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UCC team's unique project uncovers ‘hidden corners’ of West Cork

30 Jul
Deep Maps (Image: Michael O'Sullivan)

Deep Maps has been a collaborative research project like no other.

It’s telling that, when asked to share the most interesting aspects of her collaborative deep mapping project, Professor Claire Connolly refers to the ‘discovery of hidden corners’.

The most interesting stories of place are always multi-layered; combining narratives of history and human experience, and always bringing some element of the unknown to light. This is why Deep Maps: West Cork Coastal Cultures has captivated the interest and imagination of so many across Cork, Ireland and beyond.

Deep Maps: West Cork Coastal Cultures is a project which combines the research skills of cultural historians with those of marine biologists, with the aim of providing a rich and detailed portrait of the coastline from Timoleague to Bantry Bay.

By developing new ways of thinking about this area through deep mapping, the research team has cultivated new ways of thinking about place, and applied these to Ireland’s endangered marine environment.

Professor Connolly, of UCC’s School of English – Co-Principal Investigator of Deep Maps alongside Dr Rob McAllen, of the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences – initially conceived of the project back in 2015, when the Irish Research Council issued a call for funding for research projects with a shared Humanities/STEM focus.

“I had an idea — really, more an image than a worked-out concept —  that UCC researchers could develop a way of visualising the Irish coastline from the mouth of the Shannon to the mouth of the Lee, in a way that allowed us to see how science and culture combine to shape our unique island topography,” explains Professor Connolly.

With the help of UCC’s Deputy President and Registrar John O’Halloran, Professor Connolly contacted Dr McAllen to discuss a potential collaboration, to bring the idea to fruition. Backed by the funding of an Irish Research Council New Horizons Award, with additional support from UCC, Deep Maps was created.

Scaling down their project to focus on the unique maritime environment along the arc of Roaring Water Bay, Professor Connolly and Dr McAllen have worked with their research team to create an extraordinary resource that presents a rich and storied portrait of the area. This resource combines elements of art, culture, history, literature and science, spanning the period from 1700 to 1920.

While learning more about the area’s unique maritime environment appealed to the specific expertise of Professor Connolly, Dr McAllen and their team, they were particularly intrigued to discover how deep mapping could better inform discussions about Ireland’s maritime environment, and the threats it faces today.

“I was interested in how knowledge of the coastline developed in the period before the modern division of the disciplines - what poets, artists and natural historians had to say about West Cork,” says Professor Connolly.

“Rob sensed that cultural and artistic responses to the coastline might help overcome some of the difficulties experienced by scientists in communicating immediate dangers to this precious marine resource.

“The website finally took shape around our shared concern to shape a fuller appreciation of the West Cork coastline and to limit ongoing environmental degradation.”

If the aim of Deep Maps: West Cork Coastal Cultures is to develop new ways of thinking about place, a detailed look at this beautiful website is proof that this has been well and truly achieved.

In the interactive map of Lough Hyne, a simple click of the mouse over denoted locations reveals fascinating nuggets of information about the area’s maritime heritage, through seven themes: art, biology, environment, folklore, history, literature and music.

One click will introduce you to the Purple Sea Urchin, with an accompanying entry from an 1895 issue of The Irish Naturalist – a powerful example of the unique genius of deep mapping. Several more clicks of the coloured dots scattered across the map will reveal everything from details of Famine evictions to the diverse range of marine life, and historical buildings of note in the area.

Central to the success of Deep Maps, is the interdisciplinary collaboration behind this research and impressive online resource.

“As we began to realise its contours and shade in the detail, Rob and I were very fortunate to work with an exceptional team of researchers, who brought their own curiosity-driven disciplinary knowledge to bear on the project,” says Professor Connolly.

“Project postdoctoral researcher Rachel Murphy has a PhD in History and Digital Humanities, while research assistants Sean MacGahann, Mike Waldron, Orla-Peach Power and Breda Moriarty brought expertise in (respectively) marine biology, history of art, archaeology and rural ecology.

“Shared knowledge of, and skills in Digital Humanities and GIS (Geographic Information System) made it possible to find ways of visualising and expressing the complex forms of connection that we unearthed.”

Through engagement with schools and interested groups in the local community, Professor Connolly and Dr McAllen have been able to enrich the Deep Maps resource to give an even more detailed insight into the area’s maritime environment.

And, as par for the course with deep mapping, the story doesn’t end there. As the team begins to work on the educational outreach aspect of the project, we can look forward to uncovering plenty more ‘hidden corners’ as field studies and research continue.

“The research has opened up the West Cork coastline for us all: anyone who spends time exploring the Deep Map of West Cork developed by Dr Rachel Murphy and hosted on the project website will make new discoveries,” says Professor Connolly.

Explore the Deep Maps: West Cork Coastal Cultures website through this link.

This article was first published in Independent Thinking - the UCC ezine

School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences

An Scoil Eolaíochtaí Bitheolaíocha, Domhaneolaíocha agus Comhshaoil

University College Cork, Distillery Fields, North Mall, Cork, Ireland T23 N73K

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