Wednesday, March 30, 2005


Our ghostly seas . . . 12,000 shipwrecks litter coast

By Andrew Bushe
March 28, 2005

ARCHAEOLOGISTS compiling the country's first list of the shipwrecks that litter the coastline believe there may be as many as 12,000.

This year, the Department of the Environment's special underwater archaeology unit will finalise the first of four volumes on the wrecks that will list those off the east coast. The number of wrecks has soared from an initial examination five years ago when about 7,000 wrecks were catalogued. "We expect that when we finish the number will be 10,000 to 12,000.

These would range from dugout boats in prehistoric times up to when we stop at the end of the World War II in 1945," said Karl Brady, archaeologist with the unit.

"It is the first time they will be documented and quantified as a resource and then after that we hope to map them and ensure they are protected." Any wreck over 100 years is automatically protected by law and anyone diving on it needs a licence.

Mr Brady said new wrecks were being discovered every year mostly as a result of dredging, pipe-lying and an extensive seabed survey being undertaken by the Geological Survey and the Maritime Institute.

Compiling the inventory involves an extensive search of records in the National Library, TCD library and the databases of other institutions like Lloyds insurance lists, shipping newspapers and registers.

Mr Brady said that while the number of wrecks might seem high it had to be considered in the context of Ireland being an island nation that imported many of its needs for centuries, suffered invasions and is close to major international shipping routes.

The first volume of the inventory will cover Louth, Meath, Dublin and Wicklow. Next month an extra archaeologist will be hired on a six month contract to help with the research. "At the moment we are planning to complete Wexford and Waterford next. At the entrance to the Irish Sea with a number of natural hazards, Wexford has the highest percentage of wrecks of any county.

"Cork will be the third volume and then Kerry to Donegal," he said. The location of many of the wrecks is unknown and others have been buried by shifting sands. Portmarnock Strand in north Dublin is an example.

"Many people will walk the strand and never see a wreck. But if you walk it at the right time after a storm sometimes you will see wrecks exposed after sand is dragged out. You might see an 18th century or 16th century wreck lying there. I think there are seven or eight wrecks on Portmarnock." Sand also buried a wreck in Waterford Harbour which is believed to be the Cromwellian flagship Great Lewis that sank in 1645.

It was discovered in 1999 when a dredger working on the commercial navigation channel through the Duncannon sandbar cut into the wreck and brought some timbers to the surface. The unit has been ensuring it is protected.


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