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US students dig deep with local research

July 18th, 2017 7:15 AM

By Southern Star Team

Visiting US research students at Skibbereen's Heritage Centre who promote and support their work.

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VISITING students from various US universities travel to Skibbereen each summer to take courses and carry out research that is providing huge benefits to the town. 

There are three separate groups in question: one engages in marine research at Lough Hyne, another carries out archaeological digs to find out more about the poor of West Cork, while the third group comes to explore Ireland's cultural history through the lens of anthropology.

Dr Cynthia Trowbridge has been bringing students to Lough Hyne to carry out marine research since 2007. Since then there have been 34 student visits, many of them funded by the International Research Experience for Students programme. 

Cynthia and her students are engaging in very worthwhile research at Lough Hyne, which includes monitoring the invasive species already present in the lough. Significant changes in the ecology of Lough Hyne are also being examined, including the puzzling absence of the once-plentiful purple sea urchin. To date, Cynthia and her students have 12 published scientific papers based on their studies at Lough Hyne, with five more in the pipeline.

Like the other visiting university groups, Cynthia's students also like to learn more about the locality and have a long established link with the staff of Skibbereen Heritage Centre. Cynthia co-authored a chapter on the marine ecology of Lough Hyne in the publication ‘Lough Hyne: From Prehistory to the Present' by Terri Kearney of Skibbereen Heritage Centre.

The Lough Hyne student group visited Skibbereen in  June to examine monitoring stations and carry out dive surveys. Their second, longer visit, will be in August when Cynthia and her students will take part in the very popular ‘Touch Tanks at Lough Hyne' event which will take place on Saturday August 26th from 11.30am-1.30pm. This fun family event gives local people the opportunity to meet these visiting scientists while leaning more about the ecology of Lough Hyne during Heritage Week.

The second research group from the University of Maryland, led by Dr Stephen A. Brighton, has been coming to Skibbereen since 2015 under the Archaeology of Modern Ireland research programme. Following contact with Skibbereen Heritage Centre, suitable locations were found in the Skibbereen area for this group to carry out archaeological excavations. Since then, 17 students have visited Skibbereen from Brown and the University of Maryland to engage in research in Skibbereen.

In 2015, the Maryland students excavated a site at the Windmill Rock which overlooks the town of Skibbereen. This study discovered more about how the poor people of this area lived during its excavations of the remains of six pre-Famine houses, some of which were cut out of the surrounding rock. In 2016 the students returned to carry out another archaeological dig, this time at a location at Lough Hyne. 

The artefacts found during these two excavations to date reveal what was commonly used, cherished, and discarded by men, women, and children throughout their daily experiences between 1800 and 1930. Stephen and his Maryland students plan to return to work at the Lough Hyne site to learn even more about how the poor of West Cork lived in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.The third student group to make Skibbereen their base for learning come from the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Again, after making contact with Skibbereen Heritage Centre, Professor Eileen Moore Quinn decided to bring her group of 10 students to Skibbereen for a ‘Maymester' in 2017. 

The Charleston students travelled all around West Cork, guided by Skibbereen Heritage Centre staff and other local historians, to learn about its archaeology, history and folklore. 

With the Cork College of Commerce providing a base for lectures, the students enjoyed field trips to Lough Hyne, Ballinacarriga, the Mizen, Cape Clear Island and Glandore as well as visiting Cork city and UCC.

Eileen and her Charleston students thoroughly enjoyed their ‘Maymester' in Skibbereen, so much so that a return trip is planned  for next year. Some of the students stayed on in Ireland after the study period to travel with family members who came from the US to join them.

‘These student visits are of huge benefit to the locality', said Terri Kearney of Skibbereen Heritage Centre. ‘Their research tells us more about the heritage of this area and their stay here provides an economic benefit to the locality too. It is a pleasure to meet and welcome these enthusiastic young people to West Cork, many of whom, I am certain, will return to visit in the future having formed a bond with this area and its people'.  

Having established itself as a suitable base for heritage and scientific studies, Skibbereen will continue to welcome and enjoy these visits by overseas student researchers into the future.

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