Although Valentia Island in Co Kerry is accessible by road bridge to motorists, a car ferry is still carrying tens of thousands of vehicles every year.
But the ferry, which serviced the island from Cahirciveen for the past 20 years, is nearing the end of its life having been built 50 years ago and acquired second-hand from the Netherlands.
Yearly, it transports about 250,000 visitors to Valentia, where the first undersea transatlantic telegraph cable connected Europe with Newfoundland.
Tourism minister Shane Ross has agreed to receive a deputation from a group operating the ferry service which is seeking support funding from Fáilte Ireland.
The ferry service has been hailed an enormous success after it reinstated the main access point to the island from Renard Point.
It’s regarded as a major timesaver for visitors who, otherwise, would have to travel to Portmagee to access the road bridge which opened in 1971.
Some locals claimed the road bridge link left the island ‘lop-sided’ and led to the demise of its Victorian capital, Knightstown.
“When they built the bridge, they reversed the island,” said Richard Foran, a founder member and now manager of Valentia Island Ferries Ltd which operates the service. “The ferry is now very much a part of the Wild Atlantic Way route. The Royal hotel in Knightstown has changed hands and is progressing well; The island has been revived: there are new restaurants, an ice-cream parlour, caravan park, a new viewing point and a new “ring” route which has been created involving the bridge and the mainland.”
However, Deputy Michael Healy-Rae said the licensed ferry “will probably not be allowed into the water in 2018, simply due to its old age”.
“The ferry is a lifeline to Valentia Island and South Kerry. It has been described by locals as the heartbeat of the region and we cannot afford to lose it,” he said.
“Funding,” he said, “is required to help with the purchase of a new ferry and Minister Ross has agreed at my request to meet with an action group from Valentia Island.”
The planned new 120-tonne vessel, estimated to cost €3m, will facilitate coaches and 18 cars.
The local company is seeking substantial grant-aid, reportedly up to €2m.
The existing 93-tonne barge, meanwhile, carries 15 cars on a large number of crossings daily.