Leading geologist who pioneered extensive survey of Ireland's seabed

Dr Ray Keary: Dr Ray Keary, who died last Monday at the age of 65, was a leading geologist and author of the first "real map…

Dr Ray Keary: Dr Ray Keary, who died last Monday at the age of 65, was a leading geologist and author of the first "real map" of Ireland and its extensive seabed territory.

That territory is estimated at 10 times the size of this island, and Dr Keary's contribution towards charting the marine resource was recalled last week in his native Galway. During the commissioning of the State's €31 million new marine research vessel, the Celtic Explorer, Dr Peter Heffernan of the Marine Institute paid tribute to Dr Keary's vision.

It is largely thanks to the geologist and his colleagues in the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) that the National Seabed Survey was initiated several years ago in co-operation with the Marine Institute at an estimated cost of €27 million.

The Celtic Explorer will play a significant part in its completion. Sadly, Dr Keary was too ill to attend the ceremony.

Ray Keary was born in Woodford, Co Galway, on August 18th, 1937, and was reared near Lough Derg on the Tipperary border. Water "both onshore and offshore" was to be an abiding them of his life, as the journal Sherkin Comment noted last year.

His father worked as a doctor for Inishbofin island off the Connemara coast, and Keary would have become very familiar with the western seaboard from an early age.

He studied science at University College Dublin, and Wicklow granite was the focus of his first postgraduate research.

In 1962, he was appointed lecturer at University College Galway (now NUI Galway) and he then completed an MSc in oceanography.

At the time, many British universities used Connemara as a research base, and Keary realised he couldn't compete with their equipment. This was why he began "rooting around on the seashore", to use his own words.

Geological maps tended to stop at the shoreline, but Keary convinced the head of the geology department to introduce marine geology on the BSc course. He nurtured an interest in marine science among his students, and he encouraged co-operation with the university's zoology department. He was also influential in persuading the university to purchase its first research craft, the Ona III, for field work.

Keary joined the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) on September 1st, 1975, and established a marine section. The National Science Council had purchased the research ship Lough Beltra in the same year. However, marine research became a victim of the economic uncertainties of the late 1970s, and Keary's staff was cut.

In 1979, Bord Iascaigh Mhara commissioned the first applied work in the marine field from the GSI, involving an examination of trawling grounds off the Donegal coast using side-scan sonar.

When the Lough Beltra was taken out of service for a year, as an economic measure, Keary hired the Asgard sail training ship to continue scientific work . Although weather was dreadful, Keary noted that the ship could hold a steady course and was much more sea-friendly than the Lough Beltra.

Negotiations on the United Nations negotiations on a Law of the Sea convention were in train at the time, but in a short-sighted move, the government of the day passed responsibility for seabed boundaries from GSI to the petroleum affairs division of what was to become the Department of the Marine.

Keary called repeatedly for a seabed survey - and won the support of Dr Peadar McArdle, head of the GSI.

Dr Keary carried out preliminary work on what is now a very extensive seabed survey. Following the establishment of the Marine Institute just over a decade ago, he secured financial support for the GLORIA survey of the seabed, using a long-range mapping device.

Keary retired shortly afterward, but still took a keen interest and played an inspiring role in the subsequent seven-year project.

Dr Keary is survived by his wife, Barbara,sons, Kevin, Eoghan, Briain and daughter, Maebh.

Dr Ray Keary: born August 18th, 1937; died April 14th, 2003