It is an honour and my first opportunity to address you after my appointment as Chairman of the Board of the Maritime Institute. It is most rewarding to be part of this Board. The search for additional ‘fresh blood’ members of the Board continues and I take this opportunity to appeal to each and every one to get in touch with me, as all positive ideas and contributions are welcome.
The work of the Board is increasingly focusing on the strategic development of the organisation. The present situation is secure and stable, but the long term is less so as we are confronted by static membership and adverse demographics of the Institute. The funding of activities and future development will require significant public support and private sponsorship.
The Department of Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht funded a two-year capital works programme in our beautiful Mariners Church. This ended in April and we can now turn our attention to the future of our collections and their preservation and presentation. The emergency lighting has been upgraded, and the crypt is now fully available for storing and rotating our many hidden artefacts and archives in accordance with good practice for museums. Here we need volunteers with experience and enthusiasm to help us catalogue and evaluate. Longstanding problems with the drains and roof have been resolved and the Museum has a new telephone system.
Our historic, 182-year-old building will always require care and attention and special thanks go to those volunteers who have given their time and energy to make the former Mariners Church a good place in which to work. Further upgrades and additions will be required over time and plans are in progress to meet future needs.
For some years the Institute has successfully retained a Department of Employment and Social Protection Community Employment Scheme which provides additional capacity to run the reception front desk, undertake building maintenance and many other essential tasks such as accounts, marketing and membership administration. They deserve our heartfelt appreciation.
The RMS Leinster Centenary Commemorations last year demonstrated beyond doubt the need to create and promote stories supporting our many artefacts to attract new visitors. Together with some of our volunteers, new revised curriculum based learning documentation is being developed to assist visiting school groups in their appreciation of the heritage on display in the Museum.
To this end, we are drafting a 3-year strategic plan as part of our approach to prospective funders and sponsors. The plan outlines the strategy on the one hand and the detailed plan of action on the other. We are consulting with professionals on possible ways to gain strategic partnerships or outright financial support. Both these will be required to move forward from a purely volunteer based organisation to a professionally managed Museum and Institute where maritime heritage topics are addressed and debated. We want to hand on a proud picture to our next generation.
Over the next 12 – 18 months we would like to see a programme of maritime events being developed for you to enjoy and participate. Previous symposia and meetings on maritime topics should become regular features to partake in the increasingly important debates on sea pollution, fishing rights and the place of Ireland in European maritime geo-politics, past and present.
The current team of hands-on volunteers and contributors to the ‘life’ of our organisation is inadequate to achieve the plans of action. Therefore, I appeal to readers inside and outside of the organisation to consider joining or simply offering to make their mark. There are many ways of doing so: joining one of the committees is a much longer commitment in terms of time, participating in a specific project or task may only require hours. We continue to acquire and accept maritime heritage material from all sources. Some of our stored artefacts may require repairs and maintenance, so can you offer knowledge and experience? Come and make yourself, your skills and interests known and we will find a niche for you to fill.
Finally, I would like to express our profound thanks to all bodies, public and private, who have supported us this past number of years. Their support is welcome and essential to achieve our core objective of preserving and promoting Ireland’s maritime heritage for future generations. Amongst them are Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Department of Employment and Social Protection, BIM, the Marine Institute, Fáilte Ireland and many ‘silent heroes’. The same applies to all my colleagues on the Board and the many volunteers whose personal contributions make our organisation work.