Boats, Bono and Ronnie Drew's crane


Seeing Dublin from the water puts a different perspective on familiar landmarks and reveals secret sights – but be careful to choose your seat carefully if you want to avoid a drenching, writes MIRIAM LORD

OUR BOAT ON the Liffey was called the Spirit of Docklands– but we didn’t let that put us off. The Dublin docklands’ spirit is what gripped that preening breed of bankers and developers who were feted by government and held up for the great unlaundered to admire. When the whole caper went belly-up, they blithely stuck the taxpayer with a massive bill for their ego-trip.

And what a belly-up: €71m in debt at this stage and we’re all swimming in it.

In comparison, our Spirit of Docklands(reassuringly buoyant) cost €24 in total – €14 for an adult and €10 for a student ticket.

So on a weekday morning, as we boarded the modern cruiser at Bachelor’s Walk, we had a wry little laugh about its name. But it would be our secret. The tourists would never know about our property-developer shame. Or would they . . .

But hey, what did we care? For we were out-of-towners for the day, and for an hour of it at least, could look forward to being sailed – instead of sold – down the river by a far better Spirit of Docklands.

The boat is such a familiar sight on the Liffey – gliding up and down between the East Link Bridge and Millennium Bridge at Wellington Quay – that few Dubliners notice it any more. It’s a quietly unobtrusive craft: lying low in the water, sleek and slender and fully enclosed so no chatter drifts above the river walls.

There was a small queue for the 10.30am departure, the first sailing of the day. My niece Joanne, who is a very cool 17, agreed to come along and be embarrassed by her auntie in the interests of research. The Liffey Cruise has around six daily sailings at this time of year, although “cruise” might be stretching it a bit. The purpose-built vessel takes 45 minutes to complete the round trip from Bachelor’s Walk towards the mouth of the Liffey.

The boat’s narrow interior is comfortable and air-conditioned, with lots of glass. It sits very low as there isn’t much clearance under some of the bridges. It was a strange feeling, bobbing along past all those familiar landmarks but getting a swan’s eye view of them.

The grey walls of the river soared above us. Are they really this high? Paul, tour guide with an easygoing gift of the gab, began with a potted history of Dublin’s Viking past. But it wasn’t long before we got the day’s first mention of Bono, who should get a medal from Tourism Ireland for his services to the industry.

Under O’Connell Bridge, the granite glistening in the dark, and another chunk of history from Paul about Daniel O’Connell and downtrodden Catholics. The tourists raced to photograph the O’Connell monument through the glass roof.

Recent history came to the fore once the Custom House gave way to the Financial Services Centre. Paul warmed to his task. He told his smiling audience about Ireland’s rotten bankers and the mad days of the Celtic Tiger and the price of houses.

He pointed out the new conference centre. “How much do you think it cost? Go on, guess.” Hundreds of millions and they forget to put in a toilet system, he answered, not entirely accurately. The tourists chuckled. It’s a good yarn.

He named one builder who was “supposed to be thrown in jail” but is now off “drinking cocktails” somewhere. We wondered if Paul might be in negative equity, or something. But the passengers were fascinated.

Bono figured again – Windmill Lane studios, the proposed U2 tower. Harry Crosbie’s entrepreneurial skills were lauded as we turned for home at his Point Village and a woman from Yorkshire got quite excited when Paul pointed out where Louis Walsh of X Factor fame has his penthouse apartment.

We learned about little features here and there that we never noticed about our city. The strange iron thing on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay with the big funnel on top – it’s a diving bell from the 19th century and was used to dig out the river bed. The bits of bridges and buildings you never notice. The way everything seems different from the vantage of the water.

This was a leisurely and enjoyable start to the day. Joanne was pleasantly surprised, although she wasn’t too sure about some of the historical references to the IRA. She felt the trip was “worth doing once” and she thought old people like her Da would really like it.

OUR SHORT WATERY odyssey continued when we followed the Liffey downstream again, this time to Poolbeg Marina beside the East Link toll plaza.

The Sea Safari has been running from there for a number of years, bringing small groups around Dublin Bay in their specially designed Ribs (rigid inflatable boats).

