Larne or Lairne (in Scots) (the name of a Gaelic territory) is a seaport and industrial market town, as well as a civil parish, on the east coast of County Antrim, Northern Ireland with a population of 18,323 people in the 2008 Estimate. As of 2011, there are about 32,000 residents in the greater Larne area. It has been used as a seaport for over 1,000 years, and is today a major passenger and freight roll-on roll-off port. Larne is twinned with Clover, South Carolina which has named one of its schools, Larne Elementary School, after Larne. Larne is administered by Larne Borough Council. Together with the neighbouring district of Carrickfergus and part of Newtownabbey, it forms the East Antrim constituency for elections to the Westminster Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly.
The coastal area around Larne has been inhabited for millennia, and it thought to have been one of the earliest inhabited areas of Ireland, with these early human populations believed to have arrived from Scotland via the North Channel. The early coastal dwellers are thought to have had a sophisticated culture which involved trading between the shores of the North Channel and between other settlements on the coasts of Scotland. The coast of Scotland is in fact clearly visible from here. Archaeological digs in the area have found flintwork and other artefacts which have been assigned dates from 6000 BC onwards. The term Larnian has even been coined by archaeologists to describe such flintworks and similar artefacts of the Mesolithic era (and one time to describe Mesolithic culture in Ireland as a whole).
The river Inver runs through Larne and was the name of a small village( now area in Larne) to one side of the current Larne town. Its name is an Anglicised spelling of Scottish Gaelic inbhir.
The oldest recorded name for Larne Lough is the Irish Loch Ollarbha (loch meaning "inlet") and Inbhear nOllarbha (inbhear meaning "rivermouth"). Larne Lough is also recorded that the Roman Emperor Serverus described how, in 204AD, a Roman slave galley bound for Scotland was blown off course and took shelter in a place that they called Portus Saxa ("Port of the Standing stones") – this is thought to have been Larne Lough. The ancient Greeks also had knowledge of the Antrim Coast and Ptolemy, the astronomer and geographer of the 2nd century AD, referred to Islandmagee on one of his maps.
According to legend, Lathar, child of Úgaine Mór, ruled a small territory which stretched along the Antrim coast roughly from Glenarm to the Inver River – this territory was thus called Latharna (the lands of Lathar). The area where the modern town sits was known in Irish as Inbhear an Latharna ("rivermouth of Latharna") and was later anglicised as Inver Larne or simply Inver. The territorial name Latharna was only applied exclusively to the location of the present town in recent centuries.
There was Viking activity in the area during the 10th and 11th centuries AD. Viking burial sites and artefacts have been found in the area and dated to that time. Ulfreksfjord was an Old Norse name for Larne Lough. According to the Norse historian Snorri Sturluson, Connor, King of Ireland, defeated Orkney Vikings at Ulfreksfjord in 1018. This was later anglicised as Wulfrickford, Wulfrichford and Wulvricheford. Other Norse-derived names for Larne Lough and the surrounding area are found in various records. They include Woking's Fyrth, Wolderfirth, Wolverflete and Olderfleet. The only one that survives is Olderfleet. The ending -fleet comes from the Norse fljot, meaning "inlet". Older- may come from the Norse oldu, meaning "wave". However, P.W. Joyce in his Irish Names of Places suggests that it comes from Ollarbha, the Irish name for the river.
In the 13th Century the Scots-Irish Bissett family built Olderfleet Castle at Curran Point. In 1315 Edward the Bruce of Scotland (brother of Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland) landed at Larne with his 6000 strong army en route to conquer Ireland, where Olderfleet Castle was of strategic importance. Edward saw Ireland as another front in the ongoing war against Norman England.
In 1569 Queen Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Ireland, appointed Sir Moyses Hill as the governor of Olderfleet Castle. It was seen as strategically important for any Tudor conquest of Ulster. Following the 17th century Union of the Crowns of Scotland, England and Ireland under James VI & I many more settlers would have arrived to Ulster via Larne during the Plantation of Ulster. The area around County Antrim itself, however, was not part of the official 17th century Plantation; instead many Scottish settlers arrived in the area through private settlement in the 17th century (as they had also been doing for centuries before).
During the 18th century many Irish emigrated to America from the port of Larne. A monument in the Curran Park commemorates the Friends Goodwill, the first emigrant ship to sail from Larne in May 1717, heading for Boston, New England in the modern United States. Boston's long standing Irish roots can be traced to Larne. The town is documented as being the first in county Antrim to be taken by United Irishmen during the ill-fated rebellion of 1798. The rebels from this area (almost entirely Presbyterian) filled Larne and engaged the government forces around 2am on the morning of the 7th of June. This surprise attack drove the garrison to flee the town, at which point the rebel force marched off to join up with McCracken and fight in the Battle of Antrim.
In 1914, Loyalists opposed to the Home Rule Act 1914 prepared for armed resistance. In an episode known as the Larne Gun Running German weapons and ammunition were transported into the port of Larne in the dead of night and distributed throughout Ulster. This event marked a major step in cementing the right to Ulster Unionist self-determination, with the recognition of such a right ultimately leading to the creation of Northern Ireland.
Larne throughout the course of The Troubles had a significant paramilitary presence in the town, mostly through the presence of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA). For further information see UDA South East Antrim Brigade.
The town suffered a number of bomb attacks during The Troubles, notably including a large car bomb at the King's Arms hotel in 1980 that caused damage to the main shopping areas, for which the PIRA claimed responsibility. This incident was raised in Parliament at the time.
Incidents which involved fatalities
Extracts pertaining to local and historical information are taken from a Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis published in 1837.
