Survivor of Princess Victoria shipping tragedy passes away

William (Billy) McAllister at the Princess Victoria memorial in Larne in January 2016 with the then Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough, Councillor Billy Ashe.   They were pictured at the 63rd annual anniversary commemoration service held each year to mark the disaster. Picture: Darren Kidd / PressEye
William (Billy) McAllister at the Princess Victoria memorial in Larne in January 2016 with the then Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough, Councillor Billy Ashe. They were pictured at the 63rd annual anniversary commemoration service held each year to mark the disaster. Picture: Darren Kidd / PressEye

One of the last survivors of the Princess Victoria shipping disaster in 1953 has passed away.

The ship, one of the first roll-on roll-off ferries, was stricken by a terrible storm that lashed Britain that night and, damaged by pounding waves, took on water. The vessel went down close to the Copeland Islands off the coast of Co Down.

Willilam (Billy) McAllister at the 2016 Princess Victoria anniversary service at Larne harbour. INLT 05-206-AM

Willilam (Billy) McAllister at the 2016 Princess Victoria anniversary service at Larne harbour. INLT 05-206-AM

Only 44 of the 177 people on board escaped with their lives; not a single woman or child survived.

The disaster had a huge impact on the Larne community, with 27 of the victims from the town.

Every year a poignant service is held close to Larne harbour to mark the tragedy, one of the UK’s worst peacetime sea disasters.

Mr McAllister spoke to the Larne Times a few years ago at the anniversary service, recalling his memories of the fateful journey.

“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 the RNLI lifeboat the Sir Samuel Kelly, from Donaghadee, Co Down. However, his cousin William Hooper was not so fortunate - his body was recovered from the sea the following day.

“The memories of that day are as fresh in my mind today as they were in the days after the sinking. 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,” he said.

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 in Agnew Street for Requiem Mass at 10am.

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

Mr McAllister was pre-deceased by his wife Catherine and is survived by children Stephen, Brendan, Patricia, Kieran, Patrick and Michael.