Now berthing some 500 metres from the Sean O’Casey Bridge on Quay 16 on the North Wall Quay, the Cill Airne was built in the Liffey Dockyards in 1961 and was one of the last riveted-ships built in Europe. After nearly forty years in Cork, the ship returned to Dublin in 2007 and has been splendidly renovated to house the Dockland's first floating bar, the inimitable White Bar, as well as two restaurants, ‘smart casual’ Quay 16 Restaurant (60 guests) and the Blue River Bistro Bar (120 guests).
The Cill Airne was built at the Liffey Dockyard and designed by architects Graham & Woolnough of Liverpool, a team clearly inspired by the Mersey Ferries. She and her sister ship, the Blarna, were commissioned by the Irish Government on July 12th 1961. Their role was to meet the huge Atlantic Ocean luxury liners outside Cork Harbour and bring both mail and passengers on into Cork City, particularly from the 1960s luxury liners which docked on the south coast and were too large to make their way up the Lee. The Cill Airne, 150 feet long and 40 feet wide, could accommodate up to 1500 passengers at once - and the occasional motorcar, perhaps belonging to a wealthy American on a driving tour around Ireland. Amongst those carried to and from Irish shores by the ship were comic legend Stan Laurel and former U.S. President General Dwight D. 'Ike' Eisenhower.
The Cill Airne and the Blarna were the very last rivetted ships built in Europe. Since the 1930s, rivetting had been replaced by electric arc welding but the incredible production of the Liberty ships during the Second World War sealed the fate of rivetting forever. It seems the decision to rivet the two sisters was a political one, designed to maintain employment for the last of the rivetting crews in the Liffey Dock.
With the rise of the airlines in the 1970s, the luxury cruise trade succumbed and both ships suffered. The Blama was sold to a ferry company in Quebec. The Cill Airne, berthed on the Custom House Quay in Cork, became a training vessel for marine engineers at the National Maritime Training College, Ringaskiddy. Here students mastered the arts of radar, lifeboats and engine room practices. With the necessary removal of certain life-saving devices, her capacity was cut to 500 but she continued to sail out the Lee every fortnight to Cobh and back, with a band playing on the deck. The Cill Airne was also traditionally used to celebrate the ´throwing of the dart´ by the new Lord Mayor of Cobh to represent the staking of his jurisdiction each year.
In 2003, the Maritime College was rehoused in a new state-of-the-art building with a mock-up engine room and ship sailing simulators, making the already rather run-down Cill Airne obsolete. The College placed the vessel up for auction where she was purchased by a group of Dublin City investors. She was acquired by the Irish Ship and Barge Fabrication Company and moved to West Cork in spring 2006. She spent nine months in Hegarty’s Boatyard, Skibbereen, undergoing major restoration work by a team of old style shipwrights headed up by Sam Field-Corbett. The work has ensured the long-term preservation of the ship. Running, the Cill Airne’s Crossley 5 cylinder two stroke engines was described as 'purring like a Singer Sewing machine'. Her engine room must be one of the few where one can hold a conversation whilst the engines are running.
As well as being a bar and restaurant, this heroic ship is also available for charter to visit ocean liners and hold wedding receptions in Dublin Bay between the North Wall and Dun Laoghaire. As for her sister, Blana, well she left Cork in the mid- 1960s and made her way from Bermuda to Canada where she was lately up for sale as the Gobelet d’Argent II.