My friend Michael was about to pick me up to take me to Derry City Airport and the 40 minute flight to Liverpool-Easy!!. Well, the reports came that the airport was closing all day due to volcanic ash, and so plan B. A four hour bus ride back to Dublin, and hopefully a ferry. The bus stopped at Omagh, and I saw the memorial to those innocents who were killed by a dissident's paramilitary bomb in 1998 in the market place-a tragic loss of life during tragic times. Twenty-nine died and 220 seriously injured.
At Dublin bus station I caught a short taxi ride to the Port of Dublin and found that www.irishferries.com had a ship arriving soon and it would return to Holyhead on the Isle of Anglesey in Wales 4 hours later so I bought a ticket and watched the mammoth arrive and tie up at the quay. 35 Euros including a train to anywhere in England. WHAT A SHIP. It was the ULYSSES, built in Aker Finnyards in Rauma, Finland in 2001 at a cost of E100 million.
It is the world's largest car ferry, named in honour of James Joyce's ULYSSES, the book that immortalised the day in the life of Dublin on 16 June 1904. 12 decks and gross tonnage of 50,938 tonnes and 167 feet(51 metres)high. Three miles of parking space for 1,342 cars or 240 articulated trucks per sailing, plus a capacity of 2,000 passengers and crew, and a speed of 22 knots (41kph). It sails in each direction twice a day in just over 3 hours, and there is also a smaller, faster ship,The Jonathan Swift in 1hr. 49 minutes, plus Stena Lines ferries from a nearby quay to Holyhead, and the Norfolk Line 7 hours to Liverpool.
I have probably been Dublin to various airports in England at least 50 times, but never before by sea. There are also sailing from the nearby port of Dun Laoghaire and from the 18th Century the stage coach,with many changes of horses, could travel with passengers and Royal Mail to Holyhead in 27 hours on a good day from London, on the A5, and a steam ship, The Dublin Packet to Dublin, then the second city of the British Empire. Next to the town hall in Chester, 'The Dublin Packet' pub was run for many years by the record breaking Everton and England striker 'Dixie' Dean.
When it was time to embark I got an 'upgrade' to the Club Class MARTELLO LOUNGE on the 11th deck. Not only a superb view from the bow, but free food and drink for the voyage. Red and white wines, tea, coffee, chocolate, orange juice, cheese board, smoked salmon on soda bread open sandwiches, with fruit, hot muffins and more-as much as you wanted, plus free newspapers and satellite television. Magnificent! The crew that served me was from Latvia and Lithuania. The ship is actually registered in Limassol, Cyprus.The sailing was smooth and at Holyhead there was a mass of activity with cars, trucks, passengers and ferries coming and going 24 hours a day.
The Virgin Trains express to London took four hours but you could change at Chester for Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and elsewhere.