Displaying items by tag: maritime
#tallship – The Tall Ships return to Ireland in spectacular style this summer with a major fleet assembly in Belfast from Thursday 2nd to Sunday 5th July for the beginning of the season's Tall Ships Races, organised by Sail Training International. The seagoing programme will have a strong Scandinavian emphasis in 2015, with the route - some of which is racing, other sections at your own speed – starting from Belfast to go on Aalesund in western Norway for 16th to 18th July, thence to Kristiansand (25th to 28th July), which is immediately east of Norway's south point, and then on to conclude at Aalborg in northern Denmark from 1st to 4th August.
But before leaving Northern Ireland with the potentially very spectacular Parade of Sail down Belfast Lough on Sunday July 5th, the celebrations will be mighty. The fleet's visit will be the central part of the Lidl Belfast Titanic Maritime Festival, which will include everything from popular family fun happenings with concerts and fireworks displays – the full works, in other words – right up to high–powered corporate entertainment attractions.
As for the ships, there will be more than enough for any traditional rig and tall ship enthusiast to spend a week drooling over. In all, as many as eighty vessels of all sizes are expected. But more importantly, at least twenty of them will be serious Tall Ships, proper Class A square riggers of at least 40 metres in length, which is double the number which took part in their last visit to Belfast, back in 2009.
That smaller fleet of six years ago seemed decidedly spectacular to most of us at the time. So the vision of a doubling of proper Tall Ship numbers in Belfast Harbour is something we can only begin to imagine. But when you've a fleet which will include Class A ships of the calibre of the new Alexander von Humboldt from Germany, Norway's two beauties Christian Radich and Sorlandet, the much-loved Europa from the Netherlands, George Stage from Denmark, and the extraordinary Shtandart from Russia which is a re-creation of an 18th Century vessel built for Emperor Peter the Great, you're only starting, as that's to name only six vessels – what we'll be seeing will be a truly rare gathering of the crème de la creme.
So although it would be stretching it to think that a small country like Ireland should aspire to having a major full-rigged vessel, we mustn't forget that for 27 glorious years we did have our own much-admired miniature Tall Ship, the gallant 84–ft brigantine Asgard II. Six-and-a-half years years after her loss, it's time and more for her to be replaced. W M Nixon takes a look at what's been going on behind the scenes in the world of sail training in Ireland and finds that, in the end, we may find ourselves with a ship which will look very like a concept first aired for Irish sail training way back in 1954.
The pain of it. You search out a photo of Shtandart, the remarkable Russian re-creation of an 18th century ship, and you find that Asgard II is sailing beside her
It was while sourcing a photo of Russia's unusual sail training ship Shtandart that the pain of the loss of Asgard II emerged again. It's always there, just below the surface. But it's usually kept in place by the thought that we have to move on, that worse things happened during the grim years of Ireland plunging ever deeper into recession, and that while our beloved ship did indeed sink, no lives were loss and her abandonment was carried out in an exercise of exemplary seamanship.
Yet up came the photo of the Shtandard, and there right beside her was Asgard II, sailing merrily along on what's probably the Baltic, and flying the flag for Ireland with her usual grace and charm. The pain of seeing her doing what she did best really was intense. She is much mourned by everyone who knew her, and particularly those who crewed aboard her. All three of my sons sailed on her as trainees, they all had themselves a great time, and two of them enjoyed it so much they repeated the experience and both became Watch Leaders. It was very gratifying to find afterwards, when you went out into the big wide world and put "Watch Leader Asgard II" on your CV, that it counted for something significant in international seafaring terms.
But as a sailing family with other boat options to fall back on, we didn't feel Asgard II's loss nearly as acutely as those country folk for whom the ship provided the only access to the exciting new world of life on the high seas.
Elaine Byrne vividly recalls how much she appreciated sailing on Asgard II, and how she and her siblings, growing up in the depths of rural Ireland, came to regard the experience of sailing as a trainee on the ship as a "Rite of Passage" through young adulthood
The noted international investigative researcher, academic and journalist Dr Elaine Byrne is from the Carlow/Wicklow border, the oldest of seven children in a farming family where the household income is augmented with a funeral undertaking business attached to a pub in which she still occasionally works. Thus her background is just about as far as it's possible to be from Ireland's limited maritime community. Yet thanks to Asgard II, she was able to take a step into the unknown world of the high seas as a trainee on board, and liked it so much that over the years she spent two months in all aboard Asgard II, graduating through the Watch Leader scheme and sailing in the Tall Ships programmes of races and cruises-in-company
Down in the depths of the country, her new experiences changed the Byrne family's perceptions of seafaring. Elaine Byrne writes:
"Four of my siblings (then) had the opportunity to sail on Asgard II. If it were not for Asgard II, my family would never have had the chance to sail, as we did not live near the sea, nor had the financial resources to do so. The Asgard II played a large role in our family life as it became a Rite of Passage to sail on board her. My two youngest siblings did not sail on the Asgard II because she sank, which they much regret".
She continues: "Apart from the discipline of sailing and the adventure of new experiences and countries, the Asgard brought people of different social class and background together. There are few experiences which can achieve so much during the formative years of young adulthood"
That's it from the heart – and from the heart of the country too, from l'Irlande profonde. So, as the economy starts to pick up again, when you've heard the real meaning of Asgard II expressed so directly then it's time to expect some proper tall ship action for Ireland in the near future. But it's not going to be a simple business. So maybe we should take quick canter through the convoluted story of how Asgard II came into being, in the realization that in its way, creating her successor is proving to be every bit as complex.
As we shall see, the story actually goes back earlier, but we'll begin in 1961 when Erskine Childers's historic 1905-built 51ft ketch Asgard was bought and brought back by the Irish government under some effective public pressure. It was assumed that a vessel of this size – quite a large yacht by the Irish standards of the time – would make an ideal sail training vessel and floating ambassador. It was equally assumed that the Naval Service would be happy to run her. But apart from keen sailing enthusiasts in the Naval Reserve - people like Lt Buddy Thompson and Lt Sean Flood – the Naval Service had enough on its plate with restricted budgets and ageing ships for their primary purpose of fishery patrol.
Aboard the first Asgard in 1961 during her brief period in the 1960s as a sail training vessel with the Naval Service – Lt Sean Flood is at the helm
So Asgard was increasingly neglected throughout the 1960s until Charlie Haughey, the new Minister for Finance and the only member of Government with the slightest interest in the sea, was persuaded by the sailing community that Asgard could become a viable sail training ship. In 1968 she was removed from the remit of the Department for Defence into the hands of some rather bewildered officials in the Department for Finance, and a voluntary committee of five experienced sailing people - Coiste an Asgard - was set up to oversee her conversion for sail training use in the boatyard at Malahide, which just happened to be rather less than a million miles from the Minister's constituency.
Asgard in her full sail training role in 1970 in Dublin Bay
Asgard was commissioned in her new role in Howth, the scene of her historic gun running in 1914, in the spring of 1969. Under the dedicated command of Captain Eric Healy, the little ship did her very best, but it soon became obvious that her days of active use would be limited by reasons of age, and anyway she was too small to be used for the important sail training vessel roles of providing space to entertain local bigwigs and decision-makers in blazers.
By 1972, the need for a replacement vessel was a matter of growing debate in the sailing community, and during a cruise in West Cork in the summer of 1972, I got talking to Dermot Kennedy of Baltimore out on Cape Clear. Dermot was the man who introduced Glenans to Ireland in 1969, and then he branched out on his own in sail training schools. A man of firm opinions, he reacted with derision to my suggestion that Asgard's replacement should be a modern glassfibre Bermudan ketch, but with enough sails to keep half a dozen trainees busy.
"Nonsense" snorted Dermot. "Ireland needs a real sailing ship, a miniature tall ship maybe, but still a real ship, big enough to carry square rig and have a proper clipper bow and capture the imagination and pride of every Irish person who sets eyes on her. And she should be painted dark green just to show she's the Irish sail training ship, and no doubt about it".
Some time that winter I simply mentioned his suggestions in Afloat magazine, and during the Christmas holidays they were read by Jack Tyrrell at his home in Arklow. During his boyhood, in the school holidays he had sailed with his uncle on the Arklow schooner Lady of Avenel, and it had so shaped his development into the man who was capable of running Ireland's most successful boatyard that he had long dreamed of a modern version of the Lady of Avenel to be Ireland's sail training ship.
