Wednesday 24 April 2019

Preserving Arklow's rich maritime history

Coming from a seafaring background it is not surprising to find that Mark Synnott feels passionately about Arklow's maritime history and heritage.

Much of his early life was spent as an able seaman on coasters, ships and oil tanker, while today Mark is the curator of the town's Maritime Museum.

Established over 30 years ago, the Maritime Museum has been a resounding success story over the last three decades, to-day housing over 2,000 exhibits of maritime and seafaring memorabilia and attracting visitors from all over the world.

Together with the late Nick Tancred, Mark Synnott was the driving force behind the setting up of the Maritime Museum in the seaport town, conscious and concerned that a lot of the town's maritime history and heritage was in danger of being lost for ever without such a repository.

'Items of significant maritime interest had been lying around attics of houses for decades without people realising their true importance and worth and there was always the danger of them being discarded and thrown out in any clean-up' he said.

'It would be fair to assume that in times past maritime memorabilia of value were lost to posterity in this way'

Mark Synnott, 46 Knockenrahan, Arklow, who also worked for several years with Irish lights, said that the idea of starting and setting up a maritime museum was sparked off and kindled in 1974 when an exhibition of seafaring material was staged in the local CBS school.

'A few of us got together and we formed a committee to make the museum idea into a reality and, nor surprisingly for a seaport town, we met with a great a great response from the townspeople who were very enthusiastic. They loaned items to the museum, they donated items, and by the time we opened our doors in 1975 we had an impressive collection of over 800 items.

Like most people in Arklow in the 1940s , Mark Synnott left school at the age of 14 to go work in Arklow Pottery.

'The pottery was really the only source of employment in Arklow at that time, other than that you went fishing or went to sea in ships.' he said, He was to take to the waves himself when the Arklow Pottery closed temporarily for refurbishmentt in 1947/48.

'People were left with no alternative but to go to sea or go to English in search of work. There were no other sources of employment in Arklow at the time.', he recalls. Mark went fishing with his uncle Bill Hagan from Rockview before joining Tyrrells as an able seaman on the first Arklow Motor vessel, Tyronnall'.

In those days a person signed up with a shipping company for a year and a day, that was the contract, and over the next number of years Mark was to spend short stints with a variety of shipping companies including the British Steam Company on the 'Crestville' running coal from Liverpool to Larne; on a Shell oil tanker 'Vayadis'; a coaster 'Gloria' owned by Kearon-Tyrrells, on the Irish Spruce running timber from Canada to Cork and Dublin'

'By and large my time at sea was plain sailing' Mark said. 'Nothing more adventurous happened to us that running aground on the Isle of Man in thick fog. There was no radar navigation in those times, you depended on the compass for your bearings, and we had not allowed enough berth to clear the Isle of Man.'

At seat from an early age, Mark Synnott did not have the opportunity to participate in sporting activities but his wife Breda later became very involved in the athletics scene, locally and nationally, founding the local St. Benedicts Club and is presently national juvenile secretary.

Moving closer to terra firma Mark joined Irish Lights which meant he spent only 28 days at sea at a time and that was followed by 14 days leave. After 12 years with Irish Lights, he finished up his working career with Royal Liver Insurance, with whom he worked for 22 years until he retired.

However, apart from his family, the Arklow Maritime Museum has been his great passion in life.

Under his guiding hand, Mark has seen it grow and grow over the years until to-day one room in the former 'Tech' building on St. Mary's Road is not sufficient to house the over 2,000 maritime and seafaring collection in their possession..

As curator Mark is making the policy decisions, painting in the broad brush strokes, and not in the actual day to day running of the museum, which opens all year round Monday to Saturday.

He is presently putting pressure on Wicklow County Council for extra space for the museum, possibly the building of an extension to provide another large exhibition room, which is urgently needed in view of the fact that they have received a donation of a model train exhibition, trains, track and Railway station, worth about ?10.000.

'It shows that people continue to be very supportive of the maritime museum with donations'.

The fact that the Arklow Maritime Museum is local makes it very special' he said. With over 2,000 exhibits, including items from the 'Lusitania' which was sunk by a German submarine i n 1914 during the first world war, it is well worth a browse' he said.