Despite being in the Dáil til after midnight as the abortion debate rumbled on, a bright-eyed Taoiseach found himself within hours riding the high seas in a powerboat on Cork harbour on one of the most beautiful days of the summer.
“Will we just go back to Dublin this way?” beamed minister for the marine and avid sailor, Simon Coveney, as he held on to the side of the rubber boat as it roared away from the jetty in a cloud of sea spray with the Cork city and county mayors and UCC president, Michael Murphy, on board.
Alas, there’d be no such clinging on for colleague Lucinda Creighton, who within hours would be dramatically throwing herself out of the Fine Gael boat to the cheers of the pro-life lobby all around her.
For Mr Kenny it must have been rather surreal day out, swapping the strains of ‘Kumbaya’ outside Leinster House for the halcyon seaside atmosphere of Cork Harbour where tanned locals in shorts and sandals and skimpy dresses all backslapped him as he strode up the steps to Spike Island.
A turquoise, unblemished sky hung over the harbour as did the inevitable feelgood atmosphere. Enda Kenny was initially in town to turn the sod on a new maritime and energy research centre at the Maritime College in Ringaskiddy. It was project, which he said, epitomised the future of the harbour and Ireland’s “blue economy”.
It was then on to Spike, where he focused on the harbour’s rich commercial, monastical and military past, and its future as a global tourist destination.
If the abortion debate is taking its toll on the Fine Gael leader, he was showing none of it. But then again there’s nothing a Fine Gael Taoiseach likes better than to invoke the spirit of Michael Collins, and yesterday the ghost of both Collins and Dev were hovering as 75th anniversary of the handing over of the Cork Harbour forts to the State took place on Spike.
From 1921 to 1938, the deepwater forts of Lough Swilly, Cork Harbour, and Bere Haven all remained in the control of the British, who wanted to retain them for their strategic importance. It was Taoiseach Éamon de Valera who negotiated their return to Irish hands as part of the truce that marked the end of the Anglo Irish Trade War.
It was a dignified, yet balmy afternoon on Spike Island with the colonial- style facade of Fort Mitchell making the compound look near Caribbean as palms trees on its lawn swayed in the gentle breeze.
Over 100 members of the Defence Forces stood to attention as the Taoiseach walked into what they hope will be known internationally as Cork’s Alcatraz.
A guard of honour was held for the Taoiseach and a series of artillery gun salutes were sounded from Fort Mitchell and out to the LÉ Eithne, which was anchored in the waters alongside Spike.
One of the most poignant moments was the 21-gun salute from 12 Pounder Artillery Saluting Battery at Fort Mitchell. The LÉ Eithne returned a lone shot in response.
A similar 21-gun salute sounded when the fort was finally returned the State in 1938.
The dream of the Taoiseach and his Government is that, with the new Beaufort Centre, the continuing development of the National Maritime College and the Irish Maritime and Energy Resource Centre (iMerc) and the development of Spike Island as a tourist destination by Cork County Council, the eyes of the world will once again turn to Cork Harbour.
As he faced back towards Dublin for another long night in the Dáil, he waved goodbye, insistent that the economy of Cork Harbour was facing into a new dawn.
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