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Sailing: Spirit of Asgard lives on in Sail Training Ireland

Many of the world's Class A Tall Ships are run by the merchant marine academies of the larger nations, as part of their training programme for cadets.

Also involved is the US Coastguard Service, which is a much more substantial organisation than the coastguard set-ups found in Europe.

Pride of the USCG fleet is the superb tall ship Eagle, one of the best-looking square-riggers in the world, and a real asset to any port when she comes to call. She'll be making the scene when the Tall Ships gather in Waterford at the beginning of July, one of a dozen Class A vessels in the fleet, and Waterford's characterful harbour will provide a fine setting for these giants.

Time was when Ireland had its own square rigger, albeit a little one. Asgard II, brilliantly created by Jack Tyrrell in Arklow and commissioned in 1981, was a gallant vessel which outperformed many larger craft.

For more than 12,000 young people from every walk of life and all parts of Ireland (and abroad too), Asgard II successfully provided this special experience for 27 years. She was a very busy ship, and there were concerns about her advancing age when she quietly sank in the Bay of Biscay on September 11 2008.

Thanks to the calm skill of Captain Colm Newport and his crew, all on board were safely evacuated.

But the sinking was the end of an era. The Asgard programme had become an anomaly. Places were available to anyone in the required age bracket. She was not solely for the use of trainee professional sailors.

Yet she was one of the very few government owned and run sail training ships in the world, in an era when governments increasingly concentrate on specific areas of infrastructure and welfare, while specialist activities such as publicly available sail training are handled by voluntary trusts -- monitored by government agencies like any other aspect of life on the sea.

Now that approach has come to Ireland. This week in the offices of Dublin Port (Dublin will be hosting the Tall Ships next year), Nigel Rowe, the chairman of the global body Sail Training International was in town to support Sail Training Ireland, which is now officially recognised and will take on the mantle of Coiste an Asgard.

Coiste an Asgard was a small group of government-appointed volunteers, supported by an office of the public service under the wing of the Department of Defence. Sail Training Ireland, which has been brought into being with the active support of the Irish Sailing Association, is open to membership from anyone. It can accept donations and corporate endowments, and it will be run from an office in Dublin Port Headquarters.

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One of the notions behind sail training is that in instills self-reliance. Thus the new group, chaired by Sheila Tyrrell of Arklow Shipping, is a timely move.

The sailing community and all those interested in promoting maritime affairs now have an opportunity for self-reliance, making an active and positive input into an organisation which in time will set us on the road back to having our own square rigger.

And in the meantime, Sail Training Ireland (irishsailtraining.ie) will be able to place Irish trainees on tall ships already sailing the sea.