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Maiden Voyage into Doolin as Ferry Operations to the Aran Islands & Cliffs of Moher Commence

7th June 2018
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The ‘Star of Doolin’ – the fastest and most eco-friendly passenger cruise ship on the western seaboard – sailed in for the first time following its weekend long trip back from La Rochelle, France where it was built. The ship will operate to the Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher under the flag of the Garrihy family’s Doolin2Aran passenger ferry company, which invested €3m in the vessel. Pictured is The Star of Doolin flanked by The Jack B and Doolin Discovery arriving into Doolin Pier Co Clare The ‘Star of Doolin’ – the fastest and most eco-friendly passenger cruise ship on the western seaboard – sailed in for the first time following its weekend long trip back from La Rochelle, France where it was built. The ship will operate to the Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher under the flag of the Garrihy family’s Doolin2Aran passenger ferry company, which invested €3m in the vessel. Pictured is The Star of Doolin flanked by The Jack B and Doolin Discovery arriving into Doolin Pier Co Clare Photo: Arthur Ellis

The Aran Islands got closer this week as the fastest and most eco-friendly passenger cruise ship to operate on the western seaboard sailed into Doolin for the first time following a €3m investment.

The Doolin2Aran operated ‘Star of Doolin’ completed the 650 nautical mile journey from La Rochelle in France and sailed into Doolin Pier in splendid morning sunshine to cheers from tourists and locals and - naturally for the North Clare village recognised as the home of traditional Irish music - strains of box, fiddle, banjo and pipes.

Following regulatory sign-off by Department of Transport officials, the boat was operating to the three Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher by mid-afternoon.

Doolin Ferry 8 1There were wild morning celebrations on Doolin Pier as the ‘Star of Doolin’ sailed in for the first time. Photo: Arthur Ellis

The ship, will be the fastest and largest to operate to the islands from Doolin, halving journey times and doubling capacity of the company’s existing boats. It has also been designed with the environment in mind, with additional features to lower emissions and state of the art waste water treatment on board.

The investment by Doolin2Aran, which is owned and operated by one of Ireland’s best-known sea families, the Garrihys from Doolin, is the biggest ever made in a single vessel on the west coast of Ireland. The one-off designed, 200 seat cruise ship is also tailored for international tourists, with multi-lingual voice commentary to ensure visitors get the absolute experience and knowledge of the world-famous heritage sites.

Hundreds gathered on Doolin Pier to welcome the ship back in, led by legendary Clare concertina player Chris Droney (93), who gave the boat its name. Chris is father in law of Eugene Garrihy – one of four Garrihy brothers with PJ, Joe and Donie involved in the business.

"Hundreds gathered on Doolin Pier to welcome the ship back in"

The 25m ship was sailed back from La Rochelle to Doolin, with an overnight in Dingle, at the weekend by skipper PJ Garrihy and his crew. They spent Monday night at the Aran Islands as locals, who will benefit from the investment through quicker journey times and more tourists, got a preview of the new vessel.

“It’s a great day for Doolin, for West Clare and for the Aran Islands,” said PJ Garrihy. “It was a lovely trip back. It’s such a comfortable ship and will be a great service to West Clare and the islands. We couldn’t wait to get her back and were blown away by the crowds on the pier for us so early today.”

Said PJ’s brother Eugene, “This is the end of an 18 month journey for us. We took the decision back in late 2016. It was a big move because we’re a small family business and it’s a very big investment for us but now that the ship is back, we’re delighted. It will be a huge boost to tourism in the West of Ireland but particularly here in Doolin and the Aran Islands.

“It ticks all the boxes. While it can take more passengers and operate at twice the speed, it has also been designed with the environment as a core consideration. We’re operating here out of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark and it was a priority for us to get emissions as low as possible and we’ve done that.”

Garrihy’s daughter Aoibhín, who is due her first child with husband John Burke, in three weeks’ time was also on the pier. “I’m very proud of what’s been achieved here. I got my first job here working in the summers and I just love the place. A lot of hard work, including in difficult times, has gone into this by the family, by people employed here and it’s great to seeing it pay off.”

Her grandfather Chris was in sprightly form, the celebratory mood even seeing him dancing a set on the pier. “I was here 70 and 80 years ago and there was nothing. Now it’s a thriving pier but it didn’t happen overnight. It’s great to see progress like this,” he said.

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Ferry & Car Ferry News The ferry industry on the Irish Sea, is just like any other sector of the shipping industry, in that it is made up of a myriad of ship operators, owners, managers, charterers all contributing to providing a network of routes carried out by a variety of ships designed for different albeit similar purposes.

All this ferry activity involves conventional ferry tonnage, 'ro-pax', where the vessel's primary design is to carry more freight capacity rather than passengers. This is in some cases though, is in complete variance to the fast ferry craft where they carry many more passengers and charging a premium.

In reporting the ferry scene, we examine the constantly changing trends of this sector, as rival ferry operators are competing in an intensive environment, battling out for market share following the fallout of the economic crisis. All this has consequences some immediately felt, while at times, the effects can be drawn out over time, leading to the expense of others, through reduced competition or takeover or even face complete removal from the marketplace, as witnessed in recent years.

Arising from these challenging times, there are of course winners and losers, as exemplified in the trend to run high-speed ferry craft only during the peak-season summer months and on shorter distance routes. In addition, where fastcraft had once dominated the ferry scene, during the heady days from the mid-90's onwards, they have been replaced by recent newcomers in the form of the 'fast ferry' and with increased levels of luxury, yet seeming to form as a cost-effective alternative.

Irish Sea Ferry Routes

Irrespective of the type of vessel deployed on Irish Sea routes (between 2-9 hours), it is the ferry companies that keep the wheels of industry moving as freight vehicles literally (roll-on and roll-off) ships coupled with motoring tourists and the humble 'foot' passenger transported 363 days a year.

As such the exclusive freight-only operators provide important trading routes between Ireland and the UK, where the freight haulage customer is 'king' to generating year-round revenue to the ferry operator. However, custom built tonnage entering service in recent years has exceeded the level of capacity of the Irish Sea in certain quarters of the freight market.

A prime example of the necessity for trade in which we consumers often expect daily, though arguably question how it reached our shores, is the delivery of just in time perishable products to fill our supermarket shelves.

A visual manifestation of this is the arrival every morning and evening into our main ports, where a combination of ferries, ro-pax vessels and fast-craft all descend at the same time. In essence this a marine version to our road-based rush hour traffic going in and out along the commuter belts.

Across the Celtic Sea, the ferry scene coverage is also about those overnight direct ferry routes from Ireland connecting the north-western French ports in Brittany and Normandy.

Due to the seasonality of these routes to Europe, the ferry scene may be in the majority running between February to November, however by no means does this lessen operator competition.

Noting there have been plans over the years to run a direct Irish –Iberian ferry service, which would open up existing and develop new freight markets. Should a direct service open, it would bring new opportunities also for holidaymakers, where Spain is the most visited country in the EU visited by Irish holidaymakers ... heading for the sun!

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