Tony Mullen

 

Dun Laoghaire Pier Master - 1987-2003

As young boys interested in ships, both Gordon Hislip and Justin Merrigan spent their school holidays and weekends marvelling at the busy shore activity that saw the St Columba and her fleet mates sailing in and out of Dun Laoghaire.



Their interest was noted by many Sealink staff at the port who allowed them to view the ship operations at close quarters, but it was particularly recognised by Mr Tony Mullen, one of the dedicated Piermasters in charge of Sealink's shore operations at the port.



For Gordon and Justin, Tony’s enthusiasm and encouragement proved a turning point in both their personal and professional lives, each gaining a true friend and mentor.



Justin clearly recalls the day he first met Tony, when he was introduced to ‘the new Piermaster’ by Piermaster Jim Halpin, following the retirement of the then Senior Piermaster, Paddy Hickey. An immediate friendship was struck up as Jim joked ‘sure Justin’ll show you around’!

At some point after Tony’s debut as Piermaster, Gordon arrived on the scene and Tony quickly and readily provided to him an insight into the workings of a ferry port and to see at first hand all of the operations involved in handling the Sealink vessels in a time when duty free travel was in its heyday, foot passengers travelled in their hundreds and more, and the only viable route to the UK and beyond was by ferry. Justin well recalls Tony telling him about this ‘great young lad’ who he should meet and in due course the introduction was made and a new and lasting friendship began.

 
 

During visits to the port along with Tony, his fellow Piermasters and all of the team, both gained a thorough appreciation of all that was involved in the discharge and loading of vessels, the critical nature of timing activities correctly and ensuring that the people in the operation ashore and afloat played their part in a professional and punctual manner. The end result of what could in busy times appear as chaotic, was that passengers, cars and freight were seen through the port efficiently and safely to board the ships or travel on to their destinations.



Both were also fortunate to meet many of the Sealink deck officers and masters in the course of visiting the pier with Tony. This fostered their interest in the ships and led to many privileged crossings on the bridge with the most professional of seafarers, and a lasting connection and friendship with those who crew the Holyhead ships - some remaining in command of the HSS Stena Explorer and the mighty Stena Adventurer to this day.



Tony had a very obvious love for the literary world and he loved nothing more than to browse the shelves of Dublin’s fine bookshops. No surprise then that on seeing in Justin a desire to write about ships and shipping he persisted in encouraging him to produce a book and, when offered the chance, to take up writing in the well known magazine Sea Breezes. This Justin did and it was a great personal joy for him to be able to dedicate his 1995 book detailing the history of the Fishguard – Rosslare service to Tony.



In Tony's inimitable style and sometimes unconventional wit, both boys could see the true value of a positive personal approach in dealing with staff and customers alike through the good times and the bad, but always with the motive of looking after people.



He would often laugh heartily if someone didn't quite see eye to eye with his approach in times of frustration. Fundamentally, in his future career, Gordon appreciated Tony’s example of the need for a sense of humour in a tough business! In times of delay or service disruption he used to say that freight was great as "the freight doesn't talk back to you". Gordon however, could never quite agree with him on that one!



Upon every arrival, Tony would be straight up to the gangway, helping passengers down the slope, greeting them almost individually and sending them quickly on their way – wonderful stuff!



And before the ship sailed, high up on the bridge of the ship, who will ever forget the familiar sight of Tony, ship's papers in arm, striding purposefully across the causeway in all weathers to personally hand them over to the loading officer?



Gordon and Justin clearly remember a very genuine sense of pride in Tony, job done, standing on the quayside underneath the bridge wing while ropes were cast off as the master would shout down through cupped hands "right time". It was a measure of the high personal regard the masters all had for Tony that this was usually the call even if letting go a couple of minutes late after a troubled turnaround! Anything less would result in a few choice words muttered under his breath as he walked away having seen the ship safely off the wall.



During visits to the port along with Tony, his fellow Piermasters and all of the team, both gained a thorough appreciation of all that was involved in the discharge and loading of vessels, the critical nature of timing activities correctly and ensuring that the people in the operation ashore and afloat played their part in a professional and punctual manner. The end result of what could in busy times appear as chaotic, was that passengers, cars and freight were seen through the port efficiently and safely to board the ships or travel on to their destinations.



Both were also fortunate to meet many of the Sealink deck officers and masters in the course of visiting the pier with Tony. This fostered their interest in the ships and led to many privileged crossings on the bridge with the most professional of seafarers, and a lasting connection and friendship with those who crew the Holyhead ships - some remaining in command of the HSS Stena Explorer and the mighty Stena Adventurer to this day.



Tony had a very obvious love for the literary world and he loved nothing more than to browse the shelves of Dublin’s fine bookshops. No surprise then that on seeing in Justin a desire to write about ships and shipping he persisted in encouraging him to produce a book and, when offered the chance, to take up writing in the well known magazine Sea Breezes. This Justin did and it was a great personal joy for him to be able to dedicate his 1995 book detailing the history of the Fishguard – Rosslare service to Tony.



In Tony's inimitable style and sometimes unconventional wit, both boys could see the true value of a positive personal approach in dealing with staff and customers alike through the good times and the bad, but always with the motive of looking after people.



He would often laugh heartily if someone didn't quite see eye to eye with his approach in times of frustration. Fundamentally, in his future career, Gordon appreciated Tony’s example of the need for a sense of humour in a tough business! In times of delay or service disruption he used to say that freight was great as "the freight doesn't talk back to you". Gordon however, could never quite agree with him on that one!



Upon every arrival, Tony would be straight up to the gangway, helping passengers down the slope, greeting them almost individually and sending them quickly on their way – wonderful stuff!



And before the ship sailed, high up on the bridge of the ship, who will ever forget the familiar sight of Tony, ship's papers in arm, striding purposefully across the causeway in all weathers to personally hand them over to the loading officer?



Gordon and Justin clearly remember a very genuine sense of pride in Tony, job done, standing on the quayside underneath the bridge wing while ropes were cast off as the master would shout down through cupped hands "right time". It was a measure of the high personal regard the masters all had for Tony that this was usually the call even if letting go a couple of minutes late after a troubled turnaround! Anything less would result in a few choice words muttered under his breath as he walked away having seen the ship safely off the wall.



When Justin was given the opportunity to work in Dublin Port as Duty Manager for a new ferry service to Liverpool he had doubts. But Tony said, ‘sure what are you afraid of, I’m here, just ring me if you have any problems.’ During his last week with Stena Line Justin was rostered with Tony who made sure he was well prepped for his new role – by having him perform all Duty Officer tasks for the week. And again in 1999 when Justin was invited to relocate to Australia with High Speed Craft builder Incat, Tony was first to comment – ‘get going’!

It is however clear in both of their cases, that what Tony Mullen fostered in them both would irreversibly change the ferry business for ever, whether that was for better or for worse is yet to be determined!



Times change and while involvement in port operations has in some respects sadly lost its personal touch to a degree, the commitment to service exemplified in people like Tony Mullen and his colleagues is one which proudly pervades through the business and for what they both learned from Tony they will always be deeply indebted to him.



After a lengthy career with British Railways, Sealink and Stena Line, Tony's retirement from the ferry business was sadly to be all too short, and he passed away following illness.



Missed by his devoted family, friends and former colleagues alike, Tony will be fondly remembered in many ways. For Gordon and Justin, they have lost a dear friend who was instrumental in shaping both their career direction and their approach as human beings, all of which have stood to them and for which they are truly grateful.

Tony Mullen - May the ships always sail "Right Time”!