I have spent many years trying to create more interest in the maritime sphere. Sometimes it can be frustrating and disappointing to see the continued level of disinterest, particularly amongst our political fraternity, most of whom seem to have little or no pride in being islanders. That is what they and we all are, the people of an island nation.
Why, I wonder, do we have to be told as a people that we must become ‘more European,’ so that we ape the characteristics and the lifestyles of those who live on the European mainland? As a people is our own history, culture, not more important? Do our characteristics not define us as a people?
In this week’s edition of THIS ISLAND NATION radio programme, these are points I raise following a visit to another island nation with a great Irish tradition – Newfoundland. They are a people who know where they came from, who take pride in their history. Their nation is redolent of the maritime sphere, the marine aspect is everywhere in their culture and they take pride in it, as well as being Irish descendants.
The Irish presence is dominant in the Irish Loop on the Avalon Peninsula, along the southern and western shores and up the Bonavista Peninsula in the north, where I travelled. Fishing communities were devastated by the collapse of the cod fishery in the 90s, though it is showing signs of recovery. One place I particularly wanted to see was Heart’s Content, linked in history with Valentia Island in Kerry where both communities, thousands of miles apart across the Atlantic Ocean, are this year marking the 150th anniversary of the completion of the TransAtlantic Cable which opened the world of communications between Europe and America. I reported the celebrations at Valentia in July where the community is trying to get the island declared a UNESCO Heritage Site. At Heart’s Content, a remote community in the north of the Avalon Peninsula, the cable station is preserved in its original state and is a big visitor attraction. The lesson from Heart’s Content is the importance of preserving artefacts. Too often in Ireland the rush to be modern has led to the casting away of aspects of our culture, tradition and history.
• Listen to the programme below as Linda Sooley, Historic Site Supervisor for the Newfoundland and Labrador Government outlines the benefits which preserving history has brought to the community of Heart’s Content.