Larne mournes sad passing of proud Merchant Navy man

Bobby Irvine.
Bobby Irvine.

Larne man Robert James (Bobby) Irvine was a well-known seafarer and a much respected and familiar figure in his native town.

During his career at sea he served on ships ranging from huge tankers to small coal boats, continuing the career he loved until the age of 70 years.

Bobby, who went to sea with the merchant navy as a teenager, passed away peacefully at Antrim Area Hospital on December 7.

He had sailed the St. Lawrence Seaway, breaking ice, was on the Suez Canal at times of unrest, and sailed through the Panama Canal numerous times.

He had been across the Atlantic on many occasions, as well as sailing in the Pacific, the Baltic, South China Sea and around the Cape of Good Hope and also Cape Horn.

Many local men had stories of how they met him in a foreign port and were made to feel at home through his friendship and warmth.

Bobby also gave many local young men advice on a seafaring life and career and often helped them to find jobs over the years.

Born on October 20, 1941 at Ballymullock outside Larne, he was the son of Dan and Katie Irvine and attended the McKenna Memorial School in the town.

His first employment was as assistant to Bob McMurray as a bread delivery boy for Inglis Bakery, in the days when bread was delivered by the bread van.

He later became projectionist at the Regal Cinema at Curran Road and then went on to work in Brown’s Factory, where cotton weaving was carried out.

But the call of the sea was strong and the young Bobby Irvine left the factory to begin his lifelong career.

He was a dedicated member of the Merchant Navy Association and also very proud to be a Larne man.

When Robert was just 11 years old he watched the drama of the terrible storm that sank the Princess Victoria unfold from the window of his home at Drumalis overlooking Larne Harbour and he always took a keen interest in the tragic event, which left so many families in Larne and Stranraer and elsewhere bereft.

Mr. Irvine read up widely on the loss of the Princess Victoria, could recite a lengthy poem about the disaster and was a familiar figure laying a wreath every year at the memorial service on January 31 at Larne promenade.

He was a keen supporter of the RNLI and had a collection box in his own home to help raise funds for the charity.

Once asked what religion he was, Bobby Irvine replied that he was ‘a seaman’. He also reflected that of all the places he had seen in the world his favourite was still Larne.

His lengthy seafaring career ended with P&O on the Larne to Cairnryan route and it was entirely fitting that the Chaplain to the Seafarers Mission, Tom Irwin, should officiate at his funeral.

The funeral service was held at Ramsey’s Funeral Parlour at Upper Main Street, Larne, on Tuesday morning, December 11, and interment followed at Larne cemetery.

Mr. Irvine is survived by his daughter Danielle, and his siblings Eileen, Teresa, Patsy, Kate, and Margaret. He was predeceased by his brothers Denis and Danny.

Donations in lieu of flowers were encouraged to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.