A maritime take on Irish history

Posted on: 4th June, 2014

Category: News

Contributor: West Cork People

Above: John Thuillier

Despite being an island nation, interest in the marine in Ireland has been neglected. John Thuillier’s new book will change that. Kinsale Harbour – A History (The Collins Press, price €19.99) offers an examination of aspects of Irish history, urban and industrial development from the perspective of the sea. The unique approach suggests new ways in which the past can be interpreted. Author and former commercial diver Patrick O’Sullivan will launch the book in Kinsale Yacht Club on Wednesday, June 11 at 7pm.

John Thuillier is steeped in Kinsale’s maritime tradition and tells of community suffering, seafaring under lofty masts and billowing sails and life ashore in the taverns and coffee houses, aboard ships and in ‘lewd’ houses. Mr Thuillier, a retired director of Kinsale Further Education College, said, “The Irish name for the town, Ceann tSáile, means the ‘head of the sea’, which is proof of Kinsale’s unique position amongst Ireland’s harbours.”

Nestling on the River Bandon in County Cork, Kinsale is a popular destination for tourists, foodies, art and festival lovers, fishermen, yachtsmen and more. It emerged as a settlement in the sixth century and built a solid reputation as the port of choice during the seventeenth century’s ‘golden age of sail’. Its deep, secure harbour provided a safe anchorage as well as the impetus for creating extensive facilities for ship building, sail and rope-making and related crafts. Its military forts and naval base protected against the threat of foreign invasion, as well as pirates and smugglers rampant on the coast.

The town’s fortunes over the centuries have waxed and waned in response to the possibilities and potential present in its marine setting. After 1750, when deeper draught vessels were built, the harbour, though deep, was no longer in demand so fishing became the economic centre. When mackerel (the fish of choice) moved west, the town declined but refocused on tourism and deep sea angling, creating another ‘boom’ and today’s popularity. This comprehensive overview of Kinsale’s seafaring tradition will be enjoyed by all who appreciate a whiff of salty spray and the adventure attached to ships voyaging to distant lands.

John R. Thuillier is a retired director of Kinsale Further Education College, which evolved from projects designed to introduce the maritime environment and training in marine skills. A lifetime involvement with boats provided the opportunity to sail and cruise extensively. He has contributed to books, including the acclaimed Traditional Boats of Ireland (2008), and journals on a range of subjects and lectured widely on the history of Kinsale.

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