Haughey’s cherished yacht Celtic Mist set for whale of a trip

Vessel’s 4,000km voyage to share research on humpbacks with colleagues in Iceland

The Celtic Mist was donated by the Haughey family to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group. Photograph: Dave Meehan.

The late taoiseach Charles Haughey's former yacht Celtic Mist is to leave Dublin Bay on Friday for its longest voyage north on a whale research trip to Iceland.

The 16m ketch, donated by the Haughey family to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), is undertaking the 4,000km round trip to share research on humpback whales with colleagues in Iceland.

The crew of eight hopes to develop links with Icelandic communities, where minke whales are still consumed for meat, and to emphasise that whale watching can be more lucrative in the long term than hunting.

Iceland and Norway have both authorised whaling in spite of a 1986 moratorium by the International Whaling Commission, focusing mainly on minke catches. However, Iceland has also authorised limited resumption of hunting for fin whales – an endangered species – after a two-year pause.


Humpback whales, which share Irish and Icelandic waters, are the focus of Iceland’s whale watching industry. Unique markings on the underside of the humpback tail fluke provide a “thumb print” that allows the IWDG and counterparts in the University of Iceland and the Icelandic Marine and Freshwater Institute to share information on sightings.

Rotating crew

Dr Simon Berrow of the IWDG said the yacht would spend a month in Icelandic waters with a rotating crew, which includes skippers Fiacc O Brolcháín and Liam Quinn. The first 850-nautical-mile leg to the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, is expected to take a week.

Meanwhile, the last ocean-going wooden ship built in Ireland is due to be launched formally at the Baltimore Wooden Festival in Co Cork on Saturday after a long-term community restoration programme.

The 17m (56ft) ketch Ilen was designed and built by Ireland's first round-world yachtsman Conor O'Brien in 1926 and spent almost 70 years as a transport ferry in the Falkland Islands.

O'Brien, a fluent Irish speaker, supporter of Home Rule and of Sinn Féin, was a sailor, mountaineer and naval architect who wrote 14 books. He was a so-called "junior partner" in the gun running by Erskine and Molly Childers in 1914, using his vessel Kelpie to land guns in Kilcoole, Co Wicklow.

The ketch was returned to Ireland by graphic artist Gary McMahon, and restored in Limerick and west Cork with support from Brother Anthony Keane of Glenstal Abbey, a number of experienced shipwrights and Liam Hegarty of Hegarty’s boatyard in Oldcourt. The aim is to use it as a sail training vessel.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times