The Tall Ships 2012

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.’

Tall ships rounded the bay, sails billowing, majestically commanded the horizon and then entered upon the Liffey. The East-Link, the greyly familiar maritime gateway to the city, dutifully opened to grant each ship passage to the City of Dublin and briefly basking in a little of that tall ship glory and glamour. Thus was the scene in August 2012 when Dublin triumphantly hosted the Tall Ships Festival for the second time and Dublin City Council was once again a major sponsor. The East-Link Bridge bore the honour of being the very last post to pass on the final leg of the Tall Ships Race following a stormy crossing from A Coruna in north western Spain.

Once tall ships were a familiar sight from the Ringsend shore, sailing deep into the heart of the city to the old Custom House near Essex, now Grattan, Bridge. And little more than a hundred year ago tangles of masts and rigging cluttered the seaward view from O’Connell Bridge and the quays north and south seethed with all human life -  sailors, street sellers, beggars and waifs.

Those times long gone, occasional motorised craft still ripple these waters, arriving anonymously and slipping away unnoticed while the steadfastly anchored Jeanie Johnston is a haunting reminder of the once familiar ropes and rigging of the age of sail. For the Liffey flows more quietly now through the city than at any other time in Dublin’s history with the Alexander Basin serving Dublin shipping needs since before World War I.

And then the tall ships arrived. Sails of every colour dotted the river with crews from many nations manning the rigs, rising up to sixty metres above the water. The Liffey quays once more seethed with all human life.  Some would have been familiar sights in the bygone age of sails - musicians, artists, street sellers and children. What would nineteenth century Dubliners have made of floating cinemas, crazy golf upon a pontoon, pyrotechnic displays or if told that the entire population of late nineteenth century Dublin - about 200,000 people - descended upon the riverside each day of that weekend.

Then other shores beckoned and to the echoes of a twenty one gun salute the crews pulled anchor, friends made and memories stored. The East-Link Bridge closed silently in their wake, lying low and achingly drab in the river, as the tall ships took their glory back onto the waves.

‘And the wheel’s kick and wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking
And a grey mist on the sea’s face and a grey dawn breaking.

Sea Fever by John Masefield

by Annette Black, Wicklow
Published on 01st September 2013