Obituary: Edward Sweeney, engineer and Loch Lomond boat skipper

Born: 22 April, 1962, in Dumbarton. Died: 24 July, 2015, in Balloch, Loch Lomond, aged 53.

Edward Sweeney, one of Loch Lomonds longest-serving and best-known luxury cruise boatmen. Picture: Contributed

Edward Sweeney, one of the longest-serving and best-known luxury cruise boatmen on Loch Lomond, has died of cancer at his home in Balloch, West Dunbartonshire, aged just 53.

A wonderful guide to the Bonnie Banks and colourful story-teller known to tens of thousands of people who visit the loch each year, Ed was part of the family that runs Sweeney’s Cruises has operated boats on Loch Lomond since the 1880s.

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Ed was literally immersed in the business from the age of three when, while playing near the boatyard he fell into the River Leven and had to be rescued by his father after a friend, Emilio Giannini, raised the alarm.

When his father got to him to pull him out Ed was clinging for dear life to the edge of a pontoon with his head under the water.

Emilio’s parents owned an Italian café at nearby Balloch Bridge and after that incident the two boys became friends for life.

“It has never been forgotten that Mio saved Ed’s life that day,” his brother, John, told friends.

Over the next half century, Ed was seldom far from Loch Lomond and in that time he came to know every inch and fathom of the famed 24-mile loch, which is the largest inland stretch of water in Great Britain.

He was an expert on the loch’s 22 islands and 27 islets and could name the wildlife on each of them from the red-necked wallabies and capercaillie on Inchconnachan to the magnificent ospreys which nest in the woods in Inchcailloch.

Ed often pointed out to visitors the Highland Boundary Fault which runs south-west through the islands and informed them of the stunning views to be had of this from Ben Lomond and Conic Hill.

Inevitably there were always smiles among the passengers when Ed steered his boat close – but never too close – to the naturist colony on Inchmurrin, the loch’s largest island.

Ed was a fountain of knowledge about Loch Lomond, its hugely varied wildlife, its wealth of history, including the adventures of cattle rustler Rob Roy MacGregor, the folklore and the legend:

Waves without win’

Fish without fin

Floating islands

After about 20 years Ed bowed to technology and gave up doing commentaries for visitors from behind the wheel. Neil Oliver, the archaeologist, historian, broadcaster and writer who has become widely known as the presenter of BBC television’s series A History of Scotland and Coast, took over on tape.

Ed also knew where the best music was to be found in the lochside village; which pubs had the best beer and whiskies, and where visitors could find a bed for the night and the best fish suppers.

His nephew, John Sweeney, told the large congregation at Ed’s funeral mass, which was celebrated by Father Jim Lawlor at St Kessog’s Church in Balloch, that it was seriously reckoned that Ed had spent more hours on Loch Lomond than anyone else alive – “maybe even more than anyone ever”.

He added: “The family take great comfort in the fact that so much of Ed’s life was spent in such a beautiful part of the world.”

Ed was born in the family home in Cardross Road, Dumbarton, in 1962. He was the youngest child of Mary and John Sweeney, an engineer, and brother to Jimmy, John and 
Noreen. The Sweeneys lived in Dumbarton until Ed was three, when they moved to Balloch after his grandparents took over the boatyard. Nearly all of Ed’s life was spent around the boats and he had a fund of stories about all the characters and personalities who lived and worked around the river and Loch Lomond for years. He was one himself.

He went to school at St Mary’s in Alexandria and St Patrick’s High School in Dumbarton before serving his apprenticeship at the marine engineering firm, Mitchell Outboard Services in Glasgow. All the while he was helping out driving boats on Loch Lomond at the weekend, a job which he eventually started to do full-time.

Ed was a talented water and snow skier and he enjoyed scuba diving. A familiar face in Balloch’s pubs, he made no secret of the fact that once upon a time he might have been partial to a pint of lager but one day he suddenly quit cigarettes and alcohol and took to drinking diet Irn Bru.

Ever a creature of habit, Ed, who never married, could still be found in the pub most nights. He enjoyed holidays in Florida, Spain and Cyprus, where he would hire a motorbike, cruise around the island and go water-skiing and scuba diving.

Ed loved driving the fleet of luxury cruise boats on the Loch and took great pride in the success of the business and in his brother, John, who built it up into a major force in Scottish tourism.

One of the earliest ships in the Sweeney fleet was Skylark IX, one of the “little ships” that took part in the D-Day rescues and which they modernised and made a more comfortable vessel to cruise in before it was sold. For many years John Sweeney gave Skylark IX’s services free, to Dunkirk Veterans once a year, for their reunion on Loch Lomond and Ed was part of the team who looked after them.

Ed Sweeney, whose funeral took place to Vale of Leven Cemetery, is survived by his mother, Mary, and his siblings, Jimmy, John and Noreen and their children.