00:00 Saturday 26 May 2012  Written by LOUISE ROSEINGRAVE

Coconuts in Schull shipwreck

UNDERWATER archaeologists are investigating the wreck of a wooden merchant ship that carried a cargo of coconuts discovered during pipe works in Schull Harbour.

The ship, believed to date back to the 16th century, is buried in the seabed in 10m of water just off the shoreline.

Contracted underwater archaeologist Julianna O'Donoghue immediately suspended pipe-laying works on the multi-million Schull Wastewater Treatment plant when machines struck and partly damaged the wreck last week. The ship's cargo of coconuts was uncovered during this process.

Little is known of the wreck's origins at present as archaeologists' work continues.

An exclusion zone has been erected around the wreck site and experts are keen to discourage looters from gaining access to any valuable materials on board.

Connie Kelleher, an underwater archeologist with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht arrived on site yesterday afternoon: 'We don't want to reveal the exact location as we don't want to make it a target for looters.

'Because it's over a hundred years old, it's a protected wreck site. Nobody can legally dive on it without a licence from our department,' she said.

Believed to be a 'sizeable' vessel, the bulk of the wreck is buried in silt with only a small portion exposed. Archaeologists are now working to determine how old it is and what it was doing in Irish waters, Ms Kelleher said.

'We don't know too much about it as yet, only a small bit of wreck itself is exposed above the seabed. Julianna is working to make sense of the wreck site, to record exactly what's down there and document anything loose around the ship.

Be assessed

'The site will then be assessed and we will look at how to protect it," Connie said.

Divers have not yet gained access to the inside of the wreck, but explorations of the ship are set to continue for some weeks.

Because of its cargo of coconuts, it is thought the ship's origins may be linked to the Caribbean. The discovery will be valuable to historians in terms of developing a greater understanding of historical Irish trade links to the 'new world.'

Some 15,000 wrecks have been located around Ireland's coastline to date.

Cork County Council confirmed that two monitoring archaeologists working on behalf of the council - Ms O' Donoghue and Daniel Noonan - discovered the remains of the wooden ship wreck during pipe laying works last Thursday.

Work on the laying of outfall pipes will resume once an exclusion zone protecting the find is in place.

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