#Tallship1896 - Belem, France's oldest three-masted tallship and one of the oldest sailing ships in the world is to make a two-day visit to Dublin Port when she sails onto the Liffey this afternoon, writes Jehan Ashmore.
The barque dating to 1896 had set off from her homeport of Nantes, from where she was built at the nearby Dubigeon yard at Chantenay-sur-Loire. She is unique given that she spans three centuries and having spent a varied and chequred career, so much so that the French Government in 1984 classified the tallship which currently serves as a sail-training vessel as a 'historic monument'.
For almost the first two decades of her career she traded from the Brazilian city of Belem. From the city on the Atlantic coast she mostly exported cocoa beans across the ocean and upriver of the Seine for a Paris based chocolatier.
She was sold in 1914 and transferred to the British flag having been acquired by the Duke of Westminster who converted her into a luxurious private yacht. Up to 40 guests were accommodated in suites and also below deck is a grand staircase lined in Cuban mahogany.
In 1921 she was sold to Sir Arthur Ernest Guinnes who kept her yacht role albeit under the name of Fantôme II. She acted as both a floating office and to sail which saw her participate in regattas held off Cowes. During the years 1923-1924 the Guinness family took her on a worldwide cruise tour. On the eve of World War II she was laid-up off the Isle of Wight.
Once again she was converted yet for a contrasting role, that been to cater for orphans of sailors on sail-training voyages in the Mediterranean. The owners, the Cini Foundation purchased the tallship in 1952 renamed her Giorgio Cini in which this stage of her career remained until 1966.
It would not be until more than a decade later that the Belem would return to France in 1979, having been secured through finance from Caisse d'Epargne. In the following year she was entrusted to the Fondation Belem which was created by the French savings bank to preserve the vessel which to this present day operates the tallship with sail-training opportunities for the public.
Belem's current voyage to Dublin is part of a Tour d'Irelande which is understood to have included calls to Galway and Belfast with a Scottish stopover off the Hebridean island of Islay. She anchored in the bay off Ellen, the location of a Whiskey distillery.
On a related theme, in more recent years Belem has docked in Dublin where on one occasion she unloaded a symbolic cargo of French wine. In addition she has transported commercial quantities of wine to Montréal, the predominantly French-speaking city in Québec, Canada.