From early in the third decade of the 19th century steam ships had been bringing excursionists from Scotland to the north coast of Ireland with cruises to Londonderry and the Giant’s Causeway being particularly popular. A regular weekly steamer service was established in 1822 from Glasgow to Londonderry with wooden paddle-wheel steamers calling at five ports en route, including Portrush. In 1845 the Port Rush Steam Navigation Company started a service between Portrush and Liverpool and through time regular communication was established with such places as Oban, Troon, Morecambe and the Clyde.
This rapidly elevated Portrush from being a small unimportant fishing village to a popular resort. The increasing popularity of sea bathing, with even Queen Victoria partaking of this healthy practice, and the proximity to the Giant’s Causeway lead to Portrush becoming a major tourist resort with promotional headlines such as “The Queen of Ulster Watering Places” and “The Brighton of the North”.
Commonly referred to locally as the “Scotch Boats” a number of steamers plied the route between Glasgow, Ardrossan and the Clyde Estuary generally and Portrush for nigh on eighty years. Perhaps the best known ships were those of the Laird Line, in particular the Hazel which was purpose built for the route and with a speed of 19 knots could do a round trip every day between Ardrossan and Portrush.
Hazel could carry 1,250 passengers and with daily crossings she contributed greatly to the prosperity of the town. Sadly, with Great Britain having declared war on Germany in response to Germany’s invasion of Belgium on 4th August 1914, Hazel made her last visit to Portrush on 6 August. Attempts to revive the service after the war came to nought.