Category: Archive

Smooth sailing

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

With a tide flowing hard and boats galore sending wakes in all directions, the replica Famine-era sailing ship had to rely on her twin Caterpillar diesel engines — which deliver the rather non-nautical sounding thrust of 280 horsepower — to make the final surge from Liberty Island to her mooring in Battery Park City.
As the ship hove into view, a few of her 18 sails partly unfurled, great streams of red, blue and clear water shot skyward from the New York Fire Department tender, the John D. McKean.
The immigrants of Famine times never had such a greeting, but merely surviving the transatlantic voyage more than made up for such formalities.
The present day Jeanie Johnston survived construction delays, cost overruns and, yes, the Atlantic Ocean to reach the United States, so a bit of a fuss was well deserved.
Past problems were of little consequence anyway to the enthusiastic crowd that lined the railings along the Battery Park City walkway to witness the final lap of the Jeanie Johnston’s return voyage to a legend among immigrant cities.
For this was indeed a homecoming. The Original Jeanie Johnston made 16 voyages across the Atlantic between 1848 and 1855, all the while never losing a single soul. Those voyages ferried desperate but still hopeful Irish to three North American ports: Baltimore, Quebec and New York City.
So, the Jeanie Johnston’s return to New York was reason enough to a tear or two on a day that was suitably warm and sultry for the eve of the Fourth of July. It was also suitable for conflicting comment about the ship’s size. More than one spectator commented that the three-masted barque was bigger than they had expected. Others agreed, but thought the ship would feel very small indeed when at the center of the great ocean dividing Europe and North America.
At more than 500 tons and over 150 feet from stern tip to prow, the Jeanie Johnston is in fact a healthy size and her masts, high and wide enough for almost 7,000 square feet of sail, would give all but the most avid sailor second thoughts about climbing to the top.
The ship, quite simply, cut an impressive figure as she headed for Battery Park City’s North Cove Marina for a visit that will last until July 13.
The crew gave three cheers to the welcoming throng onshore and the ship’s signal cannon fired off shots as the last yards were covered. The Stars and Stripes flew atop the foremast, while the Irish tricolor and Kerry county flag flew at the rear of the ship, which is, an as is proudly displayed on the stern, registered in Tralee.
The welcome from the shore was fired up in return by the pipes and drums of the New York Fire Department Emerald Society band, tenor Ronan Tynan and the Sean Fleming band.
Words of welcome poured forth from an array of dignitaries who were introduced to a seated and standing crowd by author Carol Higgins Clark.
Ireland’s minister for tourism, John O’Donoghue, spoke forcefully of the Jeanie Johnston being a celebratory and visible symbol of freedom. It was important, O’Donoghue said, that the Jeanie Johnston resonate with Irish Americans as she represented the contributions of the Irish to the growth of the United States. The ship, he said, was also a celebration of what the people in Ireland had achieved since the famine.
The ship also commemorated the men and women who came to America at that time and those who tried to make the journey but did not succeed.
The Jeanie Johnston, O’Donoghue said, was a little piece of Ireland gone by, of the Ireland today and of the Ireland yet to be. She represented the “resilience, determination and the generosity of spirit” of those who had left Ireland “by force of time and circumstance, pestilence and Famine.” Those people, he said, had been “subjugated and dominated” at home but were ultimately to “give so much” to what made New York and America great.
O’Donoghue said he considered it entirely appropriate that the Jeanie Johnston, a symbol of freedom and fraternity, had once again moored in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, close to the Great Hunger Memorial and most especially to the site of the World Trade Center.
Tributes to the Irish and Americans of times past and today, as well as the success in steering the Jeanie Johnston to what was once a home port away from home port, were also paid during the welcome ceremony by Jim McGuigan, executive vice president North America for Tourism Ireland, a sponsor of the New York visit.
Also delivering words of welcome were Hugh Friel, chairman of the Jeanie Johnston Company; Paul O’Toole, chief executive of Tourism Ireland; Bill Cunningham, director of communications for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Jim Gill, chairman of the Battery Park City Authority.
Hugh Friel made a passing reference to the delays in building and launching the Jeanie Johnston but added a hometown pleaser by saying that all involved in the project had been ultimately inspired by the success of the Irish in America.
Friel said he now wanted such inspiration to flow both ways and into future generations.
Differing ways, and more than one generation, were represented on the busy deck of the Jeanie Johnston as the ship was being tied up a few yards behind the welcome dais.
Captain Tom McCarthy, a Corkman delighted to be master of a Kerry ship, was the first to step onto the dock, assurance indeed that the ship had no leaks and was not in imminent danger of hitting the Hudson’s bottom.
McCarthy said it was “just great” to have finally made landfall in New York.
McCarthy had commanded a crew of professional sailors and novices across and ocean and up the coast of a continent.
One of the professionals was Boyce Nolan from Dalkey, Co. Dublin. Nolan could hardly contain his excitement at reaching New York and its asphalt and concrete dry land. Nolan had made the full ocean crossing in weather that varied from what he described as “suntan” to another kind, one that had a distinctly negative effect on one’s interior movements.
The novices on the stretch just completed, from Bristol, Pa., to Lady Liberty’s harbor, were 10 young adults who made the trip under both the Jeanie Johnston’s sails and the umbrella of the International Fund for Ireland’s Wider Horizons program.
Tony McAteer from Newry, Co. Down, was the group’s team leader. He paid tribute to the ship’s professional crew for the way in which they had welcomed their short haul shipmates.
“The crew had so much patience. They were great,” said McAteer.
Paul McGuigan from Whitecross, Co. Armagh, said his stint aboard had been an unforgettable experience though it had been hard work climbing up and down the ship’s ropes.
Brian Allen from Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, said he thought it had been a “good laugh.” On top of that, the food aboard, he said, had been “excellent.”
Francis McCann from Dundalk, Co. Louth, had most enjoyed climbing the rigging, with a safety harness of course. Scrubbing the decks had met with lesser approval, he indicated.
The entire welcoming reception itself lasted the better part of a full ship’s watch before the eventual scattering to the echoes across the water of Ronan Tynan’s “Rose of Tralee” and “God Bless America.”
Some did stay behind to tour the Jeanie Johnston. Other vowed to come back in a few days to see at close hand the re-creation of a vessel that defied the odds 150 years ago as she steered a safe course time and again across the Atlantic and around the dreaded sobriquet of “coffin ship.”

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