Standing some 140 feet in length, The Iron Tide steam ship will emerge from Waterford Spraoi’s shipbuilding yard and make her maiden voyage down the Quays this Sunday night.

Recalling the city’s fascinating and often overlooked maritime history, the ship will form the centrepiece of this year’s Spraoi parade, the culmination of the three-day festival which kicks off today (Friday).

Only the city side of the Quay will be available as a viewing area this year, with the river side closed off and crash barriers running down the centre of the road.

Five elevated stages, representing the five shipbuilding yards that existed in Waterford during that era, will be constructed at intervals along the Quay and each of these will feature the same scenario, enacted at the same time.

During this, the parade element of the spectacle – including The Iron Tide – will move along the Quay, interacting with each stage en route.

In contrast to previous years, the further back from the barriers you are, the better vantage point you will have, according to Artistic Director Dermot Quinn.

“It’s important to stress that the same scenario will be enacted on each stage simultaneously, so there’s no need for people to move from one to the next,” he said.

“With five stages in total, most people should have a view of at least one of the performances.”

In creating The Iron Tide, Spraoi is celebrating the glory days of Waterford’s 19th century steam shipbuilding industry, particularly those massive vessels constructed at the Malcomson family’s Neptune Shipbuilding Yard.

Particular homage is paid to the first of these, the SS Neptune, a 172 ft-long iron steamer built in 1846. The largest ship of its kind in Ireland at that time, it was constructed for the inauguration of the London to St. Petersburg service.

When it arrived at its Russian port, Tsar Nicholas II saluted her from the state barge and granted her freedom from all port dues for life.

Quinn and his co-artistic director Mike Leahy’s interpretation of these heady times will feature a cast of 200 and crew of 100.

These will include some crusty, trusty and some not so trusty seadogs aboard the replica steam ship, performers and musicians on each of the five dockside stages and a host of deep sea characters travelling along the Quay with the ship.

The decision to shift from the traditional parade format was not taken lightly by the company. “We felt we needed to move things on artistically to prevent things becoming stale,” Quinn added.

“We wanted to challenge ourselves to do something different. Also, over the years we’ve heard complaints from people that they spent too long waiting between the end of the parade and the start of the fireworks. With The Iron Tide, there will be more or less a solid hour of performance with no break between shows.”

So is the Iron Tide fully crewed at this stage? “More hands on deck are always welcome. Even at this late stage, if anyone wants to volunteer we’re sure to find them something for them to do on the night.”

Please note, there will be no access to the Quay for the general pubic via either Barronstrand and Hanover Streets on Sunday night and both the Quay and its car parks will be closed to vehicular traffic from 6pm to midnight.

A specially cordoned off viewing area will be in place in front of the Granville Hotel for the physically disabled and those with special needs. Access will be via Barronstrand Street, with vehicular access up to 8.30pm.