Belfast Telegraph

Princess Victoria disaster galley boy Billy passes away

By Staff Reporter

One of the last survivors of the sinking of the Princess Victoria ferry disaster has died.

Larne man William (Billy) McAllister was just a 17-year-old galley boy on the ship when it sank during a crossing on stormy seas between Stranraer and Larne on January 31, 1953.

The ferry was overwhelmed by gigantic waves as she crossed the North Channel, sinking five miles north-east of the Copeland Islands.

A total of 133 lives were lost in the tragedy, which at the time was the UK's worst peacetime disaster at sea.

The loss of so many lives sent shockwaves through Northern Ireland.

In January 2013 - the 60th anniversary of the disaster - the RNLI brought Mr McAllister to the scene of the sinking at the mouth of Belfast Lough, where he was able to finally lay a wreath in memory of all those who perished.

Last year a special service in Larne commemorated the 63rd anniversary of the disaster. Twenty-seven of the victims were from the Co Antrim port.

Among the 133 who died were Deputy Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Maynard Sinclair, and Sir Walter Smiles, MP for North Down.

None of the women and children aboard the stricken vessel survived.

At last year's poignant commemoration ceremony, Mr McAllister spoke movingly to the Larne Times about his ordeal.

"I got up at six o'clock that morning and the ship was due to set sail at seven," he recalled.

"When we got out to the open sea, the ship was hammered about by large waves, and the stern gates to the car deck burst open.

"The crew couldn't get them shut.

"Water flooded into the ship and, as the cargo shifted, the ferry listed onto her side."

Billy was eventually rescued by RNLI lifeboat the Sir Samuel Kelly from Donaghadee.

The same lifeboat is now preserved for posterity in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra.

"The memories of that day are as fresh in my mind today as they were in the days after the sinking," Mr McAllister told the newspaper in 2016.

"These commemoration services are very poignant for me, but they are important as they help to keep alive the memory of those who died that day.

Mr McAllister's remains will be removed on Monday at 9.30am from his son Kieran's home at Curran Road in Larne to arrive at St MacNissi's Church for Requiem Mass at 10am.

He will then be laid to rest afterwards in nearby Larne Cemetery.

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