If the Liffey cruise was a civilised trip along a lazy river, the Sea Safari was a rip-roaring experience. Neither of us had any idea what to expect. We joined a small group – including two women on holiday from Northampton and a family from nearby Ringsend – for an excursion around Dalkey island and Killiney Bay.

First, there was the small matter of our waterproofs and “personal flotation devices”. Chris Lonergan, manager of the Sea Safari, kitted everyone out in the modern equivalent of oilskins and we waddled down to the Rib, which had four rows of seats.

There’s a second vessel, the “executive Rib”, which is covered over but our open boat is known as “the splash”. You get bounced around most in the front row, Lonergan advised, and wettest in the back. We plumped for the middle.

Local man Fran was at the helm. By the end of the jaunt, the only dry thing left was his wit.

Noleen Nulty lives near the marina and had always intended to take her kids out on the safari. “I used to see the boats going out all the time, and I’d say to the kids: ‘we’ll have to do that sometime’. We’re going on holiday to Lanzarote tomorrow, so we’re starting here early today.” Jade (13) and Adam (10) took up position in the back row beside their mother. The Rib moved slowly out of the marina and along the docks, past the ferries, the container boats and the cranes.

Fran pointed towards the “Ronnie Drew Crane,” a big grey hulk with Ronnie Drew spelt out down the side and a drawing of Ronnie on its base. Never saw that before.

We gathered speed past the south wall and the fishermen at the red lighthouse. The spray began to hit. “Deadly!” shouted Adam. Jade, meanwhile, was on the phone. “Kayleigh – are you ringing me? I’m on a speedboat with loads of people!” Fran banked, sharp left, sharp right, tossing the boat about. “Deadly” came the delighted chorus from behind as the waves splashed over.

”Oh, Jesus! Me neck is wringin’!” screamed Noleen.

”Put your phone in your pocket,” bellowed Fran, quick as a flash.

Ah, life on the ocean wave. Wind in your hair, salt air, Dollymount on our left, Dún Laoghaire on our right and heading in the Killiney direction to look for porpoises, seals and Bono’s house.

We nosed around Dalkey island, but the seals were missing. So we tootled nearer the coast to take a look at the houses on Sorrento Terrace. Fran was on the radio, getting word on possible porpoise sightings.

The shout went up in Killiney Bay. “We have porpoises behind us!” We craned our necks and squinted our eyes out to sea and, yes, there they were, dark arching backs and tail fins curving out of the water. An adult and two babies, said Fran.

We followed the porpoises, as quietly as we could.

”They hear the engines and they leg it.” explained our captain.

Then we headed for a look at Bono’s house up on the hill. “There it is, behind the wall.” We thought it looked it look disappointingly small. “Oh, it goes back a long way,” countered Fran. Thank God for that.

Back to Dalkey Island to look at the Martello tower. (Did you know Bono used to own one?) The seals came out to play, popping their big Labrador heads out of the water to look at us.

“Will they come over to the boat?” Adam asked our skipper.

”Ah no, son, they don’t have tickets,” came the reply.

We had been on the water for an hour. It was time to head back and, maybe, if we wanted, the belt of a decent splash. The youngsters demanded it. Suddenly, the executive Rib sped alongside and wheeled away, sending a huge wave over our boat.

The shock, the excitement, the screaming – it was brilliant. We were all saturated and somewhat dubious about the properties of the wetgear. We squelched about on our seats.

Jade, meanwhile, had already whipped out her phone. “Kayleigh! I’m proper drenched!” The boat got up to speeds of 25 knots on the way back as we bounced across the waves. The best of fun. Joanne declared she’d had the time of her life and would love to do it again.

Finally, a little chilly by now, we waddled back to change and to discover that waterproof trousers are not all they are cracked up to be.

”Me knickers are wringin’,” wailed The Irish Times.

”Well put your phone in your pocket,” came the reply.

Exhausted, we finished our Dublin sur mer experience back on the Liffey with lunch on the MV Cill Airne. We sat on our jackets, for obvious reasons., 01-4734082, 01-6689802