On the shores of Larne Harbour stands a memorial to the SS Clyde Valley, a steamship that played its part in shaping Ulster into the town it is today. The memorial contains one of the harbor lampposts that was used as a guide to navigate the ship safely ashore.
The SS Clyde Valley, formerly known as the SS Balniel, was built in 1886 by Macllwaine, Lewis, and Company Ltd in Belfast and started its career as a coal and ironwork shipping vessel. In 1914, the vessel was sold to a Major Hugh Crawford, who served the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), where the SS Clyde Valley would play an important role in one of Northern Irelands’ most notorious historic events: the Larne gun-running.
The UVF was a Unionist militia founded in 1912 to oppose Irish Home Rule, as Ireland was then part of the United Kingdom. The Unionist militia, which was strongest in the province of Ulster, feared being ruled by a Catholic majority parliament based in Dublin.
On the April 24, 2914, the SS Clyde Valley played a major role in smuggling thousands of German guns into Larne and other ports up and down the Ulster coast. The shipments included almost 25,000 rifles and over three million rounds of ammunition and caused heightened tensions across Ireland due to the inactivity of the police to act against the UVF.
However, the large ammunition stockpile was never used in Ireland or Ulster at the time, as the World War I started in the later half of 1914 and the weapons and ammunition was sized by the United Kingdom government to help in the war effort against the Germans. As a result of this, the UVF members joined the British Army in force to fight in the threat against the United Kingdom.
The ship later became involved in the war as a German army ship transport, but was repatriated in 1919 was a transport vessel in Glasgow. Over the next 50 years, the ship had various owners from Nova Scotia and elsewhere in Canada before returning for a short stint to Ulster. The vessel met its end in 1974, when it was broken up for parts in Lancaster.