The inspiration – Jack Tyrrell's boyhood experiences aboard Lady of Avenel inspired him to create Ireland's first proper sail training ship
In fact, in 1954 he had sketched out the plans for a 110ft three masted training ship, but Ireland in the 1950s was in the doldrums and the idea got nowhere. Yet the spark was always there, and it was mightily re-kindled by what Dermot Kennedy had said. So at that precise moment, the normal Christmas festivities in the Tyrrell household were over. They'd to continue the celebrations without the head of the family. The great man took himself off down to the little design office in his riverside boatyard, and in clouds of pipe tobacco smoke, he re-drew the lines of the 110ft three master to become an 83ft brigantine, the size reduction meaning that the shop would only need a fulltime crew of five.
Working all hours, he had the proposal drawings finished in time to rejoin his family to see in the New Year. And in the first post after the holiday, we got the drawings at Afloat, and ran them in the February 1973 issue.
Jack Tyrrell's proposal drawings for the new brigantine, as published in the February 1973 Afloat
In Ireland then as now, most politicians had inscribed in their heads the motto: "There's No Votes In Boats". So after Charlie Haughey had fallen from favour with the Arms Trial of 1970, Coiste an Asgard became an orphan. But 1973 brought a new government, and there was one cabinet minister in it who was proud to proclaim his allegiance to the sea.
Unfortunately for the respectability of the maritime movement in Ireland, our supporters in the higher echelons of politics have often tended to be from the colourful end of the political spectrum, whatever about their placing in the left-right continuum. Thus it was that, at mid-morning on St Patrick's Day 1973, I got an ebullient phone call and an immediate announcement, without the caller saying who he was. "Winkie" he bellowed, "That ship is going to be built. I'll make sure of it. I've just made a ministerial decision".
It emerged that it was our very own new Minister for Defence, Patrick Sarsfield Donegan TD. The enthusiasm for the new ship, engendered by studying Jack Tyrrell's drawings, led to a snap decision which stayed decided, and it all happened in the Department for Defence.
However, it was 1981 by the time the ship was launched, and she looked rather different from Jack Tyrrell's preliminary drawings, though the basic hull shape built in timber was the same sweet lines as originally envisaged, so she was able to sail like a witch. But as for her supporters at Government level, the non-stop cabaret continued. Charlie Haughey had regained power, and by 1981 he was Taoiseach. It was he who had seen to it that the Department of Defence continued to look after the Asgard II project with support from another sailing TD who might not have seen eye–to-eye with him on other matters, Bobby Molloy of Galway.
Asgard II in her finished form
So on a March day in 1981, almost exactly twelve years after he'd commissioned the original Asgard in her new role as a sail training vessel, Charlie Haughey took it upon himself to christen the new Asgard II in Arklow basin. And the champagne bottle refused to break. Five or six time he tried, but with no success.
Showing considerable grace under pressure and observed by a large crowd, he quietly took his time undoing all the ribbons and paraphernalia on the big bottle. Then he marched with it up to the new flagship's stem, and hit it a mighty double-handed wallop. The bottle exploded that time, with no mistake. And apart from the usual Haughey growl to those nearby about the idiocy of whoever forgot to score the champagne bottle beforehand, it was all done with the best of humour.
For most of her subsequent career, there's no doubt Asgard was a lucky and very successful vessel. Yet when her demise came, you couldn't help but think of the old notion that if the champagne bottle doesn't break first time, then she'll ultimately be an unlucky ship.
But there are more prosaic explanations. With a limited budget and every penny being scrutinized, Jack Tyrrell and his men had to build Asgard II in fishing boat style, which is fine within its proper time span, but that time span is really only twenty years, maybe thirty if the ship gets extra care. But with her fishing boat hull carrying a demanding brigantine rig, although she always looked immaculate, Asgard II was starting to show her age in the stress areas.
By 2005 there was serious talk about the need to plan for a replacement. When her skipper Colm Newport was told to renew her rig as the original spars were clearly well past it, he meticulously searched the best timber yards at home and abroad and when she got her new rig – it was 2006 or thereabouts – I wrote an only slightly tongue-in-cheek article suggesting that now was the time to replace her old tired wooden hull with a new steel one to the same Jack Tyrrell lines, but utilising the excellent new rig and as many of the fixtures and fittings as were still in good order from the original ship.
To say the response was negative is understating the case. People's attachment to Asgard could only imagine a wooden ship. It was the end of any meaningful debate. So things drifted on, with each new government seemingly even less interested in maritime matters generally, and sail training in particular, than the one before.
In September 2008, Asgard started taking in water while on passage with a crew of trainees towards La Rochelle for a maritime festival following which - while still in La Rochelle – it was planned that she would be lifted out for a thorough three week survey and maintenance programme.
Asgard's accommodation worked superbly whether at sea or in port. But the fact that so much was packed into a relatively small hull meant that some areas were almost inaccessible for proper inspection
It might have been the saving of her. But it was not to be. It's said that it was a failed seacock which caused the catastrophic ingress of water. She was a very crowded little ship, she packed a lot into her 84ft, so some hull fittings were less accessible internally than they would be in a more modern vessel, and may have deteriorated to a dangerous level. But if, as some would propose, she hit something in the water which caused a plank to start, then the fact that nobody aboard was aware of any impact suggests that the time for a major overhaul, and preferably a hull replacement, was long overdue.
The moment Asgard II sank, she ceased to have any future as a sail training vessel, and there was no real official interest in her salvage. You simply cannot take other people's children to sea on a salvaged vessel of doubtful seaworthiness. And as it happens, the sinking came at exactly the time the Irish economy fell of a cliff. So although after an enquiry the Government accepted a €3.8 million insurance settlement, in the end, despite assurances to the contrary, it disappeared into the bottomless pit which was the national debt, and within a year Coiste an Asgard was wound up with its records and few resources incorporated into a new entity, Sail Training Ireland.
The plot takes a further macabre twist in that, shortly after the loss of Asgard II, the Northern Ireland Sailing Training ketch was also lost after hitting a rock on the Antrim coast. From having two popular and well-used sail training vessels in the middle of 2008, within a year Ireland had no official sail training vessels at all.
Yet though the flame had been largely subdued, there were those who have kept the faith, and gradually the sail training movement is being rebuilt. Sail Training Ireland is the frontline representative for around five different organisations, being the official affiliate of Sail Training International, and it has a busy programme of placing trainees in ships which operate at an international level, in which the Dutch are supreme.
In Ireland at the moment, the only sail training "ship" is the schooner Spirit of Oysterhaven, run by Oliver Hart and his team from their adventure centre near Kinsale. In fact, Spirit – you can read about her in Theo Dorgan's evocative book Sailing For Home (Penguin Ireland 2004) – really is punching way above her weight in representing Ireland in a style reminiscent of both the Asgards.
Spirit of Oysterhaven has been doing great work in keeping sail training alive in Ireland
But having the ship is one thing, paying the fees for the trainees to be aboard is something else, and sail training bursaries are one of the key areas of expansion in current maritime development in Ireland. There was an unusual turn to this in 2014 when somebody came up with the bright idea of using Irish Cruising Club funds (which are generated by the surplus from the voluntary production of the club's Sailing Directions) to provide bursaries for youngsters to take part in last summer's ICC 85th Anniversary Cruise-in-Company along the southwestern seaboard on Spirit of Oysterhaven.
The idea worked brilliantly, and this concept of neatly-tailored sail training bursaries is clearly one which can be usefully developed. But still and all, while it's great that young Irish people are being assisted in getting berths aboard charismatic vessels like Europa, the feeling that we should have our own proper sail training ship again is gradually gaining traction, and this is where the Atlantic Youth Trust comes in.
The AYT had its inaugural general meeting in Belfast as recently as the end of September 2014, so it may not yet have come up on your radar. But as it has emerged out of the Pride of Ireland Trust which in turn emerged from the Pride of Galway Trust, you'll have guessed that Enda O'Coineen and John Killeen are much involved, and they've roped in some seriously heavy hitters from both sides of the border, either as Board Members or backers, and sometimes as both.
The cross-border element is central to the concept of building a 40 metre three-masted barquentine, a size which would put her among the glamour girls in Class A, and could carry a decidedly large complement of 40 trainees, even if you're inevitably talking of stratospheric professional crewing costs.
