The first ferry service in modern times directly linking a Scottish island to another part of the UK is to launch this summer.

Thanks to a pioneering Argyll business, the new service will offer the people of Northern Ireland a day trip to Islay, where they will visit one of the island's renowned distilleries.

Campbeltown-based Kintyre Express is to add the link to its seven day a week passenger service between the town and Ballycastle in County Antrim, which begins for its fifth season on Friday.

But Colin Craig, the company's managing director, said the Islay run is scheduled to start at the beginning of June and will run Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

He said: "We're going to add a leg from Ballycastle to Islay that is going to be marketed as a 'Taste of Islay' via our West Coast Tours portal ( that we launched last year to sell our growing portfolio of tourism related products online. What this means is we will have a boat leaving Campbeltown at 07.30 for Ballycastle. Then at 9.30 it will head from Ballycastle to Port Ellen and stay until 15.00, giving folk over four hours on Islay. Tickets will include lunch, a whisky tasting and distillery tour at Ardbeg.

"Then it is back to Ballycastle for the return sailing to Campbeltown leaving at 16.30. Our aim is to develop Islay as a day trip destination from Northern Ireland and develop a second revenue stream and accelerate growth within our Kintyre Express operation."

Mr Craig, who also runs his family's long established bus company West Coast Motors, launched the fast passenger ferry service in 2011 after years of frustration in Kintyre over the failure to resurrect the Campbeltown/Ballycastle car ferry service which last sailed in 1999.

His two boats carry up to 12 passengers on the 90 minute journey.

Meanwhile hopes that the car ferry could be restored seem unlikely to be realised any time soon, despite several efforts by the devolved administrations in Edinburgh and Belfast in the last decade.

South Kintyre councillor Donald Kelly, a member of the Argyll First group of Independent councillors who lives in Campbeltown, said the car ferry service seemed to be effectively shelved.

"We have tried to resurrect it several times. There was always political will on the Scottish side, but there doesn't seem to have been the same will on the Northern Irish side. We have tried several ways to make it more attractive such as waiving harbour dues here in Campbeltown.

"But there seems to an underlying feeling that we would gain more in terms of tourism from the service; that we would take tourists away from Northern Ireland rather than it working both ways. That is certainly the feeling I get when I talk to MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) about it."

But a spokeswoman for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in the Northern Ireland Executive said: "The Scottish Government leads on this issue, and is therefore responsible for taking it forward. While attempts were made to re-introduce the service following its withdrawal, this was not possible due to budget pressures faced by the Scottish Government.

"DETI remains supportive of any potential Ballycastle/Campbeltown ferry service, however budget pressures in Northern Ireland also continue to prevent a reinstatement of the service."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Scottish Ministers remain supportive of the provision of a Campbeltown-Ballycastle ferry service. However our ferries budget and priorities have to remain on the existing contracts, committed vessels and harbour projects to support lifeline ferry services in Scotland."