The National Maritime Museum of Ireland
Although Ireland has a long and distinguished Maritime tradition, this was neglected until the middle of the last century. Prior to independence, that tradition was either suppressed or subsumed into a British tradition. Irish Mariners distinguished themselves in British and Foreign service. John Barry is known as the “Father of the American Navy”. William Brown is the “Father of the Argentine Navy”. There are Irish contributors to scientific, exploration and mercantile marine. Following independence, a policy of “self sufficiency” was followed by the government. As the objective was to eliminate imports and exports, our relationship with the sea was neglected. In 1923 there were 123 ships on the Irish registry, by 1939 this had declined to 56. The then government consulted with Col. Tony Lawlor who commanded the Marine and Coast-watching Service. He brought together those involved in Irish maritime activities, principally directors of shipping companies, who then formed the “Maritime Institute of Ireland”. This volunteer, self-perpetuating organisation started with a very wide brief as well as advising the government. Every successive President of Ireland has consented to be Patron of the Maritime Institute of Ireland.
Over the years various statutory bodies, companies and government departments have taken responsibility for areas which had been, up to then, within the brief of the Institute. Many of these were set up on the advice of the Institute, as they are inappropriate to an entirely voluntary organisation. The Institute continues to promote its primary objective of encouraging an appreciation of our Maritime Heritage. To that end, it hosts and supports commemorations, conducts research, issues newsletters, publishes a journal, hosts lectures, maintains a library and operates the National Maritime Museum of Ireland.
In 1949 the “Follow the Fleet” scheme was introduced by the Maritime Institute to Irish schools. (This ceased with the demise of Irish Shipping in 1984. The present “Follow the Fleet” is run by the “Marine Institute” not the “Maritime Institute”).
In 1952 the annual Memorial Services for those lost on Irish-flagged ships during World War II was established in Dublin. The Cork commemoration date from 1981. In 1990, in conjunction with other organisations the Seamens’ Memorial was erected at Memorial Bridge, City Quay.
In the mid-1950’s the winter lectures commenced. They continue to be popular and the text of several lectures are to be found on this site. Around the same time research was fostered under the direction of Dr John deCourcy Ireland. From the mid-1960’s an Aural Archive was collected.
In 1959 the Institute took over the former reading room of the British Sailors’ Society, establishing the Library and Museum. This was the first Maritime Museum in Ireland. However in 1965, with the construction of the new ferry terminal, these had to be moved to Patrick St.
Meanwhile, Mariners’ Church had been deconsecrated in 1972. Its declining congregation then worshiped in the nearby Christ Church. The altar and lectern from Mariners’ Church were moved to Christ Church. Mariners’ was used as a schoolhouse by the VEC Vocational Education Committee for two years, until their premises in Cumberland Street was completed. The former entrance hall and rectory of Mariners’ were sold separately and are now St Nicholas Montessori School. The Maritime Institute needed an appropriate home for their Museum and Library. The RCB of the Church of Ireland needed an appropriate use for the former church which would be approved by the parishioners.
The building suffered from all of the problems that old churches suffer from. As the Institute is a voluntary organisation without regular state funding, it could not afford to adequately maintain and repair the building. A grant of €6m was sought and granted by the government. Extensive repairs and renovations were undertaken. When the economic downturn hit this funding was closed, €3.4m had been spent. Various fund-raising activities were, and continue to be, undertaken, so that the Museum could be reopened – and remain open. This effort is greatly assisted by a FAS community based employment scheme.
Now that the Museum is open, do come and visit. Claim your maritime heritage. Please consider donating to heat and light the building.