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One of the first decisions made by the Board of Presidents and Vice-presidents of the Colleges in 1846 was to establish museums at all three of the new Queen's Colleges of Belfast, Cork and Galway.
Subsequently the architect of Queen's College Cork, Sir Thomas Deane, was instructed to give priority to the sitting of museums over that of the College library. When the College opened it's doors to students in 1849 they found a series of museums established in the North Wing of the Quadrangle - one of the most prestigious sites on the campus.
Specimens were obtained from many sources. The Geological Society of London, the Geological Survey, the Cork Cuvierian Society and many individuals donated specimens and together with purchases from dealers such as Krantz of Bonn, by 1856 a collection of more than 8000 specimens existed. Expansion of the College and the resulting need for lecture and library space led to the museum being dismantled. The specimens were stored in a shed for many years until the completion of the Science Building made space available for a smaller museum to be set up. The museum was moved to it's present location off the Ted Neville Geological Laboratory on the Ground Floor of the Robert Kane (Science) Building in 1981.
The collections are displayed in the original oak cases and are arranged systematically. Mineralogy and Crystallography displays are in the case on the East Wall with local Rocks and Minerals to the South. The remaining cases in the museum contain fossils, including some exceptionally fine crinoids, displayed under explanatory posters.
A row of cases in the laboratory show the different classes of rock and their constituent minerals. A small but comprehensive display of specimens can also be seen on the 2nd floor of the Butler Building. Suspended from the ceiling of the museum are the skull and antlers of the Giant Irish Deer, Megaloceras giganteus. In a case to the right of the entrance is a cast of the type specimen of the marine reptile Plesiosaurus macroephalus, a plesiosaur from the Jurassic (Lias) strata of Lyme Regis, Dorset
Another cast to the left is that of the 'bird ancestor' Archaeopteryx lithographica. This cast is of the most complete and famous of these rare fossils, the "Berlin specimen". The recently restored fossil Ichthyosaur, Icthyosaurus cf. intermedius, is from the Liassic (Lower Jurassic) in age, probably from the Lyme Regis beds like the Plesiosaur.
It is possibly the most valuable fossil in the collection. This fossil is currently on display in the Butler Building. In addition, a plaster cast of a recently discovered Devonian tetrapod trackway from Valentia Island, Co. Kerry is displayed nearby. This trackway is the oldest in situ tetrapod trackway in the world.
A record of some of the donations can be traced in reports and documents and it is possible to see how the museum grew in the 60 years of Queen's College Cork. Past students and Cork exiles donated specimens from places as varied as New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. Lady Windle, the wife of the President of the College, Sir Bertram Windle, was a keen amateur geologist and this is reflected in the fossil and mineral specimens which she gave to the museum.
The only clue to the origin of many specimens is in the style of the label and from these we can pick out the donations of Colonel Charles Coote Grant (Canadian fossils) and see the handwriting of such famous geologists as William Helier Baily (many of our Lyme Regis specimens) and George Victor Du Noyer (plant specimens which he collected from Co. Antrim).
The type specimen of the rare quartz mineral, Cotterite, was presented to the college by Miss E. Cotter of Mallow in 1876 and named after her by the then Professor, Robert Harkness.
General Daniel O'Leary, a hero of the South American Wars of Independence, was born in Cork and never forgot his native city. On two occasions he donated specimens and books.
In its entirety the Museum comprises approximately 20,000 rock, mineral and fossil specimens, and a similar number of geological maps, thin sections, photographic slides, offprints and books.