City on crest of wave as festival to haul in €30m
In the first of our Spirit of Summer series, Ralph Riegel visits Waterford as sails are hoisted on the Tall Ships Festival and local pirates run amok
'WILL Captain Jack Sparrow and the Black Pearl be there?" Little James Power (5), from Viewmount, Waterford, could have been excused yesterday for confusing Johnny Depp's 'Pirates of the Caribbean' with the city's spectacular hosting of the 2011 Tall Ships Race.
James was just one of 3,000 pirates, ranging in age from two to 80, who gamely dressed up as maritime cut-throats complete with cutlasses, eye-patches and bandanas to hijack the world buccaneering record.
Ultimately, Waterford fell 2,000 pirates short of a Guinness world record.
But Captain Jack himself would have thoroughly approved of the fun on display.
He'd even have cracked a smile at the determination of Rachel Burke and Eoin and Conor McCusker, all five and from Tramore, to escort their wheeled pirate ship safely up the quays.
Mind you, the pirate horde posed more of a threat yesterday to ice-cream, sweets and crisps than the merchant vessels calmly moored in the Suir.
Waterford's quays bristled with a forest of ships' masts -- not to mention 100,000 people and a potential income of €30m -- in a remarkable tribute to the 19th century heyday of sail.
Tall Ships Festival chairman, Des Whelan, admitted the event had already exceeded all their expectations.
"You can only work hard and hope for the best, but it has been brilliant so far, including the weather," he told the Irish Independent.
The city centre was also awash with 1,500 sailors from 44 different sailing ships, all of whom were eager to be photographed with Lt Cdr Michael Kennelly and his crew from the Naval Service vessel, LE Aoife.
Or was it because Waterford magician, Keith Barry, was on board the LE Aoife -- Waterford's own 'adopted' navy ship -- in thanks for their support for local charities?
"It is pure magic," Barry said, meaning the festival atmosphere rather than his sell-out shows.
There was even a giant vessel moored nearby called 'Lord Nelson' -- though to the obvious disappointment of would-be-pirates, her captain, Neil Duncan from Northern Ireland, sported neither an eye patch nor a talking parrot.
Veteran City Council member Davy Daniels said the atmosphere and 'feel-good factor' on the quays had to be experienced to be believed. Even national politicians were getting in on the act, with Labour's presidential challenger Michael D Higgins in town and senator David Norris set to visit today.
After the pirate parade in the morning, the city came to a second standstill for the Tall Ships' crew parade -- a band-led spectacular admired by none other than Waterford and Royal Showband legend Brendan Bowyer.
With 500,000 visitors expected to float through the city by Sunday night, it's easy to see why the Deises have taken this event firmly to its heart.
Waterford first hosted the Tall Ships back in 2005 -- but this year the city has ensured the quayside party ranks as the biggest summer festival in Ireland.
Failte Ireland's Gary Breen said it is the kind of event that overseas tourists dream about attending. "With the potential of generating an economic impact of up to €25-30m this festival is guaranteed to keep visitors of all types entertained over the weekend," he said.
Even the Crafts Council of Ireland (CCI) got in on the act with a special 'craft village' on the quays with everything from ceramics and jewellery making to art and basket making.
"We are delighted to have Irish craft featured so prominently in the Tall Ships Race and to bring an extensive programme of craft activities to Ireland," CCI boss Karen Hennessy said.
But festivals are all about fun and The Waterboys last night cranked up the volume at a concert on the quays to rival Bryan Ferry's gig on Thursday night.
The third and final River Suir fireworks spectacular takes place this evening, with the gala parade of sail taking place on Sunday as the ships leave port.