Tributes are paid to Dr John de Courcy Ireland


President Mary McAleese and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern have led tributes to the maritime historian, author, linguist and political activist Dr John de Courcy Ireland (94) who has died in a Dublin hospital.

Mrs McAleese said Dr de Courcy Ireland had "achieved much in his long life and had championed many causes with passion and commitment".

"The international recognition of his work was a tribute to his unique expertise as a maritime historian and his great love of Ireland's maritime tradition," Mrs McAleese said.

The Taoiseach said he had learned "with considerable sadness" of Dr de Courcy Ireland's death and extended sympathies to his extended family.

"John was a man of great principle and a committed socialist all his life," Mr Ahern said. "A man of great independence of thought, he never flinched from taking unpopular positions.

"He also had a great quality of gentleness and all those who came in contact with him, whether they agreed with his politics or not, were impressed by his considerable intellect and dedication to the things he cherished.

"Above all John de Courcy Ireland will be remembered for his lifelong dedication to the world of the sea," Mr Ahern said.

Having campaigned tirelessly for the due recognition of maritime affairs, he was "also a man of world vision and was internationally recognised as a great linguist, writer, teacher and committed mariner".

"One of his great campaigns was for the restoration of the Mariners' Church in Dún Laoghaire," Mr Ahern added, and he was glad that the Government had been able to grant €1.5 million this year for its restoration.

Dún Laoghaire TD Eamon Gilmore (Lab), who knew Dr de Courcy Ireland for more than 20 years, described him as a "great champion of the sea" who had inspired him (Mr Gilmore) during his brief term as minister of state for the marine.

Socialist Workers Party Dún Laoghaire branch member Richard Boyd-Barrett, who campaigned with Dr de Courcy Ireland against privatisation of Dún Laoghaire harbour, the Carlisle pier and Dún Laoghaire baths, described him as an "incredibly energetic anti-war activist, advocate on maritime issues and campaigner for social justice".

Dr de Courcy Ireland was born in Lucknow, India, in 1911, the only son of a British army major who died of typhoid after he had been sent to China in 1914.

He was educated in England at Marlborough College and won a history scholarship to Oxford, but was too young to register - so he signed on as a steward on a cargo vessel bound for Argentina at the age of 17. It was a voyage which was to have a lasting impression on his life.

A qualified teacher, Dr de Courcy Ireland was honorary research officer of the Maritime Institute of Ireland and was honoured by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution for over a quarter of a century as honorary secretary of the Dún Laoghaire lifeboat.

He was able to converse fluently in six languages, including Chinese, Arabic, French and Serbo-Croat, and was author of a number of books. He lectured on maritime history in more than 20 countries and was decorated by a number of governments. He was also one of the first non-French nationals to be appointed member of the prestigious Academie de la Marine in Paris.

He and his late wife, Betty, who was a nurse in the Spanish Civil War, were founder members of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and both were supporters, at various stages, of the northern and southern branches of the Labour Party, the Communist Party, the late Jim Kemmy's Democratic Socialist Party, Democratic Left and latterly the Socialist Workers' Party. He was also involved in the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement and was president of the Ireland-China Friendship Society.

Former pupils Rory Clarke, editor-in-chief of the OECD Observer in Paris, and Arthur Reynolds, former editor of The Irish Skipper, recalled his warmth, humour and his humanity. "He believed that this island had an economic potential in its marine resource that deserved to be fully exploited for the benefit of the Irish people," Mr Reynolds said.

Des Branigan, president emeritus of the Maritime Institute of Ireland, said he was a "master of language, a lucid lecturer and virtually irreplaceable".

Dr de Courcy Ireland is survived by his three children, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. He has donated his body to the Royal College of Surgeons. A memorial service will be held at the Unitarian Church, St Stephen's Green, Dublin at a date to be announced.