However, by going straight in at top government level on both sides of the border, the AYT team are finding that they're pushing at a door which wants to open, particularly after the new Stormont House agreement was reached in the last days of 2014 to bring a more enthusiastic approach both to cross-community initiatives in the north, and cross border co-operation generally.
Who knows, but if they can succeed in getting cross-community initiatives working in Northern Ireland, then they may even be able to swing some sort of genuine Dublin-Cork shared enthusiasm in the Republic, for I've long thought that one of the factors in holding back many maritime initiatives in Ireland is that, while Dublin may be the political capital, Cork is quietly confident it's the real maritime capital, and does its own thing.
Be that as it may, the AYT have done serious studies, and their conclusion is the best scheme to learn from is the Spirit of Adventure programme in New Zealand. This is where the feeling of going back to the future arises, for in looking at photos of their ship Spirit of New Zealand, there's no escaping the thought that you're looking at Jack Tyrrell's concept ship of 1954 brought superbly to life.
Spirit of New Zealand
Spirit of New Zealand almost seems like a vision of 1954 brought to life...
.....and that vision is Jack Tyrrell's 1954 concept for a 110ft sail training ship
The 1954 accommodation drawings for the 110ft ship hark back to a more rugged age. Imagine the difficulties the ship's cook would face trying to get hot food from his galley on deck amidships all the way back to the officers in their mess down aft
We needn't necessarily agree with all the AYT's basic thinking For instance, they assert that Ireland is like New Zealand is being an isolated smallish island. It depends what you mean by "isolated". Those early sail training pioneers, the Vikings, certainly didn't think of Ireland as isolated. They thought it was central to the entire business of sailing up and down Europe's coastline.
Thus any all-Ireland sail training vessel would be expected to be away abroad at least as much as she'd be at home, whereas Spirit of New Zealand is usually home – the season of 2013-2014 was the first time she'd been to Australia since 1988, when she was in the fleet with Asgard II for the First Feet celebrations.
In New Zealand, she's a sort of floating adventure centre, and a large tender often accompanies her to take the trainees to the nearest landing place for shoreside adventures, for it's quite a challenge keeping 40 energetic young people fully occupied.
In Europe, that's where the sail training races come in. Time was when the racing aspect was down-played. But there's nothing like a good race to bring a mutinous crew together, and the recently-published mega-book about the world's sail training vessels, Tall Ships Today by Nigel Rowe of Sail Training International, quite rightly devotes significant space to everything to do with the racing.
Thus if we do get a new sail training ship for Ireland, she'll have to sail well and fast. That was Asgard II's greatest virtue. For there is nothing more dispiriting for troubled young folk than to find themselves shackled to the woofer of the fleet. Yet you'd be pleasantly surprised by how previously disengaged youngster can become actively and enthusiastically involved when they find that they're being transformed from scared and seasick kids into members of a winning crew.
So now, the 64 thousand dollar question. The cost. It's rather more than 64 thousand. AYT reckon they'll have to come up with a final capital expenditure of €15 million to build the ship and get her into full commission with proper crewing and shoreside administration arrangements in place. But after that – and here's the kernel of the whole concept – they reckon that the running costs will come out of existing government expenditure already in place and used every year for education, youth training, sporting facilities, social development and so forth.
So their pitch is that if the governments north and south come up with funding to support substantial donations already proposed for AYT by various benevolent national and international bodies, then once the ship is in being, she will generate her own income in the same way as vessels like Europa and Morgen Stern are already doing in mainland Europe.
And it's to the heart of mainland Europe that they'll be looking for design and contruction, as it's the Dykstra partnership which will be overseeing the design, and their ship-build associate company Damen will likely do the construction work, though one idea being floated is that Damen might provide a flatpack kit for the vessel to be built in steel in Ireland.
Those of us who dream of Asgard II being built anew will find all this a bit challenging to take on board. My own hopes, for instance, would still be to build Asgard II again to Jack Tyrrell's lines, but with the hull constructed in aluminium. It would be expensive as it would need to be double-skin below the waterline, but the ship's size would be very manageable with a professional crew of just five, while she'd sail like a dream And proper top-class marine grade aluminium seems to last for ever, as naval architect Gerry Dijkstra (his surname is slightly different from that of the partnership) himself shows with his remarkable cruises with his own-designed alloy 54-footer Bestevaer.
A man who knows what he's doing. This is Gerry Dijkstra's own extensively-cruised alloy-built 54 footer Bestevaer. The name translates not as "Best ever", but either as "best father" or "best seafarer", and was the name of affection given to the great Admiral de Ruyter by his loyal crews
Whatever, the good news is that things are on the move, and we wish them well, all those who have kept the Irish sail training flame alive through some appalling setbacks. Now, it really is the time to move forward. And if we do get a new ship, why not call her the Jack Tyrrell? He, of all people, was the one who kept the faith and the flame alive.
- Tall ship
- Jack Tyrell
- Class A
- square riggers
- George Stage
- Alexander Von Humboldt
- Christian Radich
- Asgard II
- Elaine Byrne
- Erskine Childers
- Sean Flood
- Afloat magazine
- sail training ship
- Coiste an Asgard
- Charlie Haughey
- Colm Newport
- Irish Cruising Club
- Spirit of Oysterhaven
- Enda O'Coineen
- John Killeen
#Maritime - Is Ireland a model to follow when it comes to maritime strategy?
It is according to Simon Mercieca of the University of Malta, who blogs on the Malta Independent website about the need for his country to take lessons from the Irish experience.
Citing his visit to a maritime history conference at University College Cork late last year, Dr Mercieca is full of praise for Marine Minister Simon Coveney and his department's focus on revitalising Ireland's ports and coastal areas.
That stands in stark contrast to the situation on Malta as Dr Mercieca would have it, describing a country where maritime "is today a non-entity in our political discussion".
"Despite the fact that Malta built its fortune on its geographical position in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, the country now lacks a serious maritime vision."
The Malta Independent has more on the story HERE.
#Maritime - Ireland has been "sea-blind" for decades and needs a "strong maritime constituency" to make the most of our significant ocean and coastal resources, according to the nation's highest ranking naval officer.
Rear Admiral Mark Mellett DSM was speaking at the launch of a new book celebrating 25 years of RTÉ Radio's Seascapes programme at the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire last Monday 1 December.
Citing Ireland's mostly maritime jurisdiction - "three times the size of Germany, one million square kilometres, 92% of which is underwater... with trillions of euros of yet-to-be-found hydrocarbon and mineral resources" - he lamented that the nation had taken so long to embrace the sea.
"Over many decades, in my own view, in particular since the foundation of the State, we've been sea-blind. We haven't recognised our maritime heritage to the level that we should," said the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces.
"And that's why it's important that institutions like the Maritime Museum of Ireland have stood us in good stead by re-establishing our constituency, and more recently I'm delighted that Government from the centre, through Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth, is driving that maritime constituency."
"But good governance needs a strong maritime constituency," he added. "And it needs champions... But more than that, it needs thought leaders, thought leaders like Tom MacSweeney, thought leaders like Lorna Siggins [Irish Times Marine Corr – Ed] and thought leaders like Marcus Connaughton, people who define and set the agenda in the maritime."
WM Nixon has much more on the Sailing By book launch in his latest blog entry HERE.
#seascapes – The maritime community in Ireland is a mystery to the vast majority of the rest of the population. Admittedly anyone Irish will sing enthusiastically about how good it is to be entirely surrounded by water. But for most folk among a people who like to think that they're basically rural even if the reality is they're increasingly urban, the sea is seen as no more than a useful barrier, while the coast is only briefly a fun place at the very height of a good summer.
The sea and the coastal interface are not seen as an exciting world in itself, a unique environment which deserves to be explored, enjoyed and utilised in practical and often beneficial ways. On the contrary, the popular view of the plain people of Ireland is that the less they know about the sea, the better. And the unspoken corollary of this is that anyone who seeks to go to sea for recreation is at best a bit odd, maybe even a misfit ashore, while those who work on the sea only do so because they couldn't get a job on land.
Here at Afloat.ie, in its various manifestations over the past 52 years, we've been trying to spread mutual understanding and useful information among the many and varied strands of those who go afloat for sport and recreation in Ireland and beyond. We know this is largely a matter of preaching to the converted. But we also try to do our bit to welcome those who may be newcomers to the world of boats, while remaining keenly aware of the drawbacks of over-selling our sport, our hobby – our obsession, if you wish.
