Documentary on Newstalk: The Dream of Jeanie

The latest documentary from the Winter Season of Documentary On Newstalk.

Radio Producer and Archaeologist Jane Ruffino looks at the past, present and future of the Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship in: The Dream of Jeanie.

The Jeanie Johnston has been part of Dublin’s skyline since 2004. She was built at the turn of this century, just outside of Tralee, Co Kerry, a project that took nine years to complete. Originally planned at a cost of £4m, the final cost was nearly €14m, and for a long time, was used as shorthand for poor planning and parochial thinking.

The Dream of Jeanie is a one-hour radio documentary produced by archaeologist and technology writer Jane Ruffino, and looks at how the Jeanie came to be in Dublin, and asks if we should be doing more to get the Jeanie back to sea.

“I passively followed the construction of the ship, and I took an interest in this story a few years ago. It seemed like it followed an interesting curve of Ireland’s economy and self-image,” says Ruffino. “She’d been built at the very start of the boom, sailed at the peak, then was sold to the Docklands Authority just before the property industry started to tank.”

Most people know the Jeanie, at least to see, or maybe they’ve visited the current incarnation, a floating museum to famine-era migration, run by a small team of dedicated tour guides and caretakers. Up top, she’s a finely crafted replica of a Canadian-built merchant ship from the 19th century, and below, there is 21st-century engineering. But she was built to sail across the Atlantic, which she did once, in 2003.

“We knew exactly what we had. We knew that she was more than capable of doing what she was built to do,” says Peter O’Regan, the engineer who designed the systems that allowed her to sail long distances safely. “The ship looked after us, basically. She proved herself, she was excellent.”

This documentary tells the story of how Jeanie came to be, where she went, and asks where she should go next, through the stories of the people who built her, sailed her, and look after her now.

“As I started talking to people associated with the Jeanie, I realised that yes, sure, my hypothesis wasn’t wrong, but the love people expressed for the ship, and the story of her voyage, and of how it changed the people who went on it, seemed a lot more compelling,” says Ruffino.

People like Tom Harding, who was the ship’s bosun on the American voyage. “Life in a square-rigged ship is adventurous, it’s hard, but it’s great fun,” he says. “And the people who do it are a small bit touched, mad, but they’re addicted to it.”

Harding is also critical of the way Ireland’s relationship to the sea is undervalued. “We’re an island where the powers that be stand on the cliffs of Moher, looking inland at the bogs.”

“Now if it’s a metaphor,” says Ruffino, “it’s for the way we too easily overlook great things because maybe we perceive them as too parochial, or we define them by surface impressions.”

 ‘The Dream of Jeanie’ will be broadcast on Newstalk 106-108fm this weekend, Saturday 10th January at 7am, and repeated at 10am on Sunday 11th January.

The Dream of Jeanie’ can also be listened to online at A podcast will be available at after the broadcast. 

CREDITS: The Dream of Jeanie’was produced and presented by Jane Ruffino, edited and mixed by Colm Coyne, and Funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland