Captain Brian Fitzgerald, Irish Naval Service, and artist Dorothy Cross.

A human heart found deep within a city centre crypt in the 19th century is to be returned to Cork next month as “sacred cargo”.

The relic of a human heart that was discovered in a crypt in 1863. When found, it was encased in a lead cyst in the walls of the crypt. It is unknown to whom the heart belonged.

The relic was acquired by General Pitt Rivers, an ethnologist and archaeologist who was stationed in Cork. It later became part of the extraordinary collection of artefacts which are housed in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

The heart will make its return to Cork on board the naval vessel, the L.É. James Joyce, before going on display at the Glucksman Gallery on the grounds of University College Cork.


The return of the archaeological item is integral to Heartship, a project by artist Dorothy Cross which is part of the Sounds from a Safe Harbour festival.

The project will feature singer Lisa Hannigan and it aims to celebrate the Irish Naval services contribution to the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean.

“Heartship has been haunting me for the past three years… wishing to honour the many hearts of migrant people who disappear below the ocean surface and lie unnamed on the sea-bed,” said Ms Cross.

“A lone figure will be visible wandering on board a Navy ship as it sails upstream to Cork City. The beautiful ethereal voice of Lisa Hannigan will emanate from the ship intertwined with the sounds of glass armonica and water phone – which are instruments that create sound through water.

A human heart will be harboured within the ship – a sacred cargo of an unknown person found in Cork in 1863.

On Saturday, September 14, the L.É. James Joyce will sail up the