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We are sailing — again!
By: FIONA AUDLEY - Irish Post - 30/3/10

ANCHORS are well and truly away for the reinstated Swansea to Cork sailing service, as Fastnet Line’s MV Julia commandeers the waves with a cargo of locals, tourists and businesspeople who are delighted to be back on the water.

Following the inaugural sailing of the lofty vessel this month, The Irish Post ventured onto the ship for an evening crossing to Cork and found a bustling mix of passengers, crew and even canines, enjoying the delights of a ship which has something for everybody.

Among them was Stephen O’Keeffe, a businessman based in Schull in West Cork,who, as vice chairman of the West Cork Tourism Co-op which owns the Fastnet Line service, was available to all throughout the evening.

It was a chance for the Bantry born property mogul to enjoy a taste of success after a busy year spent getting the route back up and running with his fellow committee members, and the 300 coop shareholders who have helped fund the project.

The 46-year-old explained: “I have been involved in this project for about a year now. “I got involved really because, as a businessman and a West Cork native, I could see the damage being done to the community by the drop in tourism and other losses due to the cancellation of the Swansea Cork ferry route.

“It was a big project, but one that was necessary for the community in general, so it has been great to get involved and see so many people — from the committee members to the shareholders, of which there are about 300, to the crew — come together to do something so important for the region.”

His feelings were echoed by operations manager Owen Barry, of Timoleague in West Cork, who is responsible for everything that gets the MV Julia from A to B. “I suppose I was interested in being involved in the project from the moment I heard it was starting,” he admitted.

“I am from West Cork myself, even though I was working in Rosslare at that time, and so was very interested in a project that would bring this service back to my home regions where my roots and family still were. And I have loved everything about it — Julia has become my baby.”

He adds: “There is a lot of responsibility in my role, of course, but the passion to drive you on comes from the fact that the tourism and business links will come back to the area. “It’s great to see where the ship is now after a year, and I think my involvement here has been the best thing I have ever done.”

Such an unmistakable sense of pride in the vessel and the success of the project was an emotion which was evident throughout our trip, stretching to all, from the crew, to the passengers and the shareholders on board for the evening — one of whom, Michael Collins, of Goleen in Cork, added: “Our community group has three shares in this co-operative and were a major fundraiser for the project.

“We raised €2,500 to take those three shares, and it was incredible the amount of interest there was for this project in the community. I think that’s because we will all see the benefit this will bring to our peninsula and will give us that all-important access to Britain.”