By Ray O’Hanlon
In a little under a year from now, all things going well, the Jeanie Johnston will set sail once again from Ireland, outbound for the new world. All things going well, which means fair weather, a good crew and a few million bucks. $6.5 million to be exact, says John Griffin, the Tralee, Co. Kerry-based chief executive of the Jeanie Johnston Famine ship project.
The re-created Famine-era sailing ship, the original of which never lost a passenger in 16 transAtlantic voyages, is due to set out early next April for its first U.S. port of call, Alexandria, Va. A fund-raising campaign is currently under way in the U.S. It’s pulling in the money from many corners, corporate sponsors, schoolkids and just about everyone in between. Griffin told "IF" that the project recently received $40 from a group of fourth grade kids in a Philadelphia school. About $1.5 million has been raised in Ireland to date and the aim is to raise $1 million in the U.S. In addition to sponsorship, much of the labor is being supplied on a voluntary basis and great emphasis is being placed on the fact that the project has become a cross-community symbol in Northern Ireland — John Hume has dubbed the Jeanie Johnston "the ship of peace."
Skilled workers from both communities in the North have indeed made their way to Kerry to lend a hand and hammer. A number of apprentice carpenters and joiners from the New York and Philly areas will also be heading over to Kerry in the coming weeks to throw in their time and skill. The plan is that the ship will be finished by the end of the year and start sea trials in early 2000. Then comes a 10,000- mile voyage that will take in at least 22 ports of call in the U.S. and Canada.
"The voyage," said Griffin, "is both a commemoration and celebration of the contribution of the Irish to every sphere of American and Canadian life." It will be some voyage so.
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Great fuss altogether at Tom Bradley Airport in Los Angeles over the departure of the first Aer Lingus plane to Ireland last Friday. They even had John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe impersonators waving off the passengers on what was certainly a historical occasion for Irish aviation. Guess they couldn’t find anyone to do Maureen O’Hara.
Anyway, interesting days do indeed lie ahead for the Irish carrier, what with the likely alliance with British Airways, American Airlines and the rest of the Oneworld gang. Change, of course, can be a two-edged sword and while it currently bodes well for Aer Lingus, the Shannon Airport people have been keeping a wary eye on events. Certain specified safeguards for the future status of Shannon as a transAtlantic gateway — the Co. Clare airport still accommodates roughly half of the Aer Lingus flights coming from the U.S. — were added by the Irish government to the negotiating ground rules that Aer Lingus took with it into the recent talks with American, British, Delta, etc.
The Shannonites are very keen to see that certain rules also apply as Aer Lingus works out actual details of a working alliance. Shannon has been covered to a considerable degree by sympathetic political considerations over the years. The obvious fear now is that a future, privately run Aer Lingus — itself possibly part-owned by the big carriers such as American and British — might not feel so confined by the well-worn arguments about jobs and civic pride west of the River Shannon.
Fianna Fáil TD Tony Killeen recently voiced the concern of the Shannon lobby when he stated that the "new order" within the Oneworld alliance must not work against Shannon.
"Already Shannon is going to lose out in 1999 on the Los Angeles service," he said. "While Shannon will be served with a connection through Dublin, it will be losing out on the heavy promotion and publicity that a new service generates and it will also give Dublin a one-year headstart in the important area of making travel agents and travelers familiar with which destination in Ireland is served from Los Angeles.
"Because Shannon will already have paid a price in 1999, it will not be on for Aer Lingus to argue next year that Shannon will only get its entitlement to an equal share of Los Angeles flights if extra flights into Dublin from Chicago or anywhere else are conceded."
Sounds like they might need more than Marilyn Monroe at Shannon to keep things in order. Arnold Schwarzenegger might be yer only man there.
As luck would . . .
The British have long been famous/infamous for their obsessions over secrecy, spies, defense of the realm and all that. They take this kind of stuff very seriously. Still, the advent of "New Labor," with fresh and breezy Tony Blair at the helm, promised a fresh approach to the idea of free access to information on the part of her majesty’s subjects and anyone else around the world with an interest in some of the murkier aspects of Britain’s daily doings. And to an extent that promise was fulfilled in recent days with the birth of a British version of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.
But what rotten luck. Just as the entrenched and stuffy culture of secrecy was about to get an, albeit initially cautious, nose-blow, along comes Richard Tomlinson and that list of George Smiley lookalikes. The result has been uproar and a veritable blizzard of government-issue "D Notices" aimed at curbing the yapping press once again. British luck ain’t what it used be. Or is it?
Pete King’s future career seems, well, poised between this and that right now. The "this" part is that of a U.S. congressman and budding novelist. The Long Island Republican is about to embark on a publicity tour for his first novel, "Terrible Beauty," and along the way he might just announce a bid for the U.S. Senate — a move that covers the "that" part.
Certainly, King was leaning toward the Senate a bit in the New York Observer last week while answering questions aimed by Armagh-rooted journalist Eamon Lynch. Getting to the Senate will not be easy but "Senator King" would sound just fine and dandy to not a few Irish Americans. As for President King? Sounds more like a constitutional crisis.