Grace O'Malley: The all-island tall ship training future sailors

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

  • Published
Image caption,
The Grace O'Malley replaces two other ships used to train young people which sank within two years of each other

An "all-island" tall ship which aims to bring young people together at sea is on its first visit to Northern Ireland.

The cross-border Atlantic Youth Trust plans to take about 1,000 young people a year on voyages on board the Grace O'Malley.

Irish President Michael D Higgins has given his backing to the project.

The Grace O'Malley replaces two other ships used to train young people which sank within two years of each other more than a decade ago.

The Asgard II sank off the French coast in 2008, while the yacht Lord Rank sank near Ballycastle in Northern Ireland in 2010.

All of those on board both ships were rescued safely.

But since the two ships sank, there has been no dedicated sail training ship in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.

Pirate queen

The Grace O'Malley has now been bought from Sweden by money raised by the Atlantic Youth Trust to fill that gap.

It is a three-masted 164ft (50m) schooner which has previously sailed a number of times across the Atlantic.

It was originally called Lady Ellen but is being renamed Grace O'Malley by the Atlantic Youth Trust in honour of the famous 16th Century pirate queen of Ireland.

O'Malley - also known as Granuaile or Gráinne Mhaol in Irish - sailed to a famous meeting with Queen Elizabeth I at Greenwich Castle in 1593, which led to the release of her sons from captivity.

In a message recorded for the Atlantic Youth Trust, President Higgins said Grace O'Malley was "a woman unafraid to question the world she inhabited, to overcome barriers, to blaze new trails".

"Her fearless arrival up the Thames is one of the great events of colonial confrontation with a monarch that generated respect between two of the strongest women in the history of the period," he said.

"How appropriate then that the tall ship planned to bring young people from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland together for youth development voyages will be named after this inspirational woman, heroic warrior and legendary seafarer."

The Atlantic Youth Trust is an all-island charity which takes young people from a range of communities and backgrounds in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to sea.

Image caption,
Peter Cooke says the young people who take part in voyages aboard the Grace O'Malley would create a community

According to the president of the trust, Peter Cooke, the plan in 2023 is to begin taking groups of about 40 young people on 10-day voyages aboard the Grace O'Malley.

"All of the kids who do not know each other before they start build a new community," he told BBC News NI.

"We show them all the different jobs that take place on a boat - from the captain to the navigator to the cook to the person who climbs the rigging.

"It's really designed about youth development and personal confidence.

"I think the maritime side is almost an irrelevance, what you need is to create an environment which is entirely alien.

"Out of that you get them as raw material where you can allow their personalities to come through, their confidence to come through and their interpersonal skills across communities - north, south, east, west - to come through and build a community."

There is already a bursary to pay for a young person from a disadvantaged background to take part in a voyage and the trust is creating more.

The Grace O'Malley, which sailed to Northern Ireland from Sweden for the Foyle Maritime Festival, is now in Belfast and will then sail on to Warrenpoint and Dublin.

Northern Ireland Executive funding for the ship was mentioned in Stormont's Fresh Start agreement and a business case is also being looked at by the Department of Defence in the Republic of Ireland.

"As part of the mid-term Review of the Capital Plan, the Irish government will work also with the Northern Ireland Executive to seek agreement on a funding plan for the Atlantic Youth Trust initiative," the 2015 Fresh Start Agreement said.

"This proposal involves a new sail training vessel to facilitate youth development, mentoring, and training on an all-island basis."

Now that the Grace O'Malley has been bought, Peter Cooke said the trust was hopeful the two governments would now "crystallize" that funding.

Image caption,
Operations manager Brian O'Malley and his brother Owen have a personal interest in their namesake ship

And in a modern day twist, O'Malleys from Mayo are now crewing the Grace O'Malley.

Operations manager and engineer Brian O'Malley and his brother Owen helped sail the ship from Sweden to Northern Ireland.

"There's actually a very strong connection," Brian O'Malley told BBC News NI.

"We're both from Clare Island, and there's a castle at the harbour in Clare Island - Grace O'Malley's castle.

"In the abbey there's also a tomb where supposedly she's buried.

"We all have a claim to Grace O'Malley on Clare Island definitely!"

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