This rustbucket is being turned into a hotel on Dublin's Liffey

Owner of the ‘Naomh Éanna’ has high hopes for development of his ageing rustbucket

Sam Field Corbett at the ‘Naomh Éanna’, which is in dry dock in Dublin’s Grand Canal Dock. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Sam Field Corbett at the ‘Naomh Éanna’, which is in dry dock in Dublin’s Grand Canal Dock. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The owner of a heritage ship is seeking about €2 million from a joint investor to convert the vessel into a boutique hotel/ hostel, cafe and restaurant, which he then hopes to berth close to the CHQ building on the north Dublin quays and open for business, similar to the Cillairne in front of the new Central Bank building.

Sam Field Corbett of Irish Ship & Barge Fabrication bought the iconic four-deck Naomh Éanna two years ago for €1. Despite attempts to fund the restoration, the ship still sits in a graving dock at the far end of Grand Canal Dock close to the river Dodder.

The National Asset Management Agency, which until recently was responsible for the graving dock, allowed the Naomh Éanna to dock there for free.

Mr Corbett now says the site could be redeveloped for an iconic building, which could involve filling in the 250-year-old dry dock. In short, the Naomh Éanna will be scrapped if it can’t be restored or a new home found for it.

‘Act of barbarism’

The clock is ticking because, while the ship is currently docked for free, it costs more than €1,000 a day to keep a ship of this size in dry dock – and there aren’t many available.

“Scrapping the Naomh Éanna would be an act of barbarism to our maritime heritage,” says Mr Corbett. “She was built in Dublin at Liffey Dockyard in 1956 and is one of the last riveted ships, as welding replaced this labour-intensive and highly skilled construction method in the 1940s.

“But she is probably best remembered for her 30 years as the Galway-to-Aran Islands ferry before being decommissioned in 1986.”

His plan for the Naomh Éanna, which he says would take nine months to restore, is to convert it into a 128-bed boutique hostel, a 64-seat cafe and a 52-seat restaurant. There would also be a micro-brewery and exhibits detailing the ship’s history.

Or it could be developed as a 40-room hotel at a development cost of €60,000 per room which, Mr Corbett claims, would provide investors with a return of 6 per cent.

In fact, he is open to ideas from hoteliers and restaurateurs. Ultimate ownership of the Naomh Éanna is “open for discussion”, although he would like to be involved in the project as a partner.

Perhaps crucially, given the lack of ships berthed on Dublin’s quays, Mr Corbett claims to have a “verbal agreement” with Dublin City Council to allow the Naomh Éanna to be tied up at Custom House Quay next to the Jeanie Johnston tall ship. This central location, beside the IFSC, would be ideal for a restaurant and hotel.

“We think the Naomh Éanna could become a really special and unique hotel location,” he says. “It will not be your typical hotel accommodation at all, but something different that would really stand out on Dublin’s accommodation listings.”

Mr Corbett has been involved in a number of high-profile maritime restoration projects in recent years. In 1998, he commissioned the MV Riasc barge as a sailing restaurant based on the Grand Canal.

His most well-known project was the two-year, €3.2 million restoration of the MV Cillairne, which now operates as a restaurant and bar on North Wall Quay.

This was followed by the 2009 purchase of a large harbour in Galway city, where a “national maritime quarter” is being developed. Three cruise boats berthed there are available for letting on Airbnb.

Would Dublin’s quays be suited to such development? Mr Corbett says the quays could accommodate an “amazing range” of heritage vessels adapted for any number of uses, from pubs and clubs to hotels and apartments.

Technical issues, such as hooking the vessels up to sewers and electricity, are “easy-peasy”. Even where the draught of a boat is too deep to float at low tide, “you can just dredge beneath it”.

‘Visual clutter’

However, Mr Corbett claims the relevant authority for the quays, now Dublin City Council, doesn’t view it as a priority. (The council is currently developing a river rejuvenation strategy.)

Dealing with its predecessor with responsibility for the Liffey was “torture”, he adds, because the Dublin Docklands Development Authority essentially viewed river traffic as “visual clutter”.

For example, he claims it took the DDDA two years to licence the Cillairne to operate as a pub/restaurant – and that “they would only allow it to be berthed in an out-of-the-way location”.

As a result, little development of this kind has been completed to date in Dublin.

PANEL: Developing heritage maritime holdings

Irish Ship & Barge Fabrication specialises in the development of heritage maritime holdings. It locates heritage vessels, identifies modern uses for these craft, and then approaches investors to finance and in some cases operate the new floating businesses.

On the MV Cadhla project, for example, a BES fund managed by Pinnacle Capital Partners along with some private investors invested €1 million in the striking barge, which now turns over some €500,000 a year as a floating restaurant on the Grand Canal.

Mr Corbett is currently converting a Dutch barge, built in 1916, into an “escape boat” for hire, in which groups figure out various tasks on board in order to escape from the vessel in a fun, team-building-type exercise.