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Tributes to Late Maritime Author, Historian, Sailor, Librarian & Musician Tim Collins of Galway

1st April 2022
The late Tim Collins - contributed so much to maritime history and science
The late Tim Collins - contributed so much to maritime history and science Credit: Joe O'Shaughnessy

Tributes have been paid to maritime author, historian, librarian, sailor and musician Tim Collins who passed away unexpectedly in Galway.

“A polymath,” was how Galway hooker sailor and adventurer Dr Michael Brogan described him, while colleagues at NUI Galway (NUIG) described him as a “true Renaissance man” who was both “kind and respectful” to students and staff.

Brogan first met him in the choir at what was then University College, Galway (UCG), and both were founder members of the Cois Cladaigh choir which marks its 40th anniversary this year.

“Tim contributed so much to maritime history and science, he was a great ornithologist, and he sailed with me on many trips in MacDuach, around Ireland and up to the west coast of Scotland,” Brogan said.

Brogan singled out his work on the origins of and extensive writing about the Galway hooker – he published a paper on the subject for the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society.

Tim “Ted” Collins was born in London on December 28th, 1948. His parents Tim and Suzanne were from Co Clare, and as both came from large families they never settled in London, according to their grandson, Tim Collins Jr.

The couple returned to Ennis, Co Clare, when Tim was 11 years old, and opened a greengrocers shop in Abbey Street. Their son attended the Christian Brothers’ school in Ennis and began studying at what was then University College, Galway in 1966.

During his time at UCG, he was involved in rowing and sang in the university choir. He graduated with a BSc, and took a diploma in librarianship from Liverpool John Moores University.

He worked in the Long Room Library in Trinity College Dublin for a year where, as Tim Jr recalled at his funeral, he “spoke proudly of looking after Brian Boru's harp and the arduous task of delicately turning the page in the Book of Kells for the tourists”.

“Like Tim and Suzanne a few years earlier, he wanted to return to where he felt most at home, however. Happily, he was offered the job as librarian in the new James Hardiman library. It was clear to see that had found his niche,” Tim Jr said.

There he met Evelyn Drinan – she had come to UCG to study science. She recalled how he was always as helpful as possible to people looking for something in the library. She also remembered how he offered to buy her a pint while she was on her own in Tigh Neachtain's pub in Galway, waiting for a friend.

They married in 1978 in Barna and lived in Fallon's thatched cottage on the Clybaun Road - a welcoming home remembered in their circle of friends as “somewhere to stay, somewhere to get fed and somewhere to have a late-night sessions”.

They subsequently moved to a small red-bricked railway cottage just outside Moycullen beside Ross Lake, and then to Barna where they reared their three children, Tim Jr, Hazel and Adam. His children inherited his love of music – apart from singing, Tim also played the bodhrán.

He was both an avid reader and a prolific, published author on a very diverse set of topics. He wrote a “bio-bibliography” of Irish naturalist Robert Lloyd Praeger, entitled Floreat Hibernia, with a preface by naturalist David Bellamy, published by the Royal Dublin Society in 1985.

He was also author of Transatlantic Triumph and Heroic Failure: The Galway Line, published by Collins Press in 2003. In it, he recounted the colourful history of the Atlantic Steam Navigation Company, the Galway Line, which he described as one of the most unfortunate shipping lines ever registered.

He researched and wrote about Tuam native Dick Dowling who emigrated to the USA and became a decorated Confederate artillery officer in the American Civil War, and he also wrote a biography of his uncle Jimmie Collins who died at the age of 22 after the ship he was serving on, HMS Glorious, went down off the coast of Norway during the second world war.

He was also a contributor to the Clare Island Survey, having participated in the symposia initiated by island resident Ciara Cullen. Following his retirement from NUI Galway, he and Evelyn travelled extensively.

He maintained a keen interest in hurling, soccer and rugby – specifically Clare hurling, Liverpool Football Club and Connacht Rugby - and would often participate in lively discussions on same and other erudite topics with Ernie Deacy in Ernie’s shop on Sea Road.

His family also remember his expert cooking, taking pride in his “patent stuffing” for the Sunday roast - a recipe passed on by his mother, Suzanne.

Speaking at his funeral, Dr Brendan O’Connor, marine scientist, recalled that Tim Collins was a "one of a kind" person “whose deep, deep knowledge of the history of 19th and early 20th century Irish marine natural history was exceptional”.

“ I have never met anyone with a similar in-depth knowledge of this topic. With Tim’s passing, I don’t think I ever will again either - a huge loss,” O’Connor said.

