3/10/09 - The ‘Julia’ sails into Cork Harbour
Southern Star - Leo McMAHON
Conor Buckley, chairman, West Cork Tourism Co-op, and his daughter Aoife on board the New Fastnet Line Ferry MV Julia which will operate on the Cork-Swansea route after it arrived in Cork Harbour for a refit before going into service early 2010. (Photo: GMC Photography)
THE title of the U2 song in Fastnet Line’s promotional DVD said it all. It was “a beautiful day” for Cork on September 25, the feast of St. Finbarr, as the magnificent MV Julia, arrived into Cork Harbour to herald a new beginning with the soon to be revived Cork-Swansea ferry link.
And, at a celebration in the Clarion Hotel, Cork, there was strong call from the chairman of West Cork Tourism Co-op, Mr. Conor Buckley, for more people to “get on board” as investors in a venture setting sail next March with the potential to create 1,000 jobs, fight the recession and dramatically boost tourism income and trade in the south west region in the coming years.
Looking resplendent berthed at Horgan’s Quay, Cork, and making a public statement of intent, the ten deck 22,000 tonnes Julia has capacity for 1,860 passengers, 440 cars and 30 trucks for hauliers who can now avoid the long road journeys to and from Fishguard and Rosslare and quickly access the motorway from Swansea or the gateway to Ireland’s south west. Beautifully appointed, it also has over 300 cabins, restaurants, bars and a children’s play area.
“We did it !” an ebullient Mr. Buckley declared, saying the arrival of ‘The People’s ship’ was a great story to tell. Its driving force along with www.bringbacktheswanseacorkferry.com, West Cork Tourism, began as a small lobby group with a tiny budget but when it became apparent with the demise of the previous Swansea Cork ferry in 2006 that tourism in the region was really hurting and no state support was forthcoming, a series of meetings were held and on February 12, West Cork Tourism Co-op was formed.
By the end of March, almost 300 people had each pledged €10,000 and €2.6 million had been raised. Significant partnerships were forged with Cork County Council, Morgan-Desmond Solicitors, HLB Nathans and others and further contributions helped achieve the €3m required to purchase a vessel for €7.8m.
Mr. Buckley took the opportunity to thank every individual and corporate body and government agencies which had supported the venture to date, including Fáilte Ireland and the Port of Cork and all those who campaigned in West Cork and beyond to restore the ferry link.
Necessary and at times, frustrating trips to Helskinki and the port of Kotka in Finland where the Julia was identified, Swansea, London, Glasgow, Vienna, Dublin, Christiansand in Norway and even Hamilton, Bermuda, to tie up all the various components of the project were undertaken said Mr. Buckley and a new brand, Fastnet Line was created to flagship what he believed was a floating hotel providing a holiday experience the moment one went on board and a valuable link between tourism products on both sides of the Celtic Sea.
Fastnet Line, he continued, was now based in Cork and he announced that its new chief executive was Mr. Tom Barrett. With a potential to generate direct and indirect employment for 1,000 and an injection of up to €50m into the local economy in the next two years, Mr. Buckley predicted there wouldn’t be a bigger jobs announcement in the meantime. Freight opportunities were very exciting, offering better connectivity and a direct link to the M4 motorway into Britain.
However, he warned, there were still challenges ahead. Three million euro had been raised and debt funding of €6.3m had been secured from a Finnish bank to enable purchase of the ship but unless a further €2.5m was generated between now and next March, the Julia would not sail. There was need therefore, for more fund raising and he encouraged more people and businesses to ‘get on board’ and forge real partnerships with the ferry company because it was just what the people of Cork, Ireland and Wales needed and demanded.
Guests, including Captain Hans Soderholm, were welcomed by Paul O’Brien, general manager of WCT Co-op, who said it was a historic occasion born out of a vision for something that was badly needed and supported by people from Cape Clear to Cork, from Kerry to Wales and from Belgium to Florida who believed in a dream, demonstrated an incredible act of faith by investing in the project and could feel very proud of what had been achieved so far during one of the most difficult economic times in history.
A delighted John Hosford, Cappa, Enniskeane, who along with Adrian Brentnall, Ballydehob, spearhead the www.bringbacktheswanseacorkferry.com campaign established in April 2008, said that arriving into Cork Harbour on the maiden voyage of the Julia as a Fastnet Line ship from Kotka via Swansea and passing Roche’s Point and St. Colman’s Cathedral was a day he would never forget.
The work of promoting the new service goes on and John said that in the days leading up to the arrival in Cork, there was a hectic schedule of events including interviews with the Welsh TV, radio and print media, hosting Lord Mayor of Swansea Alan Lloyd on board the vessel and meetings with officials from the Welsh Assembly, Swansea City Council, Associated British Ports and Swansea Bay Futures plus a public meeting in the Morgan Hotel in the Welsh port.
Urging everyone in the West Cork region to support the venture financially and as customers, John paid a glowing tribute to West Cork Tourism Co-op, the Fastnet Line and specially mentioned Captain Michael McCarthy, commercial manager of the Port of Cork for his input.
Chief executive of Cork Chamber, Conor Healy said: “The ferry service is critical to the south west. Its reintroduction will provide a much needed boost to the economy with the potential to generate significant benefits for all sectors. Tourists and exporters will now again have a direct link to and from the UK”.
Guests, many of them shareholders, at a well attended reception organised by John Shiel and staff of the Clarion Hotel included Jim O’Keeffe TD, Simon Coveney TD, Ned O’Keeffe TD, Senator Denis O’Donovan, Mayor of Cork County Derry Canty; Lord Mayor of Cork Dara Murphy; County Manager Martin Riordan; Kerry Co. Manager Tom Curran; Mayor of Clonakilty Anthony McDermott; county councillors Noel Harrington, John A. Collins and Tom Fleming; Marie Keane, Hilary Creedon and Jenny Desualles of Fáilte Ireland; Hal McElroy, Kinsale Chamber of Tourism; County Engineer Noel O’Keeffe; Kevin Murray of Atkins; Gerry Kelly of Owenabue Valley Traditional Group; Derry Desmond, Diarmuid Kenneally of Cork City Gaol and Barleycove Caravan Park; Trevor Stuckey, Innishannon; Phil Davies, Cameron Good, Michael and Marie Riese, Kinsale; William Rice and Olivia Frawley, Kinsale.
Among those representing Fastnet Line, which will be recruiting in the coming months, were Stephen O’Keeffe, vice-chairman; Owen Barry, operations manager; Roy Maguire and co-op directors Robert Walsh, Clonakilty; David Good, Kinsale, Noel Murphy, Beara and Aidan McCarthy, Bantry. (Tim Looney, Skibbereen is also a director).
‘Get on Board’ is the title of a brochure available from Fastnet Line and West Cork Tourism Co-op containing a financial summary of the service to be provided by the 154 metres long ship built in 1982 which previously sailed between Helskini and St. Petersburg. There are options to invest by joining the co-op or in secured bonds with the Fastnet Line. Further information is available from the Fastnet Line, 14, Penrose Wharf, Cork, at 021-4555666 or by logging on to www.fastnetline.com or www.bringbacktheswanseacorkferry.com.
Fund raising is due at the end of this month for what is described as “a first class investment opportunity” on ‘The People’s ship’ which will remain in Cork Harbour until March for fitting out.