Why Dublin Bay is now the hottest ticket in town
Dubliners and tourists are discovering a new way of appreciating the beauty of Dublin Bay
Most people only see Dublin Bay from the shore, or from a ferry on their way to Britain.
Recognised last week by UNESCO, the scenic bay has long been an under-used resource on our doorsteps.
But one boat tour operator runs a trip which has seen an on-board performance by a famous rock band, offers seafaring couples a chance to sip champagne on their wedding day and is a great vantage point for spotting dolphins.
Along the way you can also enjoy first-class views of the Poolbeg chimneys, Ireland's Eye and the Baily Lighthouse.
Eugene Garrihy (55) is the man behind Dun Laoghaire-based Dublin Bay Cruises, which takes passengers from the southern seaside town up to the northern peninsula of Howth during the summer months.
It's clear from talking to Eugene - who's daughter is former Fair City actress Aoibhin (27) - that you never know who might be joining you on board The St Bridget.
"We've had Kodaline perform with us. It was a gig on board to Kiliney Bay and Dalkey island. It was a huge event for their fans. Some fans couldn't get on the boat so the band played again when they came off afterwards. It was absolutely fantastic."
Eugene has also helped couples celebrate their special day by holding weddings on the boat.
"We've had a good few, there is one booked for next month. The couple have a civil ceremony on board, with champagne and canapes for their guests. It's a lovely way to do it."
The Garrihy family - including his wife Clare (52) and other daughters Ailbhe (25) and Doireann (23) - are also involved in the company.
"Aoibhin is hugely active in the marketing and promotional side of it. We do marketing over the winter with international tour groups."
Dublin Bay Cruises is now in its third year, but despite its relative youth, Eugene has garnered years of experience at sea.
"I used to captain a tugboat in Dublin Bay and along the River Liffey in the '80s. That gave me an inside knowledge of the workings of Dublin Bay and the port and the docklands. I also come from a fishing background, which gave me a lot of experience in the waters.
"Once you're born and bred close to the sea it's quite difficult to shake off," said Eugene, a native of Doolin in Co Clare.
"It's in you and you have to run with it, it's very difficult to get away from the sea," he laughs.
In March 1985, Eugene founded the Cliffs of Moher Cruises and Doolin2Aran ferries, which he stills runs, carrying a combined 70,000 passengers a year.
So what made the Clare man - who commutes between Doolin and Castleknock - swap the Atlantic Ocean for the Irish Sea?
"I saw an opportunity in Dublin. It's a fantastic bay with beautiful islands and loads of wildlife. It's a very pleasurable place to be out on a summer's day."
Dublin Bay Cruises only operates from April to October to make the most of the better wetaher and calmer water.
Eugene says it's not in customers' best interests to run the service all year round.
"The bay can get quite rough in the winter, we wouldn't bring people out in rough weather," he said.
When he's not busy running his three ferry services, Eugene spends his time ensuring the fleet is in top condition, complying with the rigorous standards imposed on his business by the Department of Transport.
It takes a captain and four crew, including a full-time on-board engineer, to run The St Briget, which makes up to seven return journeys a day along the bay.
Eugene describes the bay as "a huge asset on our doorstep" and greatly welcomes UNESCO's recent official recognition of the coastline.
Dublin Bay was classified a biosphere reserve, which city officials praised for its potential to increase tourism and boost jobs along the coast.
Jobs Minister Richard Bruton called the award "an immense opportunity for Dublin".
"Getting this status will help to ensure that more tourists visit the bay and make it an integral part of their visit to Dublin," said Helen McDaid of Failte Ireland's Dublin office.
Eugene said he hopes the accolade will send more tourists his way. The increase in companies offering open-top tours in the city centre has made it "difficult to get customers out to the bay," he said.
"More tourist offices in the city need to promote other visitor attractions, not just the bus tours."
The ferryman's drive to make the Dublin coastline a thriving tourist destination, similar to his hometown's already successful operation, is testament to his passion for the coastline and love for the sea.
He says the bay is in the very early stage of development as a tourist destination but that the timing of the UNESCO status is excellent.
"I think they will all be forthcoming now because it's something that's really needed," he says looking out onto the waters. We need to appreciate what Dublin Bay has to offer."
There are a range of different cruises and sailing times. The Dun Laoghaire to Dublin City voyage departs at 9:30am and Dun Laoghaire to Howth leaves at 12:30pm. Full details of sailing times and prices can be found on www.dublinbaycruises.com