Sailing and boating in Ireland can be rugged enough. Thus the sport in all its forms can only expand in a sustainable way if it attracts people who will themselves bring something positive to the party, for interacting usefully with boats is not a passive affair. And there has been a certain level of success. Over the years, while there was an understandable blip in boating numbers during the recent recession, the graph has been reasonably healthy when it's remembered that rival sport and entertainment attractions are proliferating all the time, while the increasing availability of holidays afloat in sunnier climates makes the promotion of boating activity within Ireland more problematic.
Fifty-two years ago, beginning a process of regular communication among Ireland's recreational boating community was quite a challenge. But it was a very straightforward project compared with inaugurating a regularly weekly broadcast maritime programme for all listeners on national radio in a country notably averse to the sea. Yet it all began 25 years ago, and it's still going strong.
So how do you celebrate 25 years of a niche radio programme, a little Irish maritime magazine of the air? It would be too much to expect a documentary on primetime television. And even an extra-long gala edition on the national radio airwaves at peak listening times might well be counter-productive. So it seems the answer is that the best way to celebrate 25 years of Seascapes on RTE Radio 1 is to publish a book well-filled with some of the key broadcasts with which it has been associated. And as those now-printed broadcasts include a maritime-themed series of the prestigious Thomas Davis Lectures, you mark the anniversary by sending out those as broadcasts again in their own right twelve years after their first transmission.
It may all sound almost devious, a matter of managing to slip the Seascapes celebrations in under the RTE management radar. But those of us who have been banging the maritime development drums for a very long time are well aware that, though the tide is definitely turning, there's still a huge underlying resistance to anything to do with the sea and boats, and it takes an element of cunning to get the message across such that, in time, the people are themselves singing from the same hymn sheet, and thinking it was all their idea in the first place.
But the founder of Seascapes 25 years ago, RTE's Cork reporter Tom MacSweeney, makes your average terrier look like a tired old dog. A sailing and maritime enthusiast himself even though his family had been from a non-maritime background, he had as a child in Cork been inspired by his grandfather's great respect for seafarers, and the vital task they performed in keeping Ireland connected with the rest of the world. He could see the sea all about us, and Cork is the most maritime of cities. So he just kept nagging RTE until they gave him a quarter of an hour once a week back in 1989 to put on a maritime programme for an island nation. And though it has been shifted around in the schedules, it is now a solid half hour every Friday night at 10.30pm, a worthy fulfilment of RTE's public service remit - you really do get a sense of Seascape's nationwide listening community, while podcasts make it more accessible than ever.
The sheer volume of material from all round Ireland's coasts, from our lakes and rivers, and from Irish seafarers abroad, is simply monumental, a treasure trove. So in producing the book (it's published by Liffey Press at €20 with all royalties going to the Lifeboat Service), they'd to wield a fierce scalpel. And though it includes the complete set of Thomas Davis lectures from twelve years ago, it's still of manageable size (in other words, you can read it in bed), while giving a good overview and flavour of the kind of material Seascapes broadcasts, and what we might call the house style.
In Tom MacSweeney's days of producing and presenting it from 1989 until he retired from RTE in January 2010, it has to be agreed that very occasionally the nagging which got Seascapes its slot in the first place sometimes spilled over onto the airwaves in the programme itself. Okay, we all know that Ireland is not as sea-minded as it might be. But things are slowly improving in this, and they might improve more quickly if the maritime movement relied more on the path of gentle encouragement and inspiring example rather than constantly reiterating the tedious refrain of "the government should do this, the government should do that....."
From time to time, I have to confess I thought the worst possible thing was to get the government involved at all, having seen what the official encouragement and enforcement of the Irish language had achieved since the establishment of the state. There'd be occasions when you'd think the best way to turn the Irish into a nation of doughty sailors would be to declare seafaring illegal. The people would have taken to boats in their droves....But nevertheless the tide is slowly but definitely turning, and in today's less frenetic atmosphere of businesslike maritime promotion and development, we're becoming more comfortable in our relationship with the sea.
Man of the sea. Rear Admiral Mark Mellett DSM on exercises with the Naval Service off the Cork coast.
So it was entirely appropriate that, in the launching of the Seascape's compendium Sailing By, the main speaker in both the Cork Harbour Commissioners' building on the Friday night (November 28th), and in the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire on Monday, was Rear Admiral Mark Mellett DSM, our most distinguished navy man, who has risen to the august heights of Deputy Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces.
If you requested Central Casting to provide an Irish Admiral who conveys the expected air of competence with the necessary gravitas and presence, while still having that essential Irish twinkle, then they'd send you Mark Mellett. We'd most of us heard of his steady rise through the senior ranks, but for many of us in the National Maritime Museum on a damp December night, it was the first experience of seeing Admiral Mellett in a professional and public capacity. For people from a very wide range of interests and activities in the maritime sphere, it was very encouraging – we feel we now have a spokesman who can ably represent us at every level, however formal or high powered, while at the same time retaining the human touch.
Top people at the launching of the Seascapes book Sailing By are (left to right) Cllr Marie Baker (Cathaoirleach of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council), Rear Admiral Mark Mellett DSM (Deputy Chief of Staff , Defence Forces), Marcus Connaughton of Seascapes, and Richard McCormick, President of the National Maritime Museum. Admiral Mellett is being presented with the book The Atlantic Coast of Ireland, as he already has his own copy of Sailing By – he wrote the foreword.
His enthusiasm is palpable, and he provided a foreword for the book which speaks from the heart, yet provides a practical and businesslike outlook. In fact, that was the flavour of the evening in the National Maritime Museum, as it was hosted by Richard McCormick, the recently elected President of the National Maritime Museum, and the speakers included the Cathaoirleach of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Cllr. Marie Baker, and Tom McGuire, head of RTE Radio 1, who knows better than anyone just what has been needed to keep Seascapes on the airwaves for 25 years.
Most of all it has of course been the sheer dogged determination of Tom MacSweeney working on his own as producer and presenter in RTE's Cork studio, followed by his successor Marcus Connaughton, who came in as producer when the Thomas Davis Lectures were added to an already almost impossibly demanding schedule in 2002, and stayed on to become presenter eight years later.
They're two very different people. Tom is so involved and enthusiastic that occasionally his own personality, opinions and attitudes cloud the issue. He's a complex man with many interests, not least of them being a national Vice President of the St Vincent de Paul Society. But as regular visitors to Afloat.ie will know, he continues to broadcast his own maritime programmes through community radio, and he's a much-sought-after speaker on sea matters. Recently, he gave a sold-out talk - How Stands Our Island Nation? - to the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association in the Poolbeg Y&BC, and while he had the usual serious message, it was leavened by his sharp wit, with the laugh of the evening being provided by his reading of the pained official letter from an Irish Lights Manager complaining about the sheer incompetence and slovenly carelessness of Brendan Behan when he was employed as a painter renovating the St John's Point lighthouse in County Down.
That said, it was a telling lesson in the importance or otherwise of maritime affairs in Ireland's national and cultural life in times past, that the story of a noted playwright making a complete hames of painting a lighthouse was something you knew would register more readily with a general audience than anything of more direct nautical interest, and it is an awareness of the need to reach out gently to the general public which sets the tone of Marcus Connaughton's presentation of Seascapes.
He arrived in the job first as producer, and then as producer/presenter, with no personal baggage in maritime matters. His background was in music production and public relations, and a couple of years ago he brought seventeen years of research and writing to a successful conclusion with the defining biography of Rory Gallagher. But gradually he has become absorbed in and intrigued by the world of boats and the sea. As one of the speakers on Monday night put it, one of the most quietly impressive peformances you'll see is Marcus – who is by no means a small man – sidling into the crowd at some maritime gathering, armed with microphone and recorder, ready and willing to give a voice to the voiceless.
Man at work – Marcus Connaughton records the memories of Alan Martin and Jimmy Carthy of the Dublin Dockworkers Preservation Society
Tim Magennis (left) President of the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association, with Marcus Connaughton. Once upon a time, they were work colleagues in the PR Department of Bord Failte
The book launch begins to become a party – Con Murphy of the National YC (left) and Brian Craig of the Royal St George YC getting their copies of Sailing By signed by Marcus Connaughton in the National Maritime Museum. Photo: W M Nixon
The changeover to a new presenter was fairly gradual, but very marked in one thing – he changed the signature tune. When Seascapes started in 1989, they simply borrowed the music which precedes the BBC Shipping Forecast, Ronald Binge's "Sailing By".
