John de Courcy Ireland

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John de Courcy Ireland

John de Courcy Ireland (19 October 1911 – 4 April 2006) was an Irish maritime historian and political activist.


Born in Lucknow, India, where his County Kildare native father served in the British Army, he was educated at Marlborough College, Oxford University and Trinity College Dublin, where he was awarded a PhD in 1951. The title of his thesis was "The Influence of the Sea on Civilisation".

In 1949 he taught at St Patrick's Cathedral School in Dublin and the next year received his doctorate on the sea in education from Trinity College Dublin. He moved in 1951 to Drogheda Grammar School and subsequently taught at Bandon Grammar School, Co Cork, and from 1968 at Kingstown Grammar School, Dún Laoghaire. This was amalgamated with Avoca School, Blackrock, to become Avoca Kingsown school, this later became Newpark Comprehensive School, south of Dublin, where he stayed until 1986, when he left teaching at the age of 75.[1]

He and his wife, Betty, who had been a nurse in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, were affiliated with The Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement and was president of the Ireland-China Friendship Society. A committed socialist, he was also affiliated or involved with the Northern Ireland Labour Party, the Irish Labour Party, the Communist Party of Ireland, the Democratic Socialist Party, the Workers' Party, Democratic Left and latterly the Socialist Workers Party. He was Big Jim Larkin's election agent. He was a founding member of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.[2][3]

Plaque to John de Courcy Ireland in Dalkey


In 1933 he married Beatrice Haigh (died 1999); they had one son and two daughters. After marrying the couple spent time in the Aran Islands and County Donegal to master the Irish language. Betty was also a noted political campaigner (see this tribute).


John de Courcy Ireland died in 2006, aged 94.[4] A plaque in his memory was erected in Dalkey. It reads:

To the memory of Dr John DeCourcy Ireland 1911–2006

Maritime Historian, Radical Politician, Humanist,
Teacher and Linguist. Founder Member of C.N.D. in Ireland.
Honours received from Argentina, Britain, China,
France, Portugal, Spain, Yugoslavia, R.N.L.I.
A true friend of seafarers


John de Courcy Ireland had been a Council member of the Maritime Institute of Ireland, who operate the National Maritime Museum of Ireland, for 55 years and was its Honorary Research Officer. He was awarded the following:

  • Portuguese Order of the Infante
  • Order of the Yugoslav Flag
  • Order of Spanish Naval Merit
  • Order des Palmes Acadamiques of France
  • Member of Marine Academies of France
  • Member of Marine Academies of Portugal
  • Caird Medal of the British National Maritime Museum
  • Member of Instituto Browniano (Argentina)
  • Centenary Medal of Almirante Brown (Argentina)
  • Hon. Life Governor of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution

The Award he valued most[5] was the plaque in the Peoples' Park, Dún Laoghaire, as it was the only award that coupled his name with that of his wife, Betty. The Maritime Institute of Ireland, posthumously awarded him its gold medal; it was accepted by his daughter on his behalf.


External links[edit]


  1. ^ UK Independent obituary
  2. ^ Fagan, Kieran (9 April 2006). "John de Courcy Ireland". Obituary (Irish Independent). Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  3. ^ Harrison, Richard S., Irish Anti-War Movements. Dublin : Irish Peace 1986 (p.59-61) .
  4. ^ Fagan, Kieran (9 April 2006). "John de Courcy Ireland". Irish Independent. 
  5. ^ Iris na Mara 1 (4): 7. Spring 2006 |url= missing title (help). Retrieved 13 July 2009.