SS Crete Boom – Ballina, Ireland - Atlas Obscura

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SS Crete Boom

Ballina, Ireland

The remains of a concrete ship sit on a sandbank between Ballina Quay and Belleek Woods. 


Who knew a concrete ship could float? Well they can and an entire fleet of them was built for the war in 1917.

First, a very brief explanation on how concrete floats. In very basic terms, if the concrete is shaped in precisely the right way, for example in the shape of a boat, it can disperse water and float just like any other material. So back to the SS Crete Boom. During the war, boats were needed to transport iron ore from Spain to Britain. At the time, Britain was experiencing a severe steel shortage due to massive munitions production, so they had to devise an alternative method for boat building. What they came up with was the concrete boat.

A huge fleet of concrete vessels was ordered into production by the British government unfortunately the vessels never saw active duty.  There were too many problems with the budget, resources, and the war ending to get the boats into service. The 12 tugboats and 52 barges started during the war project were eventually completed in 1922.

The SS Crete Boom was part of that fleet. The vessel is a 38-meter, 267-ton steam-powered tugboat built from concrete and steel bars. Its journey to its current home in the Ballina Quay next to the Belleek Woods was not an easy one.

The Crete Boom started with the shipping company Stelp & Leighton in 1922, shipping coal to and from the United States. The company went out of service in 1924 and it was bought and sold again, stripped of parts, and sat derelict for many years. Eventually, the tug boat landed in the hands of the Ballina Harbour Commission in 1937, who planned to use it to divert flowing waters in the river. As it was being towed to its final destination it collided with another vessel sustaining severe damage where it sank and stayed for 30 years.

All is not lost for the old tugboat though. It was re-floated again in the 1970s to its current position and permanent home. Today it stands proudly as a local landmark.

Know Before You Go

Head towards Belleek Castle, just as you approach the castle there is a car park on the right for Belleek Woods. Use to the trail and head towards the water. There’s plenty of signage. If you continue along the river you will see second wreck, an English wooden sailboat The Floweret.

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