Strangford and Portaferry are forty nine miles apart by land but little over half a mile by water. For trade and communication a ferry has always been a vital link and one has been here since at least the twelfth century.
In 1611 James I granted a ‘quarter’ of land on either side of the Lough to a Peirce Tumolton to maintain a strong ferry boat and four able ferrymen for the transport of men and livestock. In 1629 Lord Clandeboye regularised the service and made Valentine Payne responsible for maintaining a boat for the use of Patrick Savage.
In the 1800s two ferry boats were kept, one was for passengers and one for livestock. A group of local men formed the Portaferry and Strangford Steamboat Company in 1835 and commissioned the building of a forty ton paddle steamer. The venture was not commercially successful and she was auctioned in 1839.
In 1913 the Lizzie, used as a ferry boat, capsized and three passengers were lost. Tragedy struck again in 1947 when the ferry, a converted World War II landing craft, capsized and one man and all the animals aboard died.
Small ferry boats were then used until 1969 when Down District Council began to operate a large ferry capable of carrying vehicles and passengers.
In 1836 the Portaferry and Strangford Steamboat Company owned the first steam ferry in Ireland – Lady of the Lake - 36 years before Belfast had one on the Lagan!
The ferry service is currently operated by DRD Road Service.