"Sailing By" in almost any form is the sound of syrup being poured over sugar lumps, but some folk loved it, so the change to the brisk tone of Simon Mayer's The Reel Thing wasn't universally popular, even if welcomed by those of us trying to cut down on the sucrose.
Yet it's surely an appropriate 25th anniversary sweetener that the published compendium of Seascapes stories is titled Sailing By, and the cover is a fine photo of the renowned pilot cutter Jolie Brise sailing by the Fastnet Rock. It was taken by Brian Carlin of Tralee, who subsequently went on to be the award-winning photographer aboard the Volvo 65 Team Vestas, which unfortunately managed to do some excessive impactive navigation off Mauritius during the Volvo World race last weekend. It was certainly not the photographer's fault, but it heightened the sense of an Irish maritime community worldwide that at Monday night's gathering, Marcus was able to tell us that not only was Brian all right, but that in contacting his father to say so, he requested that the message be passed on to Seascapes as soon as possible.
One of award-winning photographer Brian Carlin's studies of Jolie Brise sailing by the Fastnet Rock. Photo: Brian Carlin
The top moment – it's 2005, and the Seascapes team are on board Asgard II as she leads the Dunbrody of New Ross, and the Jeanie Johnston of Tralee, in the Parade of Sail at the Tall Ships visit to Waterford. Photo: Dave Osborne
As for Marcus's own special recollections of his years with Seascapes, we allowed him six and he ranked them: (1) Being on Asgard II in Waterford with the Tall Ships in 2005, (2) at sea off Hook Head with Martin Colfer amidst enormous schools of lively dolphins, (3) in Galway during both Volvo visits, (4) being far up his beloved Munster Blackwater beyond Ballinatray at the top of the tide, (5) celebrating 25 years of the Killybegs Fishermen's Association at a monster party in the great Donegal port, and (6) being in the renovated National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire when it was re-opened by President Michael D Higgins.
Presidential thoughts of the sea and seafaring in Ireland – Seascapes interviews President Higgins after he has re-opened the restored National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Margaret Brown
Seascapes was of course broadcast as usual last night at 10.30pm, and Marcus Connaughton will be signing copies of Sailing By in Waterstones in Cork this afternoon from 2.0pm to 5.0pm. The first of the six Thomas Davis lectures from 20012 – Paddy Barry's lyrical account of sailing round Ireland – will be broadcast on Friday December 19th, and they'll continue weekly until the final one on February 6th, which is my own item about why most people in Ireland think sailing enthusiasts are so odd. As mentioned at the Glandore Summer School in July, I've changed my mind about some aspects of that, and I'll probably have changed it yet again when Marcus provides me with the space for further thoughts on the matter on Seascapes some time after February 6th.
But meanwhile, happy birthday to Seascapes – you provide a wonderful example of genuine public service broadcasting.
#islands – On Thursday, October 9, not enough TDs turned up in the Dáil to create a quorum for the business of our national Parliament. The Opposition accused the Government parties of being responsible and of showing lack of commitment to the affairs of the nation.
One of the affairs of the nation to which the Dáil shows lack of interest is the maritime sphere.
The Government is particularly culpable in this regard and is ignoring two reports which it commissioned on the maritime sphere and coastal communities.
I wrote last week about this neglect, questioning in particular the Government's dilution of maritime affairs by moving them into several departments.
This attitude is underlined by the manner in which it has refused to give time to discuss the Oireachtas Committee report on coastal and island communities which was presented to them in January of this year and the CEDRA Report which also made recommendations about maritime affairs.
The Oireachtas Committee which examined and reported on the Islands and Coastal Communities made a request for a national conference to be held by Departments with responsibilities in the maritime sphere. It also called for a debate in the Dáil and Senate on the issues it had highlighted of neglect and failures to support these communities. The Committee highlighted, amongst other issues, that State 'governance arrangements' were "not the best working model."
The Government has not given debate time nor have any of the Departments with involvement in the marine sphere done anything to organise a national conference involving those in the marine sphere to debate the issues. There were more than 30 recommendations in the report, ranging from maritime tourism to the seaweed industry.
Since the report was delivered the State company, Arramara, was sold off by Udaras na Gaeltachta. Questions have been raised about this, the sale has been subject to a lot of criticism, but there has been no Dáil or Senate debate on why another maritime resource, the property of the people of the nation, was sold to private interests. This was done despite the objections of seaweed growers who have alleged that their livelihoods were being destroyed.
Another maritime report by a Commission set up by the Government, which has been ignored since it was delivered, is the CEDRA Report (Commission for Economic Development of Rural Areas) which concluded that there should be 'plan-led' development of Ireland's marine territory to support economic targets and goals set out in the Government's Ocean Wealth Plan. It challenged the Government's commitment to this plan and whether it will, as a result, be effective.
The Chairman of CEDRA, former Kerry footballer and analyst Pat Spillane, did not know that the State company, Arramara, was being sold off by Udaras na Gaeltachta when his Commission recommended that the Government must set up "a regulatory development framework for the State's seaweed sector, both wild and cultivated," which would have economic and employment prospects for national benefit.
Neither did the Chairman of the Oireachtas Fisheries Committee, Andrew Doyle, T.D., know about the Government's agreement to sell off this State company and national resource, when his Committee made a similar recommendation to that of CEDRA's.
Both of these recommendations by State-appointed review bodies, were ignored by the Government. Is this not a clear indication of disregard for the maritime sector?
There are a lot of unanswered questions about how and why this sale was carried out and the effects it will have on the seaweed industry, such as why employment and potential economic benefits were ignored, as were those for whom it provided a livelihood.
Why has this sale not been made an issue for debate in the Dáil? Where are TDs and the national media in challenging aspects of it and asking for explanations?
The public reaction of the CEDRA Chairman to the Government's lack of response to his Commission's Report, which also made recommendations, as did the Oireachtas Committee, about the development of marine tourism and marinas, suggests that the Government's real commitment, away from the public relations spin, may be lacking.
In contrast to the frustration of lack of sufficient p Government focus and commitment to the maritime sector, there is the determination of people like Caitlin Ni Aodha from Helvick in County Waterford. In January of 2012 Caitlin stood on the quayside at Union Hall in West Cork when the Tit Bonhomme trawler tragedy occurred and her husband, Michael, and members of the crew died.
Caitlin Ni Aodha from Helvick in County Waterford
In the latest edition of my fortnightly half-hour radio programme, THIS ISLAND NATION, which you can hear here, I talk on the quayside at Howth to Caitlin as her new boat is launched, a 23-metre prawn freezer. She says that over the last few years she had learned a lot about life, about how good things happened, tragedies occurred, but life had to go on and it was important to do the best one can in life:
"People suffer tragedies, everything is not always easy. Michael and the Tit Bonhomme will be with me for ever. Every day I think of them, but I must do the very best I can with my life."
It is not possible to maximise opportunities from the sea without a strong maritime culture. The Government and its officials could follow that approach to improve their attitude towards the fishing and marine industries. They could also listen to and benefit from hearing the determination of the man in charge of the State's newest naval vessel, Lt.Cdr.Tony Geraghty of the L.E.Samuel Beckett, on the programme. He outlines his determination to demonstrate the public the value of investment in the maritime sphere through the new ship. The ship is a positive State commitment, but the Government generally needs to do much more to show it appreciates that is responsible for the entire welfare of an island nation and to cherish all of its people equally.
Until next week, the usual wish of ..... "fair sailing" ........
Twitter: @AfloatMagazine @Tom MacSweeney
#maritime – The first ever Irish Maritime Forum was held today (Friday, 26th September 2014) in Cork's City Hall. Hosted by the Port of Cork, in partnership with the Irish Ports Association, the forum was attended by over 150 delegates from across the maritime industry.
Entitled 'Developing the Dynamic Future for Ireland's Maritime Sector', the forum focussed on the challenges and opportunities faced by those operating within the maritime sector, both in Ireland and in Europe.
Opening the conference, Minister Sean Sherlock TD spoke of the importance of ports as strategic points for trade growth, both nationally and internationally. He highlighted the Port of Cork and other Irish ports as global benchmarks and commended them for their future vision.
