Is this a strange concept? It came up recently as an idea for a marketing slogan for the West Cork Islands. The aura of mystery and “otherness” especially small islands have about them is used to attract visitors. How cool is it to travel by road to a small harbour town on the Atlantic seaboard and then put to sea! Nowadays this is a special thing to most people but hundreds of years ago the Vikings, the Polynesians and even earlier than these the Phoenicians, used the sea like we use the road. Water was a connector to everywhere and it provided a straight path to foreign lands. It was a highway for trading activities, establishing colonies, exploration and for spreading cultures and people.
The oldest culture associated with islands is that of Dilmun of the Bahrain islands in the Persian Gulf. This culture is mentioned on Sumerian artefacts such as clay tablets from the late 3rd millennium BC. The Dilmun people were able sea-traders with the empires of Mesopotamia. In the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh Dilmun was considered a paradise and a “land of the living”, just like the Irish “Tír na nÓg”.
An important sea-faring people derived from the Dilmun culture were the Phoenicians who settled along the western coast of the fertile crescent commonly referred to as the ‘cradle of civilisation’. In their trading activities they worked their way westwards establishing colonies on islands like Cyprus, Sardinia, Sicily, Malta as well as mainland coasts all around the Mediterranean sea.
So, the idea of being ‘connected by water’ is a reality and was so much taken for granted by seafaring peoples of the past that it wasn’t even a concept. It only becomes a concept when juxtaposed with ‘connected by road’. Going by the enormous achievements of Roman roadbuilding, these people must have been convinced that movement over land was easier and more efficient after all and they have no doubt convinced the rest of mankind that this was the route to take – to a degree that today the most common mode of transport coupled with the ways of EU policies, have made such a mockery of seafaring that fish caught off the Kerry coast by Spanish trawlers is now transported by lorry from Dingle to Spain.