Maritime Heritage [179]

Maritime Heritage

A quick glimpse at any world map illustrates that Ireland is an island in the north Atlantic on the western fringe of Europe.  This is clearly shown on the first Irish stamp, the 2d of 1923.

Man came to Ireland around 15,000 to 10,000 BC, probably from the area around the Pyrenees in today’s Spain or France, via a land bridge across the then dry English channel, and another land bridge from England to north of Newry in Co. Down.  Their objective was to hunt the herds of deer in the fertile lands. As the glaciers retreated and the climate warmed, the oceans rose to cover the land bridges, making it an island.  The people eventually became farmers and fishermen.

In a country crisscrossed with rivers and bogs, boats allowed people to travel widely.  Irish raiders were feared along the English seacoast.  St Patrick was captured in a raid of a village in England or Wales c.a. 420-432 and brought to Ireland to work as a slave, (Figure 2), but later returned to Christanize the populace.

The sea was fertile, and fish became a part of the diet.  Fishermen were known to travel to the Bay of Biscay, and beyond.  The story of St Brendan (c.a. 512-530)  (Figure 3) is well documented.  He established monasteries in the islands of Scotland and into Scandinavia, and is known to have visited Holland.   He may even have visited Iceland and North America.

Trade developed between Ireland and other civilizations in Europe.  The peoples of Scandinavia also developed sailing skills, and the Norse raids (Figure 4) which caused the building of towers to protect monasteries and settlements. (Figure 5) This lead to Norse settlements, such as Dublin,  and eventually absorption into the gene pool known as Irish, although some descendants still have blond or red hair.

Being on an island can be isolating, and in the period known as the Dark Ages, civilization, reading, writing, and social organization were isolated from destruction by the Mongol hordes by water and distance.  Irish monks carried this precious information back to the continent. (Figure 6)   

The Irish became known as a race of seafarers.  Their experiences lead to positions of leadership.  Adm Barry, of US Navy fame (Figure 7), and Adm Brown of Chile, (Figure 8) are only a few of the seafarers commemorated on Irish stamps, and those of other countries.  Today, sailing races, such as the Volvo Ocean Race are often held in the nearby waters. (Figure 9), and the Irish Navy enforces fishing rules in their waters (Figure 10).

The sea is part of Ireland, in its culture, in the mores of the people, and its tales and folklore.


Cahill, T., How the Irish Saved Civilization, Anchor Books, 1996.
Hamilton-Bowen, R., The Hibernian Catalogue, 2019
Moody,T.W. & Martin, F.X., The Course of Irish History, 4th ed., Roberts Rinehart Publications, Lantham, Md., 2004.
Wikipedia, Ireland, accessed 15 July 2019