Guest speakers at the forum included Vincent De Saedeleer, Vice President of the Port of Zebrugee; Mr Alan Gray, Managing Director of the Indecon International Consulting Group; Captain Fredrik Van Wijnen, General Secretary of the Confederation of European Shipmasters' Associations (CESMA), Isabelle Ryckbost, Secretary General of the European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) and Patrick Verhoeven, Secretary General of the European Community Shipowner's Association (ECSA).
Speaking at the forum, John Mullins, Chairman of the Port of Cork, said: "I am delighted to be opening the inaugural Irish Maritime Forum here in Cork. This is a unique opportunity for industry leaders to come together and develop ideas for change. These ideas need to be put to policy makers to shape future government policy for the sector and I hope that is something that we can achieve here today".
Brendan Keating, Chief Executive of the Port of Cork continued, "We know that ports are a key element for national economic growth, particularly as Ireland emergences from recessionary times. However adequate port infrastructure is critical for future growth."
The forum will continue throughout the afternoon and will culminate with a gala dinner also in City Hall for over 200 guests.
#westcorksailing – Balitmore Maritime Centre (BMC) was formed in 2013, in order to continue the sailing activities of Les Glénans in Baltimore, West Cork which have ceased. Here BMC chairman Michael O'Meara outlines the work of the centre since it started activities earlier this year.
Both Baltimore and Collanmore sailing bases have been put on the market by Fáilte Ireland. We have been unable to secure a lease on the Baltimore property as Fáilte Ireland are not engaging in that type of business activity anymore. However, we are keeping a watching brief on the sale of Baltimore and there are moves afoot locally to secure funding to make an offer to purchase the base. There has been widespread support for Baltimore Maritime Centre/Glenua in Baltimore and Skibbereen and this is very encouraging looking towards the future. We have ongoing liaison with local businesses and other interests.
On a more practical level, BMC/Glenua, in conjunction with the local maritime heritage group has produced a comprehensive proposal for the development and use of the base. This proposal encompasses traditional boat building, maritime archaeology and a maritime heritage data base whilst ring-fencing and enhancing our Les Glénans style sailing activities. The Baltimore Maritime & Training Project document is reproduced in our newsletter, The Beacon, attached for your information.
We are using this proposal in our engagements with state agencies, politicians and funding agencies. If this proposal is successful, it will give BMC/Glenua security of tenure, enhance the total sailing experience, have the capability of using the base all year round and provide a greater economic unit to make the project sustainable for the long term.
Our fleet of 6 GL 570s were re-located to Heir Island in June in order to provide keel boat courses in a very successful joint venture with John Moore of Heir Island Sailing School. The boats are now back at anchor in Church Strand Bay, Baltimore. More courses will be available during August. We have just completed our July cruising courses running between Kinsale and Baltimore and again, more of these courses will be available during August.
A copy of the BMC newsletter, The Beacon is attached below.
#maritimeforum – Together the Chairman and Chief Executive of the Port of Cork Company announced today that the first ever Irish Maritime Forum will be held in Cork City Hall on Friday September 26th 2014. The forum themed 'Developing the Dynamic Future for Ireland's Maritime Sector' will focus on exploring the future of the maritime sector within Ireland and will look closely at the challenges and opportunities faced by many within the sector. The forum which will attract delegates from across the entire Irish maritime sector will be hosted by the Port of Cork.
A unique platform of both national and international speakers is expected at the forum such as Mr Joachim Coens, President of Port of Zebrugee, Mr Alan Gray, Managing Director of the Indecon International Consulting Group, Mr Liam Lacey, Director of IMDO, Captain Fredrik Van Wijnen, General Secretary of the Confederation of European Shipmasters' Associations (CESMA), Isabelle Ryckbost, Secretary General of the European Sea Ports Organisation and Christophe Mathieu, Deputy Managing Director of Brittany Ferries. With more speakers due to be announced, each speaker will bring his/her own expert knowledge and experience to the forum.
Speaking at the announcement today, Mr John Mullins, Chairman of the Port of Cork, said: "The Irish Maritime Forum is a unique event in that it will be the first time a forum attracting the entire maritime industry in Ireland will come together to jointly share and learn from each other's experience. The theme 'Developing the Dynamic future of Ireland's Maritime Industry' is aimed at everyone within the maritime sector, from ports, ship owners and operators, shipping lines, stevedore, plus maritime associations such as the Irish Institute of Master Mariners and the Chamber of Irish Shipping to name a few.'
He continued: 'The Port of Cork is honoured to be hosting this forum which will be held in Cork City Hall on Friday 26th September 2014. We hope that delegates will benefit from attending the forum and also enjoy Cork City and its many attractions.'
Delegates interested in attending the Irish Maritime Forum 2014 are asked to register now by visiting www.irishmaritimeforum.ie The Irish Maritime Forum will feature a host of events including a welcome address by an Irish Government Minister, lunch, gala dinner and a partner's programme.
#lighthouses – A London maritime institution with strong Irish connections stretching back over 500 years is opening its doors to the public to celebrate an important maritime birthday next month. In 1514 a young King Henry VIII granted a Royal Charter to a fraternity of mariners called the Guild of the Holy Trinity "so that they might regulate the pilotage of ships in the King's streams" and the month of May marks the 500th anniversary of this milestone event in British maritime history. Included in the celebrations at Trinity House, home to the Corporation and the working office of the General Lighthouse Authority, is a unique Open Day Invitation to the general public to discover the treasures and artefacts preserved and on display within its five elegant rooms and access areas from 10am - 3pm on Saturday, 17th May. There is no need to contact the House - interested day-visitors can arrive and wander about the House at their leisure and receive information from expert guides stationed throughout.
Enthusiasts unable to make this date can schedule a visit from 10am - 3pm on Saturday 20th September (only) as part of the city-wide Open House London promotion created by Open-City (www.open-city.org.uk) and staged on the 20th and 21st of the month providing rare public access to 800 other exceptional buildings in London.
Trinity House is located on Tower Hill overlooking the historic Tower of London and the picturesque Trinity Square Gardens containing a memorial to merchant navy heroes of two World Wars and the Falklands War. It is available for private hire on an exclusive use basis and throughout the year is a popular venue for prestigious corporate and social occasions and is licensed for weddings and civil service ceremonies (please visit www.trinityhouse.co.uk/events for more details).
Built in 1794, the history of the House is omnipresent and throughout the building, valuable paintings and antiques bear out the nation's remarkable nautical heritage. One of its more recent acquisitions is the brass bell from the Royal Yacht Britannia which was decommissioned in 1997.
Trinity House's connection with seamarks and lighthouses dates from Elizabeth I and the Seamarks Act of 1566 which granted powers to set up "so many beacons, marks and signs for the sea whereby the dangers may be avoided and escaped and ships the better come into their ports without peril." The first lighthouse was built during the reign of James I by Trinity House at Lowestoft in 1609, and the next 200 years saw a proliferation of light house building around the coast.
In its 200 year history, the building of Trinity House has welcomed royalty, prime ministers and Lords of the Admiralty and is today managed by Deputy Master, Captain Ian McNaught. Reflecting the on-going patronage of the Crown, the current Master of the Corporation is HRH The Princess Royal, filling a role held in former centuries by, amongst others, the diarist Samuel Pepys, the Duke of Wellington, William Pitt the Younger and, more recently, The Duke of Edinburgh.
About Trinity House
Trinity House is the working office of the General Lighthouse Authority (GLA) for England and Wales with responsibility for nearly 600 Aids to Navigation from traditional aids such as lighthouses, buoys and beacons to the latest satellite navigation technology. In addition, it inspects over 10,000 local Aids to Navigation provided by port and harbour authorities and those positioned on offshore structures. The venue at Tower Hill pays a rent to the Corporation for its use which ensures, as in all other aspects of the two organisations' finances, that the accounts of the Corporation and the General Lighthouse Authority are entirely separate and without crossover.
Incorporated by Royal Charter in 1514, the Corporation is also a major maritime charity, wholly funded by its endowments. The Corporation spends around £4m each year on its charitable activities including welfare of mariners, education and training, and the promotion of safety at sea. It is also a Deep Sea Pilotage Authority.
#historicboats – These days we're told of the growing disparity between the economic recovery of Ireland's eastern region, and the relative economic stagnation of some of the rest of the country. But W M Nixon suggests that, for one part of the western seaboard at least, there's a special vitality to life around boats which challenges this perception, and could usefully be emulated elsewhere. And he signs off with a thought-provoking conclusion.
