Community engagement central to boat gallery development

The development of the new traditional boat gallery at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life is progressing to plan, albeit a revised plan imposed by the Covid pandemic. Tenders are now being invited for the provision of Museum Exhibition Services related to the boat gallery.

I have posted before about the effect the required travel restrictions had on my fieldwork along the Irish west coast. Thankfully, during that time, virtual engagement with stakeholders was able to continue.

On the subject of traditional boats and wider coastal life there are scores of organisations working to capture, preserve and utilise seafaring knowledge. Those who live beside and work on our coastal waters are often best placed to inform our work in the Museum.

The Irish Islands Marine Resource Organistion (IIMRO) organises those involved in the marine sector across the offshore islands of Counties Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Cork. The work of IIMRO ensures those island communities play a central role in the sustainable management of their marine resources.

Representing Irish island communities across the marine sector. © Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation.

IIMRO is also taking a very active role in preserving the heritage of the communities it represents. The organisation successfully applied to have Marcanna na Talamh (landmarks) included in Ireland’s National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Seafarers on Irish Islands use landmarks for orientation and navigation at sea. Traditional seafaring information has been passed on orally and through first-hand experience from generation to generation.

Boatman from An Máimín, Garmna, Co. na Gaillimhe, 1945. © National Museum of Ireland.

It is not just landmarks that have been passed on. Place names and their meanings, breeding grounds for fish, tidal currents and streams, folklore and songs bind communities and strengthen identities. However, modern technology takes as quickly as it gives. The once indispensable marcanna na talamh have been partly replaced with radar, sounders and detailed charts. Conscious of the threats to traditional ways, IIMRO continues to record and collect our maritime heritage.

Bringing brown crab to market, Árainn Mhór, Co. Dún na nGall. © Séamus Bonner.

I started a conversation with IIMRO secretary Séamus Bonner in October 2021 and began by explaining the Museum’s plans for the traditional boat gallery and our hope that organisations like IIMRO could play a role in informing the gallery’s general themes.

IIMRO secretary Séamus Bonner delivering a presentation on fisheries issues affecting offshore islands, Warsaw, Poland, 2016. © Séamus Bonner.

Since then, we have kept up contact and information has been exchanged. Through Séamus, IIMRO have very kindly suggested guiding themes that have fed into the Museum’s discussions regarding gallery displays, gallery interactives and supporting web pages.

My thanks to the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation.

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