St. Columba – Saint and Ship

This post is one of a continuing series to showcase some of the special objects we have in the Holyhead Maritime Museum’s collection.

The Franta Belsky mural at the Museum

One of the most fascinating and certainly the largest object on display at the Museum is the Franta Belsky mural that once graced the Forward Lounge on the Holyhead ship MV St. Columba.

The vessel was named after the 6th Century Irish monk who founded the monastery on the Scottish island of Iona, then part of the Irish kingdom of Ulster. It is believed that work to produce the treasured ‘Book of Kells’ may have commenced by monks at Iona.

The mural portrays episodes in the life of St. Columba. It depicts his journey to Iona and the monastery he founded on a base of stones. St. Columba did much to spread Christianity to this area of Scotland. It also shows the coronation of the Scottish King Aiden, which helped bring peace to the feuding clans. Praying figures, a Viking ship and white doves of peace are also depicted.

MV St. Columba in her Sealink colours

The Car Ferry MV St. Columba was built in Denmark and commenced operations on the Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire route in May 1977. At 7,836 tons she was then the largest Sealink ship on the Irish Sea. She could carry up to 2,400 passengers and 335 cars or 36 HGV’s, or a mixture of both. A popular ship, she was well liked by both passengers and crew alike.

The Mural in place in the Forward Lounge

In 1997 she left the Irish Sea for the warmer climes of the Mediterranean as the Greek ferry Express Aphrodite. It is not known when the mural was removed from the vessel but rescued by members of the Museum, it now hangs in pride of place at the Museum to remind us of the strong Celtic links between Ireland and Wales.

Sculptor Franta Belsky with his bust of Queen Elizabeth II

Franta Belsky was a Czech sculptor known for large-scale abstract works of public art as well as more iconographic statues and busts of noted 20th-century figures such as Winston Churchill and members of the British Royal Family.

The photo of the mural on board ship is from http://www.doverferryphotosforums.co.uk/mv-st-columba-past-and-present/

Contributed by the Editor.

© Holyhead Maritime Museum.

This series of posts is to showcase items from the museum’s collection and to support the ‘Ports, Past and Present’ project that features and promotes five ports of the Irish Sea connecting Wales with Ireland – Rosslare, Dublin Port, Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke. More information here – https://portspastpresent.eu/

Captain Skinner’s Painting

This post is one of a continuing series to showcase some of the special objects we have in the Holyhead Maritime Museum’s collection.

One of the museum’s most valued items is an original oil painting from 1828 completed by James Sparrow, who at that time was a customs official at Holyhead and also a long standing friend and mentor of Captain John Macgregor Skinner RN, the main subject of the painting.

Captain Skinner’s House in 1828 by James Sparrow

The oil painting is of Stanley House, Captain’s Skinner’s residence. It was said that Sparrow’s original intention was to portray several humorous incidents concerning Skinner himself. However, following the captain’s untimely death in 1832, the artist’s intentions changed and he decided to fill much of the foreground to include several of his friends and a number of recipients of his charity. His Housekeeper, Miss Jane Williams is visible in the window of Stanley House looking on. Captain Skinner can be seen on his bay horse in the centre of the painting offering charity to one of Holyhead’s poor.

Not shown in the above image is the gilded frame where James Sparrow inscribed the names of all the individuals depicted in the painting. It is not only a special work of art but also a valuable historical and social record of Holyhead at that time.

Commander John Macgregor Skinner

Of all the sailing packet commanders who carried the mails between Holyhead and Dublin, it may be argued that American born, John Macgregor Skinner is probably the most remembered. Popular with the social elite and renowned for his boundless acts of charity, there is no wonder that an obelisk, paid for by public subscription, was erected on Alltran Rock, above the Holyhead Harbour, in his memory.

Skinner’s Monument above Holyhead Harbour

Captain Skinner was an accomplished Packet Captain, who in 1821 had the honour of carrying KIng George IV to Ireland on his ship, Lightening. Refusing a knighthood from the King, he graciously accepted a promotion to RN Commander. He had, during his service with the Royal Navy, lost part of his right arm and was further disadvantaged by the loss of sight in one eye. Despite this he served as a distinguished Packet Captain for more than 30 years at Holyhead until he was sadly washed overboard from his ship The Escape in 1832. His loss was greatly felt by the people of his adoptive town.

Stanley House as it is now

Contributed by Peter Scott Roberts, author of the book – ‘The Ancestry, Life and Times of Commander John Macgregor Skinner RN’.

The oil painting and other artefacts that once belonged to Captain Skinner were kindly donated to the museum by Mrs. Kathleen Hughes of Birmingham. They are on display in the museum’s main gallery.

© Holyhead Maritime Museum

This series of posts is to showcase items from the museum’s collection and to support the ‘Ports, Past and Present’ project that features and promotes five ports of the Irish Sea connecting Wales with Ireland – Rosslare, Dublin Port, Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke. More information here – https://portspastpresent.eu/