Connemara, Conamara. Spell it as you wish, but The Land of the Sea on Connacht's most westerly coast fires the imagination and inspires the spirit. It's a place of the mind as much as a place of wild mountains where rocky inlets wind their way deep into rugged country. So while purists might define it exclusively as the much intertwined coastline with its myriad islands between Spiddal and Killary, many of the rest of us can be so inspired by that special Connemara quality that we reckon it runs all the way from Galway Bay to Achill. And anyone from that magic coastline, or indeed anyone who has been inspired by it, carries the spirit of Connemara with them wherever they may be.
The boat people you meet out there, each with their own unique and often ambitious maritime agenda, will send you on your way re-enthused about boats and places and their many possibilities. And when someone from another place or indeed another country decides that it's in Connemara their true self and fulfilment is to be found, far from being seen as exiles they are instead seen as a new focal points for their old groups, and their soul-mates from times past descend on them in Connemara for inspiration and mental re-birth.
This weekend, the boat men from Clondalkin in outer Dublin are journeying to Renvyle on the furthest far west coast to help one of their own in his boat restoration programme at a storm-battered corner on a bit of coast which was almost washed away in the winter's seemingly endless climatic violence.
The men of Clondalkin are the community group who built and sail and continue to lovingly maintain the large Galway Hooker Naomh Cronan. Recently, they've been busy enough with replacing some planks on their hefty big boat. But their key organiser Paul Keogh is mindful of the fact that one of their own, Paddy Murphy, is in the west, living on an Atlantic point out beyond the old Oliver St John Gogarty house which is now the hotel at Renvyle.
They dreamed the dream, and they made it happen. Key movers in the Naomh Cronan story were Stiophan O Laoire (left) and Paul Keogh, seen here at Poolbeg Y & BC as they come forward to accept a prize on behalf of the crew from Johnny Wedick, Hon. Sec. of the Dublin Bay OGA. Photo: Dave Owens
And between Paddy's house and the sea, beside a little hidden slipway which serves small boats which undertake the risky but rewarding challenge of harvesting Ireland's most fish-filled waters, the restoration project on the Aigh Vie is proving to be a demanding task. So this weekend the Keogh team – precise numbers unknown until everyone checks in this morning – are on site to re-caulk the Aigh Vie in a wild weekend of communal energy.
On the Atlantic frontier at Renvyle, the Aigh Vie is under her roof, tilted over to port to facilitate work under the starboard side of the hull. Photo: W M Nixon
For the Aigh Vie is one very special vessel. She's one of the Manx fishing nobbies which reached their ultimate state of development in the first twenty years of the 20th Century before steam power and then diesel engines took over. The nobby evolved to an almost yacht-like form through vessels like the 43ft White Heather (1904), which is owned and sailed under original-style standing lug rig by Mike Clark in the Isle of Man, and the 1910 Vervine Blossom, now based in Kinvara, which was restored by Mick Hunt of Howth, but he gave her a more easily-handled gaff ketch rig which looked very well indeed when she sailed in the Vigo to Dublin Tall Ships Race in 1998.
Mike Clark's Isle of Man-based 1904-built Manx nobby White Heather sets the original standing lug rig.
The 1910-built Manx nobby Vervine Blossom was restored by Mick Hunt in Howth, and is seen her making knots under her gaff ketch rig at the start of the 1998 Tall Ships Race from Vigo to Dublin. Photo: David Branigan
It takes quite something to outdo the provenance of these two fine vessels, but the story of Aigh Vie (it means a sort of mix of "good luck" and "fair winds" in Manx) is astonishing. It goes back to the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U Boat off the Cork coast in May 1915, when the first boat to mount a rescue was the Manx fishing ketch Wanderer from Peel, her crew of seven skippered by the 58-year-old William Ball.
They came upon a scene of developing carnage. Yet somehow, the little Wanderer managed to haul aboard and find space for 160 survivors, and provide them with succour and shelter as they made for port. In due course, as the enormity of the incident became clear, the achievement of the Wanderer's crew was to be recognised with a special medal presentation. And then William Ball, who had been an employee of the Wanderer's owner, received word that funds had been lodged with a lawyer in Peel on behalf of one of the American survivors he'd rescued. The money was to be used to underwrite the building of his own fishing boat, to be built in Peel to his personal specifications, and the result was his dreamship, the Aigh Vie, launched in 1916.
Over the years, the Aigh Vie became a much-loved feature of the Irish Sea fishing fleet. Tim Magennis, current President of the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association, well remembers her from his boyhood days in the fishing port of Ardglass on the County Down coast. In time, she was bought by the legendary Billy Smyth of Whiterock Boatyard in Strangford Lough, who gradually converted her to a Bermudan-rigged cruising ketch with a sheltering wheelhouse which enabled the Smyth family to make some notable cruises whatever the weather. His son Kenny Smyth, who now runs the boatyard with his brothers and is himself an ace helm in the local 29ft River Class, recalls that the seafaring Smyth family thought nothing of taking the Aigh Vie to the Orkneys at a time when the average Strangford Lough cruiser thought Tobermory the limit of reasonable ambitions.
Aigh Vie as she was when bought by Paddy Murphy from Billy Smyth of Strangford Lough.
First sail with the newly-bought ship. Aboard Aig Vie heading for Dublin down Strangford Lough, the crew includes Paddy Murphy (left) and Tim Magennis (centre)
It's some years now since Paddy Murphy bought the Aigh Vie, and sailed her back to Dublin with his crew including Tim Magennis. But around the same time, Paddy was moving his base west to Renvyle, where he reckoned his skilled trade as a blacksmith, and his talents in traditional music and folklore, would provide him with a living in the area where he felt most at home.
As for the Aigh Vie, clearly she was reaching an age where work needed to be done. And he was minded to restore her to something more nearly approaching her original 1916 configuration. So somehow or other, he took the big boat west on a truck, managing to negotiate those little winding roads through Tully Cross and down to his place by the sea, where she went under a roof and work began.
The hull of the 1916-built Aigh Vie as seen in Renvyle shows the remarkably yacht-like lines of the Manx nobby.........Photo: W M Nixon
.........in what was one of the last of the sailing type to be built before steam power took over. Photo: W M Nixon
It has been going on for some time now. The problem with being right on the frontier of Ireland's Atlantic weather is that no sooner do you start on some new area of timber repair and replacement, than the previous restoration section almost immediately starts to become weathered. Working largely on your own, you end up feeling you're going round in circles. So that's why the men from the Naomh Chronan are in Renvyle today to give the Aigh Vie project a mighty push forward.
For there's no doubt that while there's a lot done, there's a lot more still to do. But it does get done eventually if you keep the faith, and I was there back at the beginning of December to cheer Paddy along with all the usefulness of a hurler on the ditch. But at least I was accompanied by Dickie Gomes, who knows a thing or two about long-term boat restoration, as it took him 27 years to bring his 102-year-old Ainmara successfully back to life. But he did it so well that she won the Creek Inn Trophy for "Best in Show" at last summer's Peel Traditional Boat Weekend in the Isle of Man.
A bit of mutual support between two owners of vintage wooden boats – Paddy Murphy and Dickie Gomes in Aigh Vie's shed at Renvyle. Photo: W M Nixon
Nevertheless I've to confess that sometimes I wonder if wood is worth the trouble. Before getting to Renvyle, we'd called by with Jamie Young at Killary Adventure Centre for bit of a love-in with his alloy-built Frers 49 Killary Flyer which - as Brian Buchanan's Hesperia IV - was winner of the Round Ireland Race 1988 under the command of Dickie Gomes. Except that you won't see that fact in histories of the Round Ireland. Because for 1988's race, she sailed as the sponsored entry Woodchester Challenger, and thus was not entitled to the top prize, despite having the best corrected IOR time in the fleet.
But everyone in the know knows that Gomesie won, particularly the crew of Denis Doyle's slightly larger Frers sloop Moonduster. The two boats had been neck and neck running past the Blaskets, and suddenly Hesperia's spinnaker shredded. But Dickie had his crew so well drilled that one half of them had a replacement chute up and drawing before the other half had finished getting in the remains of the torn sail. The boat scarcely missed a beat in her rapid progress, and when the whole business was completed in about three minutes flat, there was a round of applause from Moonduster. You'd sportsmen doing the Round Ireland in those days.
