'We love Dublin, Ireland . . . this is by far one of our favourite port visits'

Sat, Sep 1, 2012, 01:00

IF YOU’RE Irish, come into the harbour. The naval officer showing reporters around the USS Fort McHenry in Dublin Bay yesterday was Lieut Seán Riordan, whose grandfather came from Co Cork. “Many of our sailors and marines on board have connections to Ireland and they’re very happy to be here,” he said.

Lieut Riordan introduced us to the officer in charge of the marine corps on the vessel, Maj Chris Curtin, whose grandmother was born and reared on a farm in Killorglin, Co Kerry. “It’s great to be here from a personal standpoint,” he said.

“Our primary mission is to train and work with partner nations. We just finished a real successful engagement in Europe with the French marines and the Romanian marines.”

The ship is here to see the Notre Dame University vs Navy game of American football at the Aviva Stadium, which is affectionately known in Dublin as “The Pringle” because of its resemblance in shape to a certain brand of potato crisp.

“Once we found out we were coming here to go to the game, it’s all that the marines talked about,” said Maj Curtin who comes from Bridgewater, Connecticut.

“We’re very happy to be here to see Navy win,” said Lieut Riordan. “Navy has the home field advantage technically, but I don’t know whether Notre Dame understands that.”

The 183m (600ft) Fort McHenry specialises in amphibious operations involving the marines and was displaying two enormous Stars and Stripes banners yesterday as well as the Irish Tricolour.

The officer in charge of the ship, Cmdr Eric Scott Kellum, said there were about 300 sailors and 200 marines on board. He said one of the ways the crew kept in touch with their families is to read books on to video and send the tapes home to their children.

“Our primary mission is to transport marines anywhere in the world with all their gear; at a moment’s notice, we can put them anywhere we need to, for humanitarian efforts or for combat operations,” he said.

“We love Dublin, Ireland, I can tell you: to a sailor and a marine this is by far one of their favourite port visits. It’s a great opportunity to meet people and experience the culture and the history.”

The crew got almost 300 tickets for the game at the Aviva Stadium: “Everybody that wanted to go to the game, just about, is able to go.”

Also visiting the ship yesterday was vice-admiral Frank Pandolfe, commander of the US Sixth Fleet, which has its headquarters in Naples. A lottery was also organised by the US embassy for members of the public to get a tour of the vessel and 1,200 applicants out of about 10,000 were successful.

The Fort McHenry was heavily involved for two months in relief operations in Haiti after the massive earthquake of January 2010, which caused more than 300,000 deaths.

Petty officer José Flavela from Phoenix, Arizona, said the ship had travelled to Haiti within 24 hours of the order coming through. He was 19 years old at the time and he says the terrible sights he witnessed “made me appreciate the true value of life”.