Father James Earley From Sailor to …….. I remember as a young boy in Ireland sitting in the classroom of the local school and marvelling at the map of the world. The maps were there as part of our geography lessons. I didn’t realise then that instead of just dreaming about these far-flung places, one day I would travel to most of them. This came about in a roundabout sort of way. After leaving school I decided to study hotel management and eventually found myself working at the Dorchester Hotel in London.
In the fullness of time I got itchy feet and asked a friend: How do you travel & still remain in the hotel business? I learned that one could do this by travelling on passenger ships and I wrote to the P&O Line, as they were known then. After a successful interview and medical I sailed on my first voyage, leaving Southampton bound for Australia. The ship was called the Oronsay and she was the first of many ships in the P&O fleet that I would sail on.
This was the beginning of a wonderful experience for me. In the old days, before the concept of ‘cruise holidays’, a ship would stay about a week in port giving us all an opportunity to really get to know the places we visited. Life on board was good and there was a great sense of community. I was promoted quickly, because of my hotel training, eventually becoming Fleet Maitre D’Hotel.
I have many happy memories of people I met and places I visited. I worked on eight world cruises, visiting many beautiful places and some wonderful cities in all continents. I travelled the world from Alaska to Africa, visited all European countries that had a port, travelled from China to Russia, Australia to Kobe, Singapore to Penang, Vancouver to New York, Tonga to Suva in the Pacific Isles and visited many more places.
During my travels I experienced many different cultures and religions and met some wonderful and interesting people, even sitting down with North American Indians. All in all it was a wonderful experience. You might be asking how I came to leave my travelling behind and became a Catholic Priest? Well that is a story for another time. But life on board a cruise ship gets you used to living in community and was a great preparation for my present role as parish priest in this community. But when I think back to that little classroom with the world map on the wall I am grateful that map became very much alive for me. .