Cork woman: Covid turned my cruise ship dream job into a nightmare

A Cork woman who was stranded on a cruise ship for 10 weeks due to Covid-19 has raised thousands of euro for two local charities... with a little help from her sisters, writes CHRIS DUNNE
Cork woman: Covid turned my cruise ship dream job into a nightmare

Ella Ryan with her sisters Anglea and Mary Jo

WHEN Ella Ryan swapped her salubrious surroundings aboard the Sea Princess cruise ship for a caravan in her parents’ back garden, she didn’t mind.

“It was a perfect place to isolate after being allowed to leave the ship,” says Ella, who found herself marooned on the luxury liner when Covid-19 broke out around the globe.

Moving location to the garden shed, she dug deep to come up with a way to support Marymount Hospice and Cancer Connect.

“My sisters, who are singers and musicians too, like me, joined forces with me to ‘go live’ while I was quarantining in the garden shed,” says Ella.

“We played a series of music sessions every Thursday night as a way of saying thank-you to all the people who sent me kind messages while I was marooned aboard the ship,” says Ella.

“First of all, I did two performances from the caravan and they were such a success, with people tuning in from Scotland, Brazil and South Africa, I asked Anglea and Mary Jo to join me performing every week to play music and sing songs from the garden patio or shed.”

More people got in on the act.

“Local musicians began to join in with us,” says Ella.

The gigs gathered legs.

“Because of the massive response we got, we decided to set up an iDonate page for Marymount and for Cancer Connect.

When I got off the cruise ship in May, I saw an ad where Cancer Connect was appealing for volunteer drivers and I signed up with the service,” says Ella.

“I think it is such a wonderful service to be able to provide for people who need it most, that we felt it appropriate to donate to Cancer Connect.

“And because everyone in Cork city and county, and beyond, knows about the wonderful work that the staff and volunteers at Marymount do, we all felt strongly that we should support them also and raise some funds for the Hospice.”

Ella and her sisters, through their ‘Sister Act’ performances, are doing wonderful work raising funds for two very worthy causes.

Ella Ryan.
Ella Ryan.

When Ella set sail on the Sea Princess to go to work during a gap year, she never imagined in her wildest dreams that she would end up marooned on the luxury liner.

“I was stranded on a cruise ship for 10 weeks when the pandemic hit in March,” says Ella, 31, from Knockaveale near Bandon.

“I was taking a career break from teaching to travel, playing guitar and singing aboard cruise ships. But when the virus hit, things went belly up when the ship, en route from Australia, docked on March 18 to let 280 guests disembark. Crew remained on board while the various companies made the necessary arrangements to repatriate them home.”

She found herself redundant when there were no punters.

“There was no entertainment happening when there were no guests on holiday aboard the ship,” says Ella.

“So it was a case of; make the best of it.”

Some shipping ports were having none of it.

“Very quickly cruise liners were turned away from ports all around the world,” says Ella. “Even though there were no Covid cases on the Sea Princess.

“That meant I was stranded aboard the ship for 10 long weeks and did not get to touch dry land until May 21 in the Philippines.”

Was it a hairy experience?

“That would be one way of describing it!” says Ella.

Groundhog Day would be another.

“Every day was the same,” she says.

“We were able to use the facilities on the ship,” says Ella. “I used the gym a lot to keep my mind ticking over. There wasn’t much else to do. I did yoga and even took up colouring!

“We were stuck at sea. Lots of areas on the ship were closed down as technicians and engineers worked on the ship. Playing my music helped to keep me going.”

Ella had to row her own boat to keep afloat mentally and physically.

“It was definitely the biggest mental challenge of my life to date,” she says.

Her life was on hold with the repeat button pressed.

“It was a case of the same conversations with the same people over and over again, every day, every week.

“It was difficult to stay motivated all the time and the internet access was shocking — almost non-existent. Trying to WhatsApp my mother was almost impossible,” says Ella.

“And if you did get access to the internet you had to pay $40 for 660 megabits.”

Ella, at sea, felt completely cut off from the world.

“It was difficult not knowing what was going on in the world,” she says. “Especially in the climate we found ourselves in due to the pandemic. It was the worst thing I’ve ever been through.”

Ella found herself reminiscing about the good old days.

“On St Patrick’s night I performed to an audience of 800 people. I didn’t realise it would be my last performance for some time. Playing music and travelling the world was always my dream.”

Her nightmare aboard the ship turned into a dream come true when she got home on terra firma once more.

“I was so happy to be home,” says Ella, a qualified secondary school teacher who started her new job in Waterford this term.

“I was overwhelmed with all the messages of goodwill and good wishes I received from people everywhere.

“I thought the way forward was to do something positive for a cause close to all our hearts. Cancer Connect and Marymount have all helped our loved ones and people that we know. We decided to support both charities.”

Ella Ryan with sister Angela, their father and the girls' late grandmother Kitty Welsh.
Ella Ryan with sister Angela, their father and the girls' late grandmother Kitty Welsh.

Ella, an accomplished singer, musician and English teacher is also an entertaining story-teller.

“Driving patients to hospital appointments, I knew they wanted to chat,” says Ella.

And she had a few stories from her travels to tell.

“I had lots of stories to tell all right!” says Ella.

“Chatting to my passengers passed the time for them and took their minds off any medical matters. They enjoyed the chat. And so did I.”

Ella has many talents including smashing her target of raising €1,000 in 24 hours. As the money continues to mount up, she and her sisters are planning to split the proceeds from their music sessions between Cancer Connect and Marymount.

So where did Ella get her musical talent from?

“My grandad was music man,” says Ella.

“And my dad always encouraged us to play music.”

Brother Barry who is a GAA man, occasionally joins the sister act.

“He has his party piece!” says Ella.

“And music comes from my mother’s side too.

“Mary Jo is part of a trio, and Angela and I often do gigs together.

“Getting together for the fundraiser worked out really well and then other musicians got on the bandwagon too, which was amazing.”

Getting back to a new normal is amazing.

“Yes, our Thursday night sessions are coming to an end now. I’ve moved to Tramore to be near my job at my new school,” says Ella.

“I’m looking forward to it.”

She is also looking forward to being able to help people in most need of help when cancer strikes.

“I’m so glad my sisters and I got together to fundraise for the cancer charities,” says Ella.

“Our efforts was for something, not for nothing. Now we have something to show. Both charities are close to our hearts.

“When we decided to raise funds to give something back for all the support I received virtually alone at sea, Cancer Connect and Marymount were no-brainers. It was automatic.

“Both charities are really important to us. A number of our neighbours were looked after by Marymount. Our granny had cancer. She was very well looked after.”

Ella is looking forward to going back gigging in the future and going back teaching.

Is she looking forward to going to sea again-or is that a no-brainer?

Ella laughs.

“What do you think?”

To donate search ella-ryan at iDonate.com

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