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There’s a great new travel-themed WordPress challenge (Travel Journey of the Week) to which you can contribute in whichever way suits you, such as prose, poems, photos, etc. This week’s theme is Ireland. I’ve been focusing on my photo blog since I started it a few months ago, so figured it was time for some words again. And to be honest, my photos of Ireland are mostly pre-digital – apart from a few related to sailing.

This stamp from Ireland commemorates the visit by 'my' tall ship, Tenacious, to Waterford in 2005.

This stamp from Ireland commemorates the visit by ‘my’ tall ship, Tenacious, to Waterford in 2005.

My first sailing association with Ireland was in 2006. The tall ship I was on, Tenacious, was sailing back to the UK from Canada. After a fairly rough and very fast passage from St John’s, Newfoundland, we made landfall again in Ireland. The captain hoped to take us to Cobh, on the south coast of County Cork, but unfortunately for us all of Cobh’s berths for large ships were full.

So we sailed past Cobh, up the River Lee and into the heart of Cork itself. It was so green! Yes, we all know why Ireland is called the ‘Emerald Isle’, but it seemed unnaturally, glowingly green to us after two weeks of looking at nothing but grey skies and even greyer seas. We hung on the ship’s rail, drinking in the sights of fields and villages on either side, and, I must admit, eagerly planning that night’s visit to a pub.

Welcome to Cork: no bands, no streamers.

Welcome to Cork: no bands, no streamers.

The voyage was just one of many transatlantic crossings for the ship, but it was the first for me! I was bursting with accomplishment and pride, and felt that this epic achievement deserved recognition – bands on the quayside, streamers and balloons, speeches from the local dignitaries. The reality was four of my fellow crewmembers in lifejackets on a grimy, deserted, industrial dock (pictured). Not exactly the reception I had imagined!

But Cork itself, once we all got our ‘land legs’ back and set out to explore, offered pubs and restaurants, friendly people, and easy day trips out of the city. On one such trip to Cobh, I was moved by the stories of the millions of Irish people who left their homes in search of a better life across the ocean, making the reverse of the voyage I had just made, in a not-dissimilar ship, but in vastly more uncomfortable conditions: a holiday for me, an exodus in desperation and hope for them.

My second sailing association with Ireland was in 2009. This time, Tenacious was sailing from Waterford to the Isle of Man. Before sailing, however, I had to get from Waterford airport to Waterford itself, and it was with growing disbelief that I discovered there are no trains, and no buses, from airport to city. Good for taxi drivers, not so good for travellers.

Tenacious in a watery dawn, Waterford.

Tenacious in a watery dawn, Waterford.

Nor was there much to see during that taxi ride, as it rained the whole time. It rained as I trudged along the waterfront and docks to join my ship. It rained all evening and night, as we rotated through harbour watches on deck. It rained the next morning as we cast off mooring lines and wove along the River Suir to open water.

Yet, perhaps as an apology from Mother Nature, a glimmer of sunrise did offer a lovely backdrop to Tenacious in Waterford (pictured). Before, that is, the rain returned.