Smuggling in Ards

Tobacco, Brandy...even Tea!

Courtesy of 'Journal of the Upper Ards Historical Society' & 'Portaferry & Strangford Trust - PAST' Exhibition

Smuggling was carried on along the coast in Strangford and Lecale well into the nineteenth century. Contraband, chiefly tobacco, rum, brandy, salt and tea, came largely from France (Bordeaux) through the Isle of Man. Ardglass was then the principal port in Ulster for an extensive trade with the Isle of Man. As time went on the illicit traffic increased and so the revenue authorities became ever more vigilant.

Smugglers on the Irish coast 1800s
Smugglers on the Irish coast 1800s
The conspirators then changed their venue to the little harbours around Guns Island and Killard. Hither at night came small boats from larger yawls lying off to land their cargo and conceal it in the adjacent coves, from which it was transferred by road later to merchants in the distant towns.

Some people in the neighbourhood were tempted to join the conspiracy. For them it was a tragedy. They made nothing and in many cases lost everything. Strong drink was their ruin, while the merchants accumulated large fortunes.

Apprehending smugglers was often quite a difficult and dangerous activity. They were ruthless individuals, including cut throat brigands, frequently with a degree of social acceptability in the neighbourhood where they operated, including legitimate traders who engaged in a little smuggling on the side.

Rewards were offered for the apprehension of those engaged in smuggling and the gain for those informing on those engaging in these activities could be lucrative.

The 'Betty' was a smuggling ship running of the Portaferry coastline in the 1800's. It was owned by one of the areas most famous smugglers, the daring, Daft Eddie, and tales are told of long chases by the 'Dart'. The 'Dart' was a revenue cutter, skippered by Captain Nelson of Portaferry, which patrolled the lough looking for such ships. The cutter foundered off Ballyquinton Point.

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