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Charles salvages the yard

By Eddie McIlwaine

It was on this very date in 1824, 190 years ago, that Charles Connell took over the shipyard in Belfast, and therein lies a tale.

The yard was first set up by William Ritchie of Saltcoats in 1791 and turned into a huge success, even though he was hampered by a shortage of carpenters and had to solve the problem by importing Scottish tradesmen.

So much for all the stories about Belfast having the best shipyard men in the world.

Connell made a bid for Ritchie's yard when he heard William was about to retire, but the harbour's Ballast Board were undecided until they asked Charles, who was a Ritchie employee, to remove the sunken sloop John and Mary which had foundered in Belfast Lough and was blocking the entrance to the docks.

Connell had none of today's modern salvage equipment so he came up with a novel idea to do the job. He persuaded the commanding officer of the Belfast garrison of the Army to provide a squad of strong soldiers to physically haul the offending vessel out of the channel.

From that moment on Charles was a star and he officially took over the yard from his former boss in 1824 and changed the name to Charles Connell and Company. He is now part of the folklore of the city.

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