LARNE, a sea-port, market and post-town, and a parish, in the barony of UPPER GLENARM, county of ANTRIM, and province of ULSTER, 11 miles (N.) from Carrickfergus, and 97 (N. by E.) from Dublin, on the road from Belfast to Ballycastle; containing 3182 inhabitants, of which number, 2616 are in the town. This place is situated on the shore of Lough Larne, which was formerly called Olderfleet, and gave name to a castle built on the extreme point of the promontory of Curraan, which forms the small bay adjacent to the town. This fortress, under the protection of which the town arose, is supposed to have been erected by a Scottish family named Bisset, to whom a settlement on this part of the coast was granted by Hen. III., and to have been subsequently improved by the English. Edward Bruce landed here in 1315 with an army of 6000 men for the conquest of Ireland; and during the same reign, Hugh Bisset forfeited his lands here by taking part in the rebellion. These were subsequently claimed in right of the same family, by James Mac Donnell, Lord of Cantire, and after his death were granted by Queen Elizabeth during her pleasure, to his son Angus, on condition that he should carry arms only under the King of England, and pay annually a certain number of hawks and cattle. Olderfleet castle was at that time considered so important a defence against the Scots that, in 1569, it was entrusted to Sir Moyses Hill, but was dismantled in 1598. Jas. I., in 1603, granted the entire headland to Sir Randal Mac Donnell, surnamed Sorley-Boy; but in 1612 gave the castle and lands to Sir Arthur Chichester, together with the right of ferry between this place and Island Magee. During the disturbances of 1798, the town was attacked by the insurgent army from Ballymena, but the assailants were repulsed by the Tay fencibles, assisted by the yeomanry and inhabitants.
The town is beautifully situated on the shore of Lough Larne, on the eastern coast, and is divided into the old and new towns, containing together 482 houses, most of which are well built, and of very neat appearance; the streets in the old town are narrow and indifferently paved; the new town consists of one long and regular street, in which the houses are of stone and handsomely built. There are two public libraries, supported by subscription, both containing good collections. During the last century a very extensive trade was carried on in salt, of which large quantities prepared here from rock salt imported from Liverpool were sent from this port to Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Russia, and Prussia; the duties paid thereon, on the average, amounted to £18,000 per annum. About the middle of the last century this was the only port in the North of Ireland from which emigrant vessels sailed. The present trade consists chiefly in the exportation of oats, beans, flour, and, occasionally, black cattle, and a very considerable quantity of lime; and the importation of coal, slates, wheat, and North American timber. The number of vessels that entered inwards during the year ending Jan. 5th, 1835, was 340, of the aggregate burden of 13,517 tons, and of which 298 were from British ports and 42 employed in the coasting trade; and during the same year, 113 vessels, of the aggregate burden of 4329 tons, cleared out from this port, of which 64 were bound to British ports and 49 were coasters. The port, which is a member of that of Belfast, has an excellent harbour for small vessels, for which there is good anchorage between the Curraan, and the peninsula of Island Magee, in 2 or 2 1/2 fathoms, quite land-locked; great numbers of vessels from Scotland anchor off this place, while waiting for their cargoes of lime from the Maghramorne works. There are some good quays on both sides of the lough about a mile from the town, the water being too shallow to float vessels further up. The royal military road along the coast passes through the town. The market is on Tuesday; a great market is held on the first Monday of every month, and there are fairs on Dec. 1st and July 31st, principally for black cattle, a few inferior horses and pigs. A constabulary police force has been established in the town, and there is also a coast-guard station belonging to the Carrickfergus district. A court for the manor of Glenarm is held here every six weeks; and petty sessions are held every alternate week.
The parish comprises, according to the Ordnance survey, 2210 statute acres of good arable and pasture land; the system of agriculture is slowly improving, and there is neither waste land nor bog. Limestone abounds, and is quarried both for building and agricultural purposes; at Ballycraigey, about a mile to the north of the town, is a quarry of felspar, worked occasionally for building; and at Bankhead a fine stratum of coal has been discovered, but is not worked. The principal seats are Gardenmore, the elegant villa of S. Darcus, Esq.; the Curraan, the residence of M. McNeill, Esq.; and the glebe-house, of the Rev. S. Gwynn. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the diocese of Connor, and in the patronage of the Dean; the tithes amount to £135. 11. 11., of which £123. 15. 7. is payable to the curate, who receives also £23. 8. from Primate Boulter's fund. The glebe-house was built in 1824, by a gift of £450 and a loan of £50 from the late Board of First Fruits; the glebe comprises 3 1/4 acres. The church, previously to its alteration in 1819, had some interesting details of ancient architecture. In the R. C. divisions the parish forms part of the union or district of Carrickfergus and Larne; a chapel was erected here in 1832 by subscription. There are places of worship for Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster and the Seceding Synod, each of the second class, and with the Presbytery of Antrim of the first class, also for Wesleyan Methodists. About 150 children are taught in the national school of the parish, and a dispensary is supported by subscription. There are some remains of the ancient castle of Olderfleet on the promontory of Curraan; and on the sea side, about a mile north of the town, is a cavern called the Black Cave, passing under the projecting base of a huge rock; the length of the cave, which is open at both ends, is 60 feet, and its height from 3 to 30 feet; the sides are formed of basaltic columns of large dimensions. On the shore of the lough, near the town, are some singular petrifactions of a blue colour, apparently the result of a spring issuing from a bank at high water mark. In a short road leading from the east to the north of the town is a chalybeate spring, at present little used.