By Andrew Bushe and Ray O’Hanlon
DUBLIN — The on-off-on transAtlantic voyage of the Jeanie Johnston is off again.
Plans to sail the £6.5 million Famine-era replica sailing ship to North America this year have been abandoned and the vessel will instead do a circuit of Ireland later this year after sea trials are completed in August.
The Jeanie Johnston was launched in May from a specially constructed shipyard at Blennerville, Co. Kerry, by President Mary McAleese.
The ship had been due to begin her roughly 30-city North American tour with a stopover in Washington, D.C., on June 7 and be part of Operation Sail in New York over the Fourth of July holiday.
But weather-related problems and a longer-than-expected final fitting schedule resulted in the North American arrival date being moved forward to early August. That target has now been set aside.
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The Jeanie Johnston project has been closely associated with the Northern Ireland peace process.
Young people from North and South have worked on the ship, which has been hailed as a symbol of peace and reconciliation in Ireland by political figures such as Progressive Unionist Party leader David Ervine and Nobel peace price winner and SDLP leader John Hume.
The project chief executive, John Griffin, said that because fitting the replica three-masted sailing ship out to comply with modern maritime regulations had taken much longer than anticipated, the American voyage had been put off until the spring of 2001.
He said the postponement was because of "weather and visitor considerations."
Instead, the three-mast vessel will call in at Irish ports, including Limerick, Galway, Derry, Belfast, Dublin, Waterford and Cork.
The latest news on the ship’s transAtlantic progress, meanwhile, was not all frustrating.
The Irish government announced that it would be providing £2 million in funding for the ship’s North American tour.
Turlough McConnell, spokesman for the Jeanie Johnston Project in the U.S., said that the allocation was a welcome vote of confidence in the project.
"One thing that is critically important in all this is that we have to have a safe and sound ship, because a lot of young people will be on it when it sails across the Atlantic," he said.
The Jeanie Johnston is a replica of a ship built in Quebec in 1847 that never lost a single passenger to disease or the sea during 16 transAtlantic voyages. As such, the Jeanie Johnston stood out from her contemporaries in that she wasn’t a coffin ship.
It has taken two and a half years to build and has been financed by donations from industry, the government and peace groups in Ireland and the U.S.