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Is Ireland's Maritime Heritage Recognised?

2nd September 2014
Is Ireland's Maritime Heritage Recognised?

#maritime – I was giving a talk at Bishopstown Library on the western side of Cork City during Heritage Week on the subject – "Is Ireland's Maritime Heritage Recognised as Part of Ireland's Heritage?" – outlining what had been achieved by some of the many great Irish maritime figures when a member of the audience asked: "Why is it that we have heard so little about them?"

Thereby hangs a tale.

Is it neglect, ignorance or a failure of our educational system that Irish public consciousness appears to lack awareness of the impact which Irish mariners have made on world and Irish history?

From St. Brendan the Navigator; Grace O'Malley, Granuaile; John Philip Holland; Tom Crean; Captain Robert Halpin; Ernest Shackleton, all Irish, to Admiral Barry of Wexford; Admiral William Brown of Foxford; Francis McClintock; Captain Roberts of the Sirius, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic; Jerome Collins, the first media meteorologist; all are names which, when brought together underline a strong maritime heritage and there are more.

In fact, there are records of Irish seafarers having been involved in fighting the Roman Empire; of Irish ships developing foreign trade in the Middle Ages. Irishmen have explored the Artic regions, developed the submarine and the marine turbine engine and formed navies in several parts of the world.

"I never knew about those people, this has opened a window of knowledge, why do we not take pride in our marine heritage?" one woman asked me after the talk, while another man said: "It makes me proud to know what our mariners have achieved, but it is not common knowledge"

There are people who are trying to remedy the years of neglect of our maritime heritage and one effort in this regard is the symposium which the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire will hold later this month. This is being organised jointly with University College Dublin and is a response to the "extremely low level of Irish maritime heritage research."

That lack of research was identified in the Maritime Heritage Gathering Report last year which made a key recommendation that it should be rectified.

Professor John Brannigan, Senior Lecturer in UCD's School of English, Drama and Film, got in touch with the Maritime Museum to find out how students at UCD might be able to use the Museum's library and artefacts to deepen their understanding of Irish maritime history and culture.

That followed the development of a relationship between the Museum and the College which had started with six Library and Information Studies' students assisting Museum volunteers to re-instate the Museum's extensive Library and Archive.


Admiral John Barry Statue - The Irishman Who Founded The Us Navy - Watches Ovr Wexford Harbour

UCD's Earth Institute, UCD's Humanities Institute and the Atlantic Archipelagos Research Consortium have agreed to sponsor an Irish Sea symposium in the Museum. To organise it, Professor Brannigan teamed up with Dr.Tasman Crowe from UCD's School of Biology & Environmental Science and Richard McCormick, the Museum's Director of Library and Archive.

Richard is a former staffer with Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the semi-State fisheries board, who has been carrying out extensive work on re-instating the library and archive at the National Museum house in the Mariners' Church at Dun Laoghaire, following the extensive renovations there. It has a collection of 5,000 books and archival material collected in over 73 years and which has been in storage for 7 years due to the extensive renovations to the Mariners Church.


Inside National Maritime Museum

"The Maritime Museum is a rather impressive 177-year old church building in which the Royal Navy and seamen and fishermen passing through Dun Laoghaire worshipped and we also have the original RN prisoners docks," Richard McCormick told me. "I am very pleased with our association with UCD as if the National Maritime Museum is to prosper it has to broaden its appeal and let people know we exist and this symposium will help by reaching an international audience through UCD's Scholarcast system ( which gets 2,000 hits a month"


Maritime Heritage Gathering In The National Museum Last Year

"This symposium and the Maritime Heritage Gathering last year are small but significant steps in raising the profile of Ireland's rich maritime heritage. This will not only be good for us, but also for all the Irish maritime museums around the coast and justify the sterling work that is being done in this field by the voluntary sector."

Quite a lot of local maritime museums and independent researchers attended the Maritime Heritage Gathering last year from all around the Irish coast and from the UK. Museums and heritage researchers can often find themselves working in isolation on maritime heritage and, perhaps consequently, this work does not get the official attention that it deserves.

"The serious recommendations that arose from that event will simply have to gain momentum and traction in the years to come," says Mr.McCormick.

"Our Museum Library & Archive forms a very important component of our maritime heritage. The merchant marine and leisure sectors are very well represented, so is the Royal Navy from historical times and I am very keen in the coming years to acquire documentary, photographic and audio visual material about the fishing industry so that its story can also be recorded for posterity."

At the symposium, twelve speakers will cover topics as diverse as the Irish Sea's underwater heritage, its fisheries, marine biology, coastline and seabed mapping, in addition to its rich maritime art, history, poetry and literature as well as the prolific smuggling industry that once thrived in North County Dublin. This mix of interests is designed to stimulate debate about the Irish Sea and will conclude with workshop sessions to ascertain how the various constituencies might collaborate together in a large interdisciplinary research project. The speakers' presentations will also be recorded for a worldwide audience on UCD's Scholarcast Series and, should this event prove successful, consideration will be given to expanding the geographical range in future years.

The symposium will begin with a free public lecture in the Maritime Museum on 'The Nature of the Irish Sea Coast' on Friday September 19 at 7 pm by Richard Nairn, with the Museum being open to the public prior to that as part of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council's Cultural Night celebrations. Entry to the Symposium on Saturday, September 20, will cost €10 for the day, payable on registration at the Museum. There will also be an optional €30 dinner for participants in the National Yacht Club, Dun Laoghaire on Saturday night, also payable at registration.

For information on the symposium and to register for the event visit here. More than half the available places have already been booked.

• You can view the interior of the national Museum by clicking here

• To read the report of last year's Maritime Heritage Gathering click here

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @Tom MacSweeney @AfloatMagazine


Published in Island Nation Team

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