The National Maritime Museum of Ireland is located in Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin. It is housed in the 180-year-old Mariners Church which served as a Church of Ireland place of worship until Easter 1972. It is directly opposite the DLR Lexicon library, easily accessible by DART suburban train and several bus services from Dublin city. The entrance to the former church is at the left hand side of the building. On the right hand side is a coffee shop.
The building itself is of great interest as it is one of a few custom-built places of worship for seafarers that remains intact in the world today. After going through reception and the shop, the best way to see the exhibits is to keep left and travel clockwise around the ground floor.
The first exhibit is the lifeboat exhibition telling the story of the loss of the wooden sailing ship Palme on 24th December 1895. The Palme was a sailing ship of similar size to the Cutty Sark. It was sailing from Liverpool to South America with 13 onboard including the Captain’s wife and child. The Kingstown lifeboat went out to the ship in frightful conditions but capsized one mile offshore. All 15 lifeboat crew drowned. It was two days before the gale abated and all occupants of the Palme were saved.
The next exhibit is on the sinking of the RMS Leinster. On 10th October 1918, one month before the end of WW1, this ship was sunk by three torpedoes fired by the German U-boat UB-123. Over 500 lives were lost within sight of Dublin.
Alongside, is a display of dinner plates and crockery from the Tayleur which was wrecked on 21st January 1854 while en-route from Liverpool to Melbourne, Australia. There were 666 passengers on board and a crew of 26. The ship struck Lambay Island in a storm. The sea was too rough to launch a lifeboat and approximately 400 drowned. Moving along, the story of the building of the asylum harbour in Kingstown is told. Last year marked the 200th anniversary of the start of its construction.
Across the room, is the story of the three stages of the growth of the Irish Naval Service. Beside this exhibit, the story of steam propulsion is told. It features a large steam engine taken from a dredger that was used around the coast. Close by, the uniform of Captain Halpin from Wicklow is displayed. In 1895, he was appointed chief officer of The Great Eastern – the world’s largest ship which laid the first cable between Ireland and the United States.
There are also display boards on Commodore John Barry 1745-1803, father of the US Navy, Bernardo O’Higgins, 1778-1842, founder of the Chilean Navy, and Admiral William Browne, 1777-1857, father of the Argentinian Navy.
We then move along to a rescue cart with rocket apparatus formerly used by the coast guard at Greystones for the rescue of seamen from ships close to the shore. Basically, a rocket with a long rope would be launched from shore to the ship in distress. Once the rocket reached the ship, the rope could be secured and the crew brought ashore one by one in a ‘breeches buoy’. This type of apparatus was used in the rescue of the crew of the Plassy on 8th March 1960. In the museum is a collection of photographs from this event taken by an amateur photographer who was holidaying on the Aran Islands on the day of the grounding of the ship.