Having A Wild Maritime! - Project | Heritage in Schools

Having A Wild Maritime!

Mwallace Focus Irl
Mary Wallace
Focus Ireland
Science, History, Geography

Thanks to funding from Creative Ireland a project for Focus Ireland was planned around the Creative Ireland Programme for Children and Youths to ‘enable the creative potential of every child’. This year the focus was on marine heritage to link in with national Wild Child Day and Heritage Week. The project was co-ordinated by the Heritage Council through the Heritage in Schools Scheme and delivered by Heritage in Schools Specialist Mary Wallace. The project received support from the Jeanie Johnston, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum and the dlr Lexlcon.

Read Mary Wallace's project report below.

Having A Wild Maritime!

Once again I was delighted to facilitate a project which allowed me to bring children to some more of my favourite places in Dublin - and they got to respond in a creative way by making art and being playful with materials wherever we went. I was particularly happy that some parents joined in too! It can be a long Summer when schools are closed and children are out of their routine of going to school and meeting up with friends. Living in a hotel room there is no chance to play in the garden or have friends over. So the choice to take part in a fun activity like this is all the more welcome to them and their families.

This time our project had a maritime theme and coincided with National Heritage Week and Wild Child Day. It was devised around the idea of enabling ‘the creative potential of every child with a particular emphasis on the role heritage can play in contributing to a child’s sense of identity and place.' ¹ It was also an opportunity to get them playing with other children and exploring outdoors.

Over the course of three days we went rockpool fishing in Sandycove, visited The Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship, EPIC – The Irish Emigration Museum and The National Sea Life Aquarium. The children had great fun and made beautiful art in response to their experiences.


Day 1 Sandycove and Dun Laoghaire

Wild Child Day was full of promise. I had done my research and discovered that there were ample and accessible rockpools at Sandycove; the tides were right and we had the weather in our favour. The children enjoyed a train ride along the coast and were full of enthusiasm when I met them. We spilled onto the beach armed with fishing nets and basins. There was a little chat before we began about what we might expect to find and having respect for nature and the sealife we would encounter.

I was a little wary at first - what if we didn't find anything exciting in the rockpools? I needn't have worried. There was so much to see. First we spotted a heron fishing from the rocks. A couple of seagulls swooped over our heads. Then a strange thing happened. Out in the sea, just a little beyond the rock ledges, a 'rock' moved. Did we imagine it? Whatever it was remained still for quite a while as we continued to watch. Full of curiosity. Then a seal appeared and approached the creature. It made to dive and we saw a long body curl through the water. It remained in the same place for at least two hours. My best guess – an injured dolphin or porpoise, perhaps?

We soon got distracted as we started to explore. We put some seawater into our basins and made mini-aquarium using shells and seaweeds in preparation for our sea creatures. We had to be very careful climbing over the rocks and the slippery seaweed. It took a while to find good pools. Then we struck gold. There were squeals of delight as we made our discoveries. Great excitement altogether.

We brought our hoard back to the beach and took some time to look at and identify all our finds. Using guides to help us we identified what we had: Shore Crabs; Common Prawns; various Topshells; Whelks; Periwinkles; Limpet and Winkle shells; Barnacles; teeny unidentified fish; many, many different seaweeds. We also saw Beadlet Anemones and Snakelocks Anemones – and had great fun trying to say 'anemone' ! There was a lot of excitement and squeals of laughter as we discovered each creature. We watched the crabs scuttle back across the beach to their seaweed home and saw how they melded with their background in true camouflage. Then we released all our creatures back into the sea.

After a picnic lunch we walked to the DLRLexicon which had kindly given us a room and supplied us with books about the sea and creatures living around our coasts. The children used a wax resist technique to make beautiful art. Then it was time to go back on the train. A most fulfilling day for everyone.

Day 2 The Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship and EPIC, The Irish Emigration Museum

We met at the Custom House Quay where The Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship is permanently moored on the quayside as a Famine Museum. Ray was our guide and he told us the story of the thousands of Irish people who fled the Famine and embarked on a treacherous voyage in the hope of finding a better life in North America. He transported us back in time to relive the experience of such a gruelling journey.

An authentic replica of the original Jeanie Johnston, a three masted barque that was originally built in Quebec, Canada, in 1847 by the Scottish-born shipbuilder John Munn which was purchased by Kerry-based merchants, John Donovan and Sons. Originally intended as a cargo ship, she ended up carrying a very different kind of cargo – desperate men, women and children fleeing the Famine. She carried emigrants out to Canada and brought timber back. She transported 2,500 Irish emigrants on 16 transatlantic voyages to North America. The recreation of the ship was one of the most ambitious maritime heritage projects ever undertaken in Ireland. The children were fascinated by the tour and a little in awe, I think, of being on board such a vessel.

Then we crossed the road over to EPIC where we met our guide Daniel who romped us through a fascinating one-hour tour giving us a wonderful flavour of what this amazing museum has to offer. I would definitely love to go back and take it in at a slower pace - over a whole day perhaps! He was incredibly enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

Irish history shouldn't just be a long list of names and dates, it should be an experience. This was a hands-on experience of the Irish diaspora, our culture and our past. A marvelous interactive museum experience – swipe through video galleries, motion sensor quizzes, remastered audio from the past and videos that bring Irish history to life. An impressive tour de force showing the far reaching influence of Irish history, and the impact the 10 million Irish men and women who left Ireland have had on the world.

Phew! It was a lot for little people to take on board in one day! Still I think they enjoyed the whirlwind. Ready for more.

After a picnic lunch we spent some time responding to all we had seen and heard that day. Again they made more lovely work using wax and water medium with sponges.

Day 3 National Sea Life Aquarium and Bray seashore

Another coastal train journey brought the children to Bray where we met at the National Sea Life Aquarium. The aquarium was thrilling. Even better than last year. Huge improvements and much more fish and sea creatures than last year. There was a lot of talk about 'Nemo'and 'The Little Mermaid' - it is a different matter to actually see the real thing! The children, and the adults, had a wonderful time. I made a point of bringing them back to the Irish fish pool so that they were aware that these fish live in Irish waters: Mullet, Plaice, Ray, Blue Wrasse, Green Wrasse, Spider Crabs. There were touch pools and they got to handle starfish too. The guides were very informative and answered lots of questions. We got to see an octopus being fed. There was a lot to see and take in.

We had our picnic in the Bandstand near the promenade. Everyone was relaxed and friendships were blossoming. The children spent a while taking in their surroundings. They were delighted to be at the seaside and couldn't wait to get down to the beach. Eager to get their shoes and socks off; jeans and leggings rolled up; straight in to the tide for a paddle. Of course they got wet! It's natural. Then we had a closer look – using our artists' eyes. We found many types of rocks that had been smoothed and made round by the sea, sea-glass and some dried seaweeds. We made rock sculptures and designs using the beach materials: mermaids, pirates and suchlike.

The day was over so soon. As promised icecreams and milkshakes were called for. Happy faces licking lips. All back aboard the train heading home.

I believe that the project was a resounding success. The children were a little shy starting out but soon relaxed. Nature is such a leveller and soon they just got stuck in. They began to relax and enjoy themselves. Even the youngest one was chatting and smiling happily. They made friends quickly. I felt that the children settled in well as a group although they hadn't known each other before. The range of venues proved excellent. There were guided tours which gave insight and made the visits more meaningful. There was a lot to take in and a lot to learn. There was a good mix of indoor and outdoor activity. And the sun shone!