They said a tearful farewell to loved ones, gathered their worldly belongings and boarded the Friends’ Goodwill ship for a journey into the unknown.
Three centuries on, 52 pioneering emigrants who left Larne in pursuit of new lives in America are being remembered, and their huge influence in shaping the future of their adopted home celebrated, with a free festival showcasing culture and heritage on both sides of the Atlantic.
To mark the 300th anniversary of the epic journey, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has announced four days of events for all the family, including outdoor music concerts, barbecues, historical re-enactments and American-themed sports displays, to commemorate the courage and legacy of all those on board the Friends’ Goodwill.
A number of top acts — to be announced soon — are lined up to entertain thousands of festival visitors.
The packed programme of public, maritime-themed events will take place in Larne from Thursday 18 May until Sunday 21 May.
The very latest information can be found at: www.midandeastantrim.gov.uk/friendsgoodwill
Council has confirmed the following shows, events and concerts taking place: Thursday 18 May -A free variety performance, featuring the American Dreams play and a number of local music and dance acts, is being staged in the McNeill Theatre at Larne Leisure Centre. An exhibition about the Great Migration will also be on display in Larne Leisure Centre. Tickets will be announced on the Council’s social media.
Friday 19 May - The outdoor events begin, with music and local acts performing in Larne town centre from 3pm until 5pm. Sandy Bay Playing Fields will host living history entertainers from 5pm, before a live outdoor concert from 7pm.
Saturday 20 May - The main day of the festival. The fun begins at 11am, with acts on stage all day in the town centre at Broadway.
A full day of entertainment is planned at Sandy Bay, ranging from a living history village to children’s paddle and swing boats, music throughout the day from renowned artists and acts, pipers and many others. Carrickfergus Knights will lead an American football display, young cheerleaders will perform and there will be an opportunity for the public to try their hand at a range of American sports. There will also be walking tours, traditional cookery demonstrations and a bar. A spectacular concert on Saturday night will bring the curtain down on the packed day of fun events.
Sunday 21 May - Sandy Bay will host strong American and maritime-themed events. Easy-listening entertainment is planned, with rowing races and displays by the RNLI, Royal Navy and HM Coastguard. A parade of sail will arrive in Larne and a commemorative service will take place at the Friends’ Goodwill statue in Curran Park. A plaque will be unveiled on the existing memorial and a lone piper will play a lament.
The Friend’s Goodwill voyage is so significant as it is believed to have been the first emigrant ship to sail from Ulster to America in the 18th century.
Deputy Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Alderman William McNeilly, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be hosting this four-day festival to remember those brave visionaries who set sail in search of a better life, thousands of miles from home.
“They endured a hellish four-month journey, before finally arriving in Boston, Massachusetts, having completed a route across the Atlantic that would become one of the world’s most travelled. Sadly, one passenger did not survive.
“Over the next 60 years, more than 200,000 Ulster-Scots are believed to have made the same journey from Ulster to America, where many would carve out successful lives and safeguard their families’ futures.
“We are immensely proud of the pioneering spirit of those who boarded the Friends’ Goodwill, and the events we have planned in their honour are testament to that.
“Everybody in Larne, Mid and East Antrim and throughout Northern Ireland is invited along to join us in celebrating the anniversary of the voyage and the deep links forged between our countries since the Friends’ Goodwill ventured across the Atlantic Ocean.”