Passage West Making History In Museum Bid
Writes Leo McMahon
History was literally made at a well attended public meeting in the PACE Centre last week, when it was formally decided to proceed with the setting up of a museum for Passage West and Monkstown in part of the former Town Hall in Cork Street.
The meeting was hosted by Passage West Maritime Heritage Committee, whose chairperson Angela Murphy said that the long held desire for such a visitor attraction aimed at attracting more visitors to and generating extra business for the locality, had gained momentum out of the success of the annual Maritime Festival, now in its seventh year and already, there was a lot of material collected. She added that several meetings with different bodies had taken place in the past six months and it was now time to get more people involved.
County Mayor Seamus McGrath and fellow local councillors Marcia D’Alton and Michael Frick Murphy voiced full support for a project the county council had already accepted in principle and paid tribute those spearheading it. ‘It’s one of the most positive things to happen in Passage West in a long time’, the mayor added.
One of the co-ordinating group, Andrew Woods, Monkstown, is participating in a museum course sponsored by Cork County Council, and said it gave good and practical advice.
He pointed out that there are 230 museums in Ireland, 90% of which are open five days a week, 47% with free admission or by donation, while 39% have a membership/‘Friends of’ scheme whereby a nominal sum is paid to help cover running costs. 40% are run on a budget of less than €30,000 per annum.
‘To urgently gather the lost history and memories of Passage West and Monkstown with its rich maritime heritage and make it accessible and exciting for all visitors near and far’, he stated, was the purpose or mission statement.
Andrew, along with Cllr McGrath and local historian and former town commissioner Jim Murphy said it was now important to implement best practice and planning on the setting up and running of the museum including the overall concept, hours of opening, day to day staffing (possibly a SECAD scheme), volunteers, finances, seeking of grants, fund raising and getting donations.
Back in 1937, said Jim, schools in the locality submitted manuscripts about local traditions etc to the Folklore Commission and these were now on line. He suggested the same could be done today in conjunction, perhaps through a link with Transition Year in St Peter’s Community School and the written and oral recordings kept for use in the museum.
Jim said 2017 was a special year for the locality with the centenary of the US Navy fleet anchored in Monkstown Bay and near the Granaries, Glenbrook during World War I. One of these, the Atlantic escort destroyer USS Fanning, was the first American Naval ship to sink a German submarine (U58) off Cork Harbour with many of the latter rescued and taken as prisoners to Cork. Visitors to the locality a century ago included Bull Halsey, (who went on to become admiral of the US South Pacific fleet in World War II), and assistant secretary of the US Navy, Franklin D Roosevelt, later US President. All of this would be commemorated during the maritime festival in June and with such events set to feature in the proposed museum, it would no doubt attract more American visitors to the harbour area.
Angela concurred, pointing out that the first steam ship in the world was built in Passage West in 1815 while the Sirius, under the command of local man Captain Richard Roberts, was the first steamship to cross the Atlantic in 1838. There was need she added, to better promote such heritage and much more working in conjunction with Spike, Camden, Cobh/Queenstown and other attractions, the harbour ferry services and as members of the Cork Harbour Heritage Alliance and Forum.
On the agenda was a motion to formally set up the museum and this was unanimously agreed, on a proposal by Cllr D’Alton, seconded by William ‘Walty’ Murphy.
Angela said there was now need to set up a new entity with a view to submitting a plan to the county council and an invitation was extended to anyone interested in making the museum become a reality to submit his or her name by phoning her at 087 1357634 ahead of the next meeting ‘because we have a lot of history to show’.
She concluded by thanking everyone who attended, her fellow speakers, Pat Morrisey and the committee of PACE, Margaret O’Connor and Joe Higgins, County Library service’, Failte Ireland, the Irish Museums Association, local organisations and businesses, Conor Nelligan of the heritage section in County Hall, Robert Allison and other festival committee members and local councillors. She added that the meeting was another positive example of how great the community could be when people work together and urged the same voluntary effort for the maritime festival starting on June 9th.