A Welcome Back to the Eithne

Ed Forry

As the Tall Ships sail into Boston Harbor this month, the Irish have an extra reason to smile: among the visiting ships will be the Ireland Naval Service patrol ship LÉ Eithne, the flagship of Ireland's navy.

It will be the third visit to our town for the ship, which was here in 1986 and again in 2000. This year, during the Sail Boston festivities July 8-13, she will be berthed at Pier 4 at the Charlestown Navy Yard. While in town, the ship will be open to the public.

During the 2000 visit, the crew of LÉ Eithne found "a home away from home" in Boston. The Irish sailors found plenty of time for shore leave, and were widely welcomed at Irish pubs and other venues throughout the city. 

 "The reception on shore is fantastic. It's like being at home," Lt. Mick Kennelly told Boston.com that year.  "This is a trip of a lifetime. We don't get to come to America often," petty officer Michael Hickey told the website.

During the visit, the ship hosted a reception for 250 members of the Boston Irish community. That visit had been expected to coincide with a maiden voyage of the Jeanie Johnston, a replica famine ship built to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Irish famine, but those plans were cancelled when the replica ship was found not seaworthy in time for the events. 

Despite the good feelings of the LÉ Eithne's return visit, there are some sad memories as well. As the ship sailed home from Boston after its July 2000 visit, a crew member was lost overboard. A 20-year-old seaman, Able Mechanic Robert Dean, from Cork City, was missing and was presumed dead off the coast of Canada. After a lengthy air and sea scan of a 100-square mile area, the sailor was never found. On the ship's return voyage to its home port of Cork city, a service was held for the seaman lost during the Atlantic passage.

"LÉ Eithne was built in Ireland as a helicopter patrol vessel," according to military.ie, the website of the Defense Forces of Ireland. "The equipment fit was to a very high standard and included the Naval Services first Operations room which integrated control of armament and aircraft to a designated centre, remote from the bridge. Her main armament is a BOFORS 57mm anti-aircraft gun with a LIOD fire control system. Secondary armament is provided by two 20mm Rheinmetals. Eithne is also equipped with the DAO5 Air Surveillance Radar.

"In the summer of 1986 LÉ Eithne scored a notable first, by becoming the first Irish Naval Service ship to cross the Atlantic, when she sailed to the United States, visiting Hamilton, New York, and Boston. LÉ Eithne is closely associated with Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin, and conducts fundraising efforts on the hospitals behalf around the coast. She also frequently brings the children down to visit the ship for a morale-boosting day out during their recuperation from illness. Although all the ships' home port is Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbour, LÉ Eithne has a particularly close relationship with the town of Dún Laoghaire in Co Dublin."