsport Harbour and Watch House, 1909

This post card, which was posted in 1909, clearly shows the improvements that were made to the harbour by Grahams of Dromore a few years earlier.

Find out more about the Coast Guard and the Watch House at: https://discovergroomsport.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/Coast-Guard-and-Watch-House-v3.pdf

0009 North Down Museum. Copyright Ards and North Down Council. Reproduced with permission.

The Watch House

This photograph shows the modern Watch House with its recent extension, clad in black wood. It also shows two earlier alterations to the house. The bay windows, which replaced the boathouse on the ground floor and the watch room on the first floor, were in place by 1944. The extension to the left of the building, facing the harbour, was subsequently added. The vestiges of the original slipway can also be seen.

Find out more about the Coast Guard and the Watch House at: https://discovergroomsport.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/Coast-Guard-and-Watch-House-v3.pdf

0010 Donal McCann Photography for Bradley McClure Architects. Reproduced with permission.

Groomsport harbour and beyond, 2023

This photograph shows the harbour which is sheltered by the quay, by Cockle Island and by Ballymacormick Point. Many of the village’s notable buildings can be seen, including the Boathouse, Cockle Row cottages, the Walter Nelson Hall and the Watch House. Beyond Ballymacormick Point are Belfast Lough and County Antrim.

0004 Photograph: Amanda McWhinney

Groomsport harbour, 2023

This aerial photograph gives a good view of how the harbour was developed in the 20th century. At the bottom centre of the image is the harbour which was improved by Down County Council c.1902. The Boathouse which was the Lifeboat station from 1858 to 1920 is in the centre of the image. The area around the Boathouse, including the dinghy park, the car park and the green area was created by the building of seawalls in the 1970s. At the same time, a concrete path was built from the harbour, along James Bay beach, through Perceval-Maxwell’s wall (top centre of the photo) and on to Cove Bay beach.

0014 Photograph: Amanda McWhinney

Watch House and Coast Guard cottages c.1930

The Watch House was built in 1821 and was the Coast Guard station until 1908 when it became a private home. The cottages were built late than the Watch House and were demolished in the 1960s.

Around 1940, the nine cottages were occupied by the following, from left to right, with cottage number 9 being nearest to the Watch House:
1 Barron – Davy, Billy, George and Mary
2 Heyburn – Mary and Nanny. Bobby and Maisie Duff
3 Houston – Billy, Aggie daughters Gertie and Alice
4 Mawhinney – Jean and Sidney
5 Murphy – Sarah Murphy, her daughter, Sadie Gilbert and her children Rosemary and Johnny Gilbert
6 Nelson – Charlie and Aggie
7 Nelson – Jim, Kathleen and sons Jim, Raymond and Brian
8 Wilson – Mr and Mrs and sons Bob, George and Johnny
9 Nelson – Abel, Lily and children Hugh, Francis and Verena

0044 North Down Museum. Copyright: Ards and North Down Borough Council.

Find out more about the Coast Guard and the Watch House at:
https://discovergroomsport.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/Coast-Guard-and-Watch-House-v3.pdf

Fisherman David Barrons mending nets. Date unknown

David Barrons lived in the thatched cottage at Cockle Row.

0045 North Down Museum. Copyright: Ards and North Down Borough Council

The Harbour, Groomsport,1950s

This postcard is believed to have been taken produced about 1956.
0061 Photograph by Raphael Tuck Postcards.

Downloaded, with permission, from:
https://www.tuckdbpostcards.org/items/20624-the-harbour

The Bay, Groomsport 1950s

This Raphael Tuck postcard is believed to have been produced about 1956.

0062 Photograph by Raphael Tuck Postcards. Downloaded, with permission, from:
https://www.tuckdbpostcards.org/items/20629-the-bay

The Boathouse

Groomsport had a lifeboat (the second in the province of Ulster) from 1858 to 1920. The Boathouse was designed by the famous architect, Sir Charles Lanyon. It is now used as the harbour office and a community hall.

0006 Copyright: Dan Parsons. www.parsonart.co.uk

Fishermen Bobby Dunbar and James Waterson, 1920s

James Waterson (b 1852) may have served on the Lifeboat crew along with his brothers, John and Henry. Bobby Dunbar’s jersey suggests that he was employed as a crew  member on a yacht based at the Royal Ulster Yacht Club in Bangor.

0056 Photograph supplied by Roberta Waterson Fraser and reproduced with permission.

Find out more about the Waterson family at:
https://discovergroomsport.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Watersons-version-2.pdf

Fishermen and villagers on the quay, 1942/43

Roberta’s annotation identifies those in the photograph. Her relations were Watersons. Both Jonty Waterson and Billy Dunbar appear to be holding lobsters.

0057 Photograph supplied by Roberta Waterson Fraser and reproduced with permission.

Find out more about the Waterson family at:
https://discovergroomsport.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Watersons-version-2.pdf

Fishermen and villagers on the quay, 1942/43

This photograph is thought to date from 1900s

0063 Photograph supplied by Perry Moore

If you have more information about this photo please contact discovergroomsport@gmail.com mentioning the four digit number above.

The harbour, 1991

The photograph, which was taken from the tower of the Presbyterian Church, shows the shelters, the picnic area and, on the left, the Walter Nelson Hall.

0134 Photograph supplied by Rev Dr David Irwin and Mrs Maureen Irwin

Dredging the Harbour, late 1960s

0135 Photograph supplied by Rev Dr David Irwin and Mrs Maureen Irwin