Historic schooner returns to Irish port
The Irish Examiner ~ 28th August 2001
BRENDAN AHERN followed in his grandfather's footsteps yesterday when shipping history was made in the east Cork port of Youghal with the maiden voyage of a restored, century-old, trading schooner. The tide of time was turned back with the arrival at Green's Quay of the Kathleen and May, which the late Capt Joe Ahern had first piloted into Youghal in the early 1900's.
Ferrying coal on the inward journey from the UK, it was the last trading vessel to operate the route between the south of Ireland and the west coast of Britain 60 years ago.
Brendan Ahern was among the crew as the schooner completed the 24-hour crossing to Youghal, where hundreds of people had lined the docks to welcome it.
"Skies were blue, tides were favourable and with music reverberating throughout the port, we were just gob-smacked by the welcome," said Steve Clarke, the owner of the boat.
He discovered the schooner three years ago in a dilapidated condition in the Gloucester docks, unaware of its proud history.
"I had been walking around the docks and saw this sad looking black hull with a dirty canvas tent thrown over the top," he recalled.
"I turned to look back and my attention was drawn to the name of Bideford, my home town."
Within four months, plant hire company boss Mr Clarke had taken possession of the vessel and had planned to spend about £50,000 to make the boat a local tourist attraction in Devon. To date, however, over £800,000 has been spent in the restoration project.
The schooner had once been part of the Historic Ship Collection at St. Katherine's Dock in London but Mr Clarke is anxious to restore maritime connections between Irish and UK towns on the vessel's old route.
"I would like to forge greater relations with Ireland and bring the ship here about twice a year," said Mr Clarke.
A Kathleen and May preservation trust, headed by Youghal publican John Coyle, has been set up to explore the possibility of having the schooner moored in Irish waters. His Anchor Bar, which has dedicated an exhibition to the vessel, last night played host to the ship's crew and friends who travelled from Britain. A civic reception is planned for Thursday night in Jim Brown's Old Imperial Hotel where future plans for the vessel will also be discussed.
"It's arrival is an historic occasion for this town, which is proud of its maritime heritage," said Mr Coyle. "We want to entice the ship and its owner back for longer periods to Youghal, which had been the old home of the Kathleen and May."