A campaign continues to transform a former ferry, which plied the route between Galway and the Aran Islands, into a major tourist attraction. However if a financial plan is not established within a number of weeks there is a risk that the Naomh Eanna will have to be consigned to the scrapyard and Galway will lose out on an attraction which could, in time, be worth millions to the local economy.
The Naomh Eanna was withdrawn from service in 1989 and has been lying derelict in Dublin Port for more than 25 years. Last year it emerged that there were controversial plans by Waterways Ireland for her to be scrapped. She has now been acquired by the Irish Ship and Barge Fabrication Company, a firm which specialises in the restoration of high quality heritage maritime holdings.
There are ambitious plans in place for a major refit of the Naomh Eanna to include an 80 bedroom boutique hostel, a restaurant and cafe, an island museum and micro brewery. It is proposed she will be moored at Long Walk and become a focal point for tourism in Galway.
The Irish Ship and Barge Fabrication Company has begun work to try to structure a financial package to deliver the finished product. It is estimated that the project, which has been approved as a tax efficient investment, will cost €2.4 million.
The company approached a number of accomplished operators to finance the re-development work and operate the vessel as a whole, however none was in a position to commit. Therefore IS&BF is working on raising an initial €900,000 to carry out steelwork and other restoration of the ship. It is expected this work will include the development of the island museum which IS&BF intends to operate itself.
However to complete the salvage plan, the company is seeking investors and a single or multiple operator[s] to run the boutique hostel, restaurant, and cafe. These can be operated collectively or by separate entities. These businesspeople must be prepared to fitout the spaces they require - but with an appreciation for the style and heritage of the vessel.
Securing solid operators for the ship is seen as securing her future and it is hoped restoration work can begin by the summer. IS&BF’s Captain Sam Field Corbett is well known within the maritime industry for locating heritage vessels and identifying unique and exciting modern uses for these valuable craft. He says the simple issue is that banks want to see businesses come on board with this venture so there is loan repayment potential there. “It is unfortunate that there is no State support available for the project. The potential gains for tourism in Galway of having the refurbished Naomh Eanna up and running are invaluable. It will surprise many people that the number one attraction for tourists travelling to Galway is the Cliffs of Moher and that is not even in the county. For a city that has hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, more large-scale attractions are needed. The value of these types of things to Galway’s economy can not be quantified but it is obviously huge.’’
Captain Field Corbett says if a single or multiple investor[s] cannot be found, this could be the final attempt at restoring the great ship, which holds so many memories for the people of Galway. “The vessel is afloat in a dry dock in Ringsend in Dublin which is in the care of NAMA. Two weeks ago, a 12 week lease was arranged to explore the raising of finance for the restoration venture. Should the lease expire without a financial structure in place, she will have to be removed from the site. In pieces. It is very sad. We hope it will not come to that.’’