The Scenic Carlingford Ferry has made its maiden voyage from Greenore, Co Louth to Greencastle, Co Down.
Five decades after the idea was first mooted and a €10million investment by Frazer Ferries Group later, the new 44-car vessel was packed with families, cyclists and tourists for its inaugural sailings on Friday.
Set to operate every day except Christmas Day the project connects Carlingford and the Cooley Peninsula to the Mourne coastal route. It has created 18 jobs and will save passengers a 56km road journey.
There were fears that windy weather would mean the first public journeys would be cancelled – it won’t sail if the swell is more than two metres – but shortly before 1.30pm on Friday residents and tourists who got on board at Greenore arrived in Greencastle to cheers and waves from the pier.
The Irish Times joined passengers on the 20-minute return sailing from Greencastle to Greenore
An Omeath man who had been tracking the progress of the pier and ferry over the past year said: "We had seen the work when it started and had been round to Greencastle a few times to see what was happening on the other side, so it's great to see it actually get going. It's nice to be part of a little bit of history today."
The Irish Times joined passengers on the 20-minute return sailing from Greencastle to Greenore. Among them was Armagh Down Cycling Club member Des McConville, from the Newry-Dundalk border region, who said he has been waiting for this day for months and just had to be among the first people to try the new ferry.
“I believe this a great day,” he said. “I’ll be using this all the time.”
John and Lynn Berry from Armagh were also there with their children Sarah (7) and Sam (2). "We stay up in the caravan in Cranfield and it just brings an extra trip to Carlingford now," John said.
Marie Brown from Camlough and her daughter Aoife (16) also ventured down from their caravan to make the journey to Greenore and back.
“It is brilliant,” Marie said.
The mother and daughter joked about not needing to show their passports on arrival in Greenore and wondered what the case might be post-Brexit.
Frazer Ferries Group said Brexit is something on its radar but it hasn’t influenced the company’s plans in any way and it will deal with whatever might happen.
Scenic Carlingford Ferry chief executive Pamela Houston said that as a Co Down woman she is proud of the ferry, and with a background in tourism is confident the service will be a success for the industry, as well as for commuters, and provide a boost to both areas.
"We are right between Belfast and Dublin," she said. "We are linking Ireland's Ancient East to the Mourne Coastal Route and that carries through to the [Giant's] Causeway and the Wild Atlantic Way.
“We have always seen the Cooleys and the Mournes as a destination but you need that infrastructure link and that is what we are providing. Local tourism buildings are already expanding on the back of this.”
While spectators on both shorelines were pleased with the new ferry service, not everyone is so happy. A local residents’ group in Greencastle has raised concerns about seals and breeding seabirds and about the volume and type of traffic that will be using the rural road to the pier.
They acknowledge it will be some months before they can assess what impact the ferry has on their lives but Ms Houston insists the company has been rigorous in its planning, that wildlife will not be impacted and that the ferry is good for the area.
“We have put extensive measures in place,” she said. “We don’t want to see anything that will harm the local environment in any shape or form.”