“ He was an avid researcher not only of the people who did the research but also the vessels on which they worked. Clearly, his tour de force was Praeger and the Clare Island Survey but he also researched individual Clare Island surveyors including the author of the volume on Foramenifera (a phylum of small shelled protozoans), Edward Heron-Allen”.

O’Connor noted that the Heron-Allen Society in Britain would bring Tim with them on field trips to where Heron-Allen had visited to collect forameniferans. They were also keen to quiz him about his knowledge of Heron-Allen. 

“It was Tim who prompted me to carry out biographical research on another of the Clare Island Survey specialists, Rowland Southern, a person whose contribution not only to Irish and European specific marine invertebrate phyla but also on a world scale has been greatly under-recognised,” O’Connor recalled.

“ He regularly rang me to see how I was getting on and would tut-tut when I would tell him “ …. sorry, not there yet, Tim”,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor recalled Tim’s keen interest in local history, and how he would often head off with O’Connor, Michael Brogan and Seamus McGuire to some “out of the way pub for a few tunes on a Friday or Saturday night”.

“These sessions (and any encounter with Tim) were all laced with wit, humour, laughter and devilment,” O’Connor said.

He was very proud of his grandson Peter Timothy who arrived just over four weeks before his passing.

“Ted was definitely over the moon to be a grandfather. We have it on record already that he told us Peter was his favourite grandchild,” Tim Jr said.

Tim Jr recalled how his father had watched the England v Ireland rugby match with him and his sister Hazel shortly before his death. His father was “in fine form, giving out about Marcus Smith's haircut, grumbling every time Maro Itoje got near the ball and of course being delighted with the result as Ireland hammered England on their home turf...”

Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

Email The Author

Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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Galway Port & Harbour

Galway Bay is a large bay on the west coast of Ireland, between County Galway in the province of Connacht to the north and the Burren in County Clare in the province of Munster to the south. Galway city and port is located on the northeast side of the bay. The bay is about 50 kilometres (31 miles) long and from 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) to 30 kilometres (19 miles) in breadth.

The Aran Islands are to the west across the entrance and there are numerous small islands within the bay.

Galway Port FAQs

Galway was founded in the 13th century by the de Burgo family, and became an important seaport with sailing ships bearing wine imports and exports of fish, hides and wool.

Not as old as previously thought. Galway bay was once a series of lagoons, known as Loch Lurgan, plied by people in log canoes. Ancient tree stumps exposed by storms in 2010 have been dated back about 7,500 years.

It is about 660,000 tonnes as it is a tidal port.

Capt Brian Sheridan, who succeeded his late father, Capt Frank Sheridan

The dock gates open approximately two hours before high water and close at high water subject to ship movements on each tide.

The typical ship sizes are in the region of 4,000 to 6,000 tonnes

Turbines for about 14 wind projects have been imported in recent years, but the tonnage of these cargoes is light. A European industry report calculates that each turbine generates €10 million in locally generated revenue during construction and logistics/transport.

Yes, Iceland has selected Galway as European landing location for international telecommunications cables. Farice, a company wholly owned by the Icelandic Government, currently owns and operates two submarine cables linking Iceland to Northern Europe.

It is "very much a live project", Harbourmaster Capt Sheridan says, and the Port of Galway board is "awaiting the outcome of a Bord Pleanála determination", he says.

90% of the scrap steel is exported to Spain with the balance being shipped to Portugal. Since the pandemic, scrap steel is shipped to the Liverpool where it is either transhipped to larger ships bound for China.

It might look like silage, but in fact, its bales domestic and municipal waste, exported to Denmark where the waste is incinerated, and the heat is used in district heating of homes and schools. It is called RDF or Refuse Derived Fuel and has been exported out of Galway since 2013.

The new ferry is arriving at Galway Bay onboard the cargo ship SVENJA. The vessel is currently on passage to Belem, Brazil before making her way across the Atlantic to Galway.

Two Volvo round world races have selected Galway for the prestigious yacht race route. Some 10,000 people welcomed the boats in during its first stopover in 2009, when a festival was marked by stunning weather. It was also selected for the race finish in 2012. The Volvo has changed its name and is now known as the "Ocean Race". Capt Sheridan says that once port expansion and the re-urbanisation of the docklands is complete, the port will welcome the "ocean race, Clipper race, Tall Ships race, Small Ships Regatta and maybe the America's Cup right into the city centre...".

The pandemic was the reason why Seafest did not go ahead in Cork in 2020. Galway will welcome Seafest back after it calls to Waterford and Limerick, thus having been to all the Port cities.

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