The Dunbrody 'tall ship' in dry-dock in New Ross Boatyard, Rosbercon

The Dundrody gets her 'sick planking' replaced

Kilkenny LEADER Partnership (KLP) had a visit last week from some of its Welsh partners in the Interreg ‘Rising Tide’ project. Rising Tide is a project led by Milford Haven Port Authority and MITEC School of Boatbuilding & Marine Engineering both in Pembrokeshire in southwest Wales. Intereg projects require cooperation between regions – in this case southeast Ireland and the adjacent part of Wales on the other side of the– so-called ‘maritime border’.

KLP was asked to join as an Irish partner when the original collaborator in the southeast had to withdraw. We and the established partner the JFK Trust have responsibility for the project in this region. As late entrants to the project KLP has been- as the American’s say, ‘playing catch up’ on an initiative that focuses on the tourism and social inclusion potential of maritime enterprise cultures. It won’t have escaped your notice that Kilkenny is a bit short of a coast on which you’d normally base a maritime enterprise. However for an admittedly inland county, Kilkenny has two commercial ports in Belview a couple of miles outside Waterford City and at Rosbercon even closer to New Ross across the Barrow. And it is the potential of the Barrow and the other two of the ‘Three Sisters’, the rivers Nore and Suir, that persuaded us to accept the invitation to join the project. As a start we considered that the Rising Tide’s focus was highly complementary with the LEADER ‘cot building’ project and other proposed tourism initiatives based some of riverside towns.

The partners examine one of the cots being built in Graiguenamanagh

Cot gets the once-over!

The Welsh visitors focus was on the training elements of the project. Beverly, the newly appointed Welsh coordinator of the project was accompanied by Malcolm and Colin from the teaching staff of MITEC. The group met with KLP’s Project Coordinator Tom McDonald, Rural Development Programme Manager, Martin Rafter and myself to view the cot building workshops and possible accommodation for the Welsh trainees when they made the projected visits over as part of their 10-week boat building skills course. On a bitterly cold but sunny day the countryside and Graiguenamanagh looked beautiful. In the afternoon we journeyed to the New Ross Boatyard in Rosbercon to view the major maintenance work taking place on the famous ‘tall ship’ the Dunbrody. It was an impressive – not to mention a resonant and to some an initially depressing sight.

Indeed the past, present and future of maritime and river culture was evident there in Robercon. KLP grant aided the boatyard’s owners to install the massive sea-gates that allowed a vessel of the Dunbrody’s size to be accommodated in the dry dock. The gates and the massive lifting crane have seen the quite modest but undoubted resurrection of a business which employed approximately 600 people in that yard less than 35 years ago. Apparently the Dunbrody has a fungus infection in its planking and needs it to be replaced. There was much concern for it in some of those involved in the Rising Tide project who had connections to the ship. But the afternoon brought better news that she (of course all vessels are female) didn’t seem to be infected below the waterline and the prognosis looked better for her making a good recovery from her ‘illness’.

A good omen for the state’s future perhaps? Maybe that’s stretching maritime superstition too far. But the building of the ship in the mid-1990s was the start of the relationship between several of the partners Wales and Ireland. Sean Reidy of the JFK Trust has made the Dunbrody and the development of its potential into an exciting project with real opportunities for tourism and cultural heritage. The JFK Trust is also responsible for housing the truly astounding Ros Tapestry in its visitor centre – which, incidentally, KLP’s LEADER foundation company part-funded. Anyway- this is a project that started at the beginning of the Celtic Tiger period.

It was a phrase that always grated with me as inelegant- well it was coined by an economist not a poet! But the post-facto devaluation of the phrase and entire era as an economic mirage seems capricious. Not everything that emerged from the last 15 years was worthless. The Dunbrody for example has seen good days and some sad days, but its current state in the boatyard is but temporary and a massive development of the visitor centre and exhibition in New Ross across the river will commence in the coming weeks. Unlike some other projects of a similar vintage the Dunbrody has proven a long-term winner for the region.

KLP sees the Rising Tide as another such investment. It probably won’t be easy or without complications but we see real benefit for Kilkenny and the region from the project. We’ll keep you posted. The temptation to comment on current times and use maritime metaphors or analogies of the “need to steer the ship of state through this storm…, etc” sort, is almost irresistible- but I will – just!

Declan Rice, CEO