The huge arc of the Ards Peninsula in Co Down almost encloses the 26km long Strangford Lough. This lough and its many islands has been sorely neglected by this column so here begins the atonement.
A bottleneck known as the Narrows allows the sea to flow in past the opposing towns of Strangford and Portaferry in waters that are notorious for their huge bores that drive up through the straitened landscape. Further north, a kayaker’s paradise awaits in much calmer circumstances.
Dozens of islands stud the lough, primarily on the western side. In fact, there is a bare handful on the east of the lough. Halfway up is Whiterock Bay where myriad yachts are moored and a Clew Bay-like assortment of islands are dotted about. Most of the islands here have always been unpopulated and were used primarily for sheep and cattle grazing. Virtually all of the islands have the ruins of a booly.
The blogger known as Mr Nick has identified 164 islands in the lough but using the definition of an island as having grass above the high water mark. That is probably too inclusive for this column but in fact would exclude others that have appeared here.
An exception to the dearth of people is the minute Bradock Island which is very close to the shore at Whiterock Bay. The flat oval island is only 100m by 50m but has an impressive period house, which is a listed building, surrounded by a high wall.
The island has been owned by the Andrews family for over 150 years who have had strong links to political life in the North. With judges and MPs among their numbers, including a prime minister John Andrews, the family was synonymous with political life in the North for many years. One son chose a different career path and it was a choice that would ultimately lead to his death.
Thomas Andrews had a fascination with boats, inspired by his time on Bradock Island as a boy, and took a position at Harland & Wolff shipbuilders in Belfast. His prowess was quickly recognised and he rose in the ranks. In 1907 he was put in charge of a project to build three ships for the White Star Group. When the Titanic put to sea for its maiden voyage Andrews was on board and when the iconic ship went down he shared its fate. Prior to departure from Southampton, Andrews mentioned to a friend that the Titanic was “as nearly perfect as human brains can make her”.
His fellow shipwrights had acknowledged his fairness in the yards in Belfast as ‘just as a judge’ and ‘straight as a die’’. These weren’t overstated qualities and could have been supplemented by ‘exceptionally brave’ and ‘honourable’.
Accounts of his heroism when the mighty ship struck the iceberg are legion.
Bradock Island was a hallmark of the annual regattas held in Strangford Lough in the years after the First World War and included boats which would sail up from Dublin. The elegant outfits of the parties held at the house for this society gathering were reported in the newspapers. For a regatta in 1927 the Belfast Telegraph reported that practically the whole of the surrounding countryside were the guests of the owners Lord Justice Andrews and his wife.
“They thoroughly enjoyed the breezes, the tang of the breezes straight off the sea and the exciting finished when the winning yacht or motor boat glided in first,” the newspaper reported.
Of course, the style stakes were as much on land as at sea and the Telegraph listed some of the guests and attire in a snapshot into aristocratic life on the shores of Strangford Lough at this time:
“Mrs J Miller Andrews: A gown of bois-de-rose stockinette with which she wore a tailored coat in a deeper tone and a grey felt hat.” “Lady Margaret and Lady Helen Stewart were dressed alike in navy skirts and jumpers with narrow belts of scarlet patent leather and scarlet silk hats.”