To Galway and back again for a former community lifeline, now a capsized hulk – The Irish Times

The MV Naomh Éanna once ran the ferry service between Galway City and the Aran Islands, serving as a vital link between the two, sailing as CIÉ’s only seafaring vessel.

Her time as a working ship came to an end in 1986. Now she lingers in a dock close to the place of her construction, listing over to her left-hand side. Capsized, with water above part of her deck at the stern, she is little more than a ghost ship left to haunt Dublin’s Grand Canal Basin.

Built in April 1958 as one of the last large ships to be completed in the Liffey Dockyards, she spent her working life transporting passengers and cargo across Galway Bay to the islands for almost three decades.

Mark Radford, who runs the Days of the MV Naomh Éanna Facebook page and whose mother, Bríd, was from Inis Mór, recalls travelling on the ship when visiting the islands with his family in the summertime during the 1970s and 80s, until the it was decommissioned. “It was some contrast from my life on a council estate in London, as you can imagine, which left a deep lasting legacy and impression on me,” he said.

Seán Lemass, who was minister for industry and commerce at the time of ship’s construction, said the vessel’s predicted passenger list would include “tourists, cattle, pigs, film stars and millionaires”.

Shortly into its working life, the Naomh Éanna was involved in a major rescue operation when KLM flight 607E crashed into the Atlantic, 160km off the Connemara coast. On August 15th, 1958, the ship was about to leave the islands when the call came in. The passengers were disembarked and it took part in the rescue effort, recovering remains of some of the 99 victims.

The ship was laid up from active duties in 1986 and subsequently purchased by the Irish Nautical Trust, which brought it to Dublin. It was moored in the Grand Canal Basin for some years as a floating surf shop and featured in the 1996 Michael Collins film.

The vessel’s condition gradually deteriorated and it was moved by Waterways Ireland to a dock in the basin in advance of its intended scrapping in 2014.

Calls were made for the vessel to be saved and businessman Sam Field Corbett of Irish Ship and Barge Fabrication Company Limited (ISBF) bought the vessel from the trust in 2015 for just €1. Corbett has been involved in several other ship restorations, including the MV Cill Airne, now docked on North Wall Quay as a restaurant.

After a period of lobbying, a stay against the ship’s scrapping was put in place in 2016. Securing work was carried out on the vessel by Corbett’s company. “We sat in on mooring blocks to support it in the dock so we could drain the dock to carry out repairs,” says Corbett. “The ropes securing the ship were cut by trespassers on the site and that’s why it was skewed [floating off-centre] in the dock.” Corbett said the ship has also been affected by vandalism in the past.

Corbett’s initial plan for the ship was to bring it back to the docks in Galway city, with the idea of restoring it as a floating museum but that idea was not successful. Corbett then went aboutfinding a use for the ship in Dublin.

In 2017, Corbett announced plans to turn the ship into a five-star hotel in the docklands. The National Asset Management Agency (Nama) at that time held, and still do, the lease for the land and dock the ship where the ship is located. But Corbett’s company ran into difficulties not long after as the pandemic set in.

“We were hit with the pandemic and all our businesses were in the marine industry. Everything had to close and we didn’t get any kind [of support] … we couldn’t get it financed in the end.”

“We arranged two years ago to have the ship broken up and Nama, who own the site, intervened and it fell through,” he says.

In early 2021, Corbett says the company handed over the ship’s physical registration book to help with disposal process following a meeting with Nama.

In a response to The Irish Times, Nama said: “The Naomh Éanna is not owned by Nama; it is owned by Irish Ship & Barge Fabrication Company (ISBF), which remains solely responsible for the ship and its maintenance. Nama understands that ISBF have taken measures to secure the ship and are considering options to resolve the matter, including the removal of the ship from the dock.” Nama declined to add anything to its statement when queried about the registration book.

Corbett confirmed the vessel is still owned by ISBF as the details of the registration were not changed when the book was handed over.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, January 24th, the ship began to list and capsized in the dock, further complicating the situation. Corbett says his company “does not have the resources to do anything with the ship”.

“Nama must be involved with whatever happens in the breaking of the ship. We have to access the site through them … the position the ship is in now is going to make [breaking it] more difficult.”

For now, the ship’s future remains in a watery limbo.

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