As it happens, one of Hesperia's crew for that neat bit of work was Kenny Smyth, so it made it more than appropriate that we were going on to see the Aigh Vie on which he cut his offshore sailing teeth. But it was good to linger for a while at Jamie's snug place, and marvel at how he, with aid from the ingenious folk of the west, had contrived a slip and an angled trolley so that Killary Flyer can be hauled on site into a sheltered corner, for she's a big lump of a boat to be handling ashore.
She's a big boat to be hauling on a slip in a remote corner of Mayo. Early December beside Killary Fjord, and Jamie Young of the Adventure Centre with Deirdre and Dickie Gomes and the Frers 49 Killary Flyer ashore for the winter. Deirdre was a fulltime member of the boat's crew when Dickie successfully skippered her offshore as Brian Buchanan's Hesperia IV. Photo: W M Nixon
It was some time in the New Year that we heard the shocking news. One of the most severe storms had twirled the Flyer up like a toy boat from her sheltered corner, and deposited this Frers masterpiece on her ear. Jammed in against the steep shore, she was trapped as the tide came in, and the hull was flooded with severe damage to the electrics and electronics.
But this is the west, where they're accustomed to overcoming massive challenges. The extraordinary Tom Moran of Clew Bay Boats played a key role in a salvage project which saw a temporary road being built so that a giant crane could be positioned for the delicate job of inching the big boat back upright. That done, she could then be moved to Tom's place at Westport for restoration to begin.
A couple of dents in aluminium? No problem. Following her brief episode of aviation, Killary Flyer's hull is already made good at Clew Bay Boats in Westport. Photo: W M Nixon
The whole business has been a marvellous advertisement for the effectiveness of hull construction using modern marine alloys. When aluminium was first created as the "Metal of the Future" two centuries ago, only the Emperor Napoleon could afford to have a cutlery set made in this exotic stuff. And though an early alloy boat put afloat in Lake Geneva performed reasonably well, as soon as a boat built with it was put into the salty sea, it just melted away.
But over the years the formulas have been adjusted to be corrosion proof in sea water, such that nowadays it's the ideal material for little boats which are going to have hard usage yet little maintenance, such as angling boats and the nippy craft used by rowing coaches.
And if you have a low-maintenance alloy hull yet give it a bit of cosmetic attention, it will look very well indeed, but it's not essential. As for the rough and tumble of life afloat, if you crash into a quay wall with a traditionally built wooden boat, she'll become shook from bow to stern – you never really know where the underlying structural damage ends, if at all. As for GRP and carbon or whatever, the damage will be more localised, but it still gets holed, and messily with it at that, while bulkheads may shift to an unknown degree
But a steel or aluminium hull will generally just be dented, and very locally at that. Repairs are manageable, even if it's skilled specialist work. So there's a lot in favour of steel and alloy. But steel rusts, and it never rusts quicker than in hidden pockets in the structure. But with remarkable advances in alloy welding and building techniques, the advantages of modern corrosion-free alloy construction become more evident every year for boats that are really going to be used, and not just seen as marina ornaments.
The Killary Flyer experience is ultimately a telling argument in favour of alloy construction. The hull was only dented in a couple of places where it was actually in direct contact with outcrops on the foreshore. Any dents have already been repaired by Tom Moran and his team, for they're able for anything to do with boats in any sort of material - I reckon if you wanted to build your dreamship out of resinated peat moss, then Tom would be game for the job.
Can-do people of the west – Mary and Tom Moran of Clew Bay Boats have successfully taken on many marine problems and projects. Photo: W M Nixon
Sorting out the interior systems is going to be more of a challenge, for Hesperia was originally Noryema X, built for Ron Amey in 1975. In a sense, there's a feeling of homecoming in the fact that she's being restored in Westport. If you head directly inland from that lovely little town, you're soon up in the mountains in the Joyce Country. And way back in 1975, the alloy hull of Noryema X was built by the renowned Joyce Brothers. Their fabrication workshop may have been in Southampton, but the family wasn't that long out of the mountains of far Mayo.
However, once the innovative Ron Amey had taken delivery of the hull of his latest Noryema from the brothers Joyce, he then took it to Moody's big shed at Bursledon on the Hamble for completion by the boatyard's craftsmen. I happened to be Bursledon-based in the early summer of 1975, and it really was all a wonder to behold.
Amey had installed a caravan in Moody's shed, and he lived in it while overseeing every detail of the new boat's fitout, while at the same time running his business empire of Amey Roadstone from a telephone in the caravan. It was said that the great man wouldn't be really happy with his new boats until the final jobs were completed just before the Fastnet Race in August, and after that he'd then start to think of the next one. But Noryema X was something special. She became the last of the racing line, and despite her enormous rig, Ron Amey then used her for eleven years of cruising in the Mediterranean which concluded with her sale to Brian Buchanan of Belfast Lough at Marseilles in 1986. She has been based on our island ever since, the source of much seagoing pleasure for hundreds of Irish sailors.
So bringing her back up to Amey standards is quite a challenge, as she's now part of Ireland's sailing heritage. But with Tom Moran they've someone who seems to have links with every maritime specialist in the country, and if he draws a blank in Ireland, his connections around the Solent marine industry seem pretty hot too.
Not quite where you'd expect to find an Arctic voyaging vessel, but Northabout seems at home in the Moylure Canal in the midst off Mayo fields. Photo: W M Nixon
Much encouraged by all this, for Clew Bay Boats is the sort of place where many good things seem possible, we then headed down to the Moylure Canal, a drainage waterway near Rosmoney at the head of Clew Bay where the great Jarlath Cunnane has created a tiny boat harbour and beside it a little place where, if so minded, he can build himself a boat.
Jarlath is the quintessential Connacht mariner, yet you'll never find him being sentimental about wooden boats. On the contrary, in the time I've known him he has built himself a steel van de Stadt 34ft sloop which he cruised very extensively, and more recently he took on the challenge of alloy construction to build the 44ft Northabout. Aboard this special boat, in teamwork with Paddy Barry, he has made cruises to remote and challenging places in voyages which, for most people, would have required full military logistical support.
The new dreamship. Plans of the 37ft Atkins schooner which Jarlath Cunnane has been building over four years.
Knowing the scale of what he has done with her, it was bizarre to see Northabout sitting modestly in her berth in the little creek beside a Mayo field. But the presence of the long distance high latitude voyager was only part of the Moylure package. A few feet away in "the shed which isn't really a shed" was the new Cunnane boat, a sweet 37ft–Atkins schooner which, if you haven't yet appreciated the potential of good alloy boat construction, would surely win you over in a trice.
Good alloy construction, as seen here in the stemhead of the new schooner, can withstand comparison with any material. Photo: W M Nixon
The new schooner has a workmanlike and handsome hull......Photo: W M Nixon
....which is aimed for comfort as much as speed, but she should be able to give a good account of herself in performance, and will be very comfortable for longterm periods on board. Photo: W M Nixon
Jarlath has taken four years on the construction, and when he gets to sailing the new boat, I'd say that the motto will be: "When God made time, he made a lot of it". This is a boat for leisurely cruising, a boat to enjoy simply being on board. In her finished state, she'll give little enough in the way of clues as to her basic construction material. Like Killary Flyer, and like Northabout too, she is in her own way a great advertisement for the potential of good alloy construction.
As completion nears, it becomes ever less apparent......Photo: W M Nixon
.....that the hull construction of the new schoner is in aluminium. Photo: W M Nixon
So we'll sign off this week with a special thought. As Irish life begins to move again, doubtless we'll soon hear increasing mutterings about the desirability of building a new Asgard sail training brigantine. Maybe we should keep the government out of it this time round, and build her through a voluntary trust organisation supported by public subscriptions and corporate donations. But however it's to be done, we should be starting to think about it.
And like many others, I've long thought that the ideal way forward would be with a steel hull built to Jack Tyrell's original Asgard II lines, which have a magnificently timeless quality to them. But I've changed my mind on that. Having seen what can be done with good alloy construction down in Mayo, and knowing the quality of alloy workboat construction being produced by firms like Mevagh Boatyard in Donegal and by the descendants of Jack Tyrrell among others at Arklow Marine Services in County Wicklow, it's difficult to escape the conclusion that the hull of the new ship should be built in aluminium.
It would be initially expensive, but it would confer great longterm maintenance advantages. And by going that way, we'd be able to provide all the double skins and safety bulkheads which will now be required without using up all available hull space, and without producing a boat so heavy she wouldn't be able to sail out of her own way. So let's hear it for an aluminium-hulled Asgard III.