#HistoricBoats - Afloat has noted work has recently begun in Dublin's Grand Canal Dockyard to transform a former CIÉ Aran Islands passenger /freight ferry as previously covered into a floating 5-star luxury hotel on the Liffey, writes Jehan Ashmore.
Commenting to Afloat, the owners Irish Ship & Barge Fabrication Co said the initial works are to clear the vessel of combustible materials in preparation for the €6.6m restoration project which is scheduled to be completed next year.
The first stage of the project will require work to survey the vessel's hull, but this can only be done with the ship removed out of the Grand Canal Dock basin's historic Georgian built graving dock of more than 200 years old. This is to facilitate the installation of docking blocks that will correctly position the ship's keel before any further works can take place.
Naomh Éanna was built for Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ) to serve the Galway-Aran Islands ferry route. For almost the last three decades, however the small passenger, freight and livestock carrier ship has languished in the Grand Canal Dock basin. The basin at Grand Canal Dock opened in 1796 which has three locks linking to the Liffey and were last in use by commerical ships until the 1960's.
In 2015 the IS&BFCo. for €1 acquired Naomh Éanna from the Irish Nautical Trust, as the vessel completed in 1958 is a rare surviving example of an Irish built ship (Liffey Dockyard) and constructed by rivetting. Then the practice was at the end of an era not just in Ireland but in Europe. Following the ferry's withdrawal from the Aran Islands service in 1988, the ship transferred from the state transport company to the ownership of the Trust. They intended to make the ship into a museum about the Aran service in addition to be in a seaworthy state.
Naomh Éanna's berth in the basin's Georgian graving docks in Ringsend is notable given the facility was disused (see save architecture). The IS&BFCo is working to restore the veteran vessel now in its 60th year in the drydock for a new career as a luxury hotel berthed on the capital's city centre quays.
Naomh Éanna's transformation is to involve a 28-cabin hotel complete with a glazed restaurant on the boat deck. The work follows Dublin City Council awarding a licence earlier this year, which permits the vessel to berth on Custom House Quay along the Liffey following a public tendering process. The waterbased process seeks to animate the river frontage lining the 'Docklands' quarter, the modern financial quarter downriver of O'Connell Street.
Roll back three decades when safety concerns from the Irish maritime authorities, chiefly stability, led to the withdrawal of the 483 tonnes Naomh Éanna from the Aran Islands service. The closure of the three-hour seasonal route on the Atlantic Ocean became the last passenger service directly linking the mainland mid-west city port and the trio of islands. A cargo-only service remains through a private operator, Lasta Mara Teo using the Bláth na Mara.
Up until recent years the former ferry in Grand Canal Dock was home to a watersports shop. The shop occupied the former cargohold, as shown in a rare photo overlooking the vessel's deck layout. On that occasion a visit involved having to access a quayside building for the purposes of a piece published in Ships Monthly, May 2014.
In that same year, the fate of Naomh Éanna could of been all so different, as the principle authority in charge of Grand Canal Dock, Waterways Ireland intended to dispose the vessel through scrapping having been alongside Charlotte Quay for decades. Other laid up and abandoned vessels, albeit smaller craft were also subject to a removal clearance programme as the area had become run down.
Fears that the old Aran Islands ferry cargoship would sink led Watersways Ireland to tow the vessel to the nearby Georgian built dry-dock, though this procedure required firstly a digger to widen the entrance to the dry dock. From within the drydock the ship was to have been scrapped.
A campaign was raised for Naomh Éanna, the Save Our Ship (SOS) group which was led by those concerned in assisting to secure the unique ship launched from the Liffey Dockyard. The shipbuilder no longer exists, though it was rathar apt to have observed the vessel occupy a berth a stone's throw of the shipyard site in Alexandra Basin. On that occasion the visit to the port took place in the year the former ferry returned to the capital in 1989.
Campaigners protests resulted in the Seanad, upper house of the Irish Parliament, to grant a reprieve given the vessel's historic Irish maritime heritage, despite a previous appeal rejected by the Department of Heritage.
An extended timeframe was made to allow efforts to concieve a restoration project, where the IS&BF originally proposed to return the Galway registered ship back to its western homeport. The Port of Galway was where the former ferry would become a floating boutique hostel, micro-brewery and museum recounting the Aran service. However, plans fell through resulting in Dublin retaining its own built ship.
Afloat's recent visit to Grand Canal Dock basin also noted waterbased commercial boat activity, albeit only applies to the regular traffic of Viking Splash Tours. Their amphibious excursion / tourist craft use the Grand Canal Dockyard's slip, exactly at this location is where the largest of the three Georgian graving docks had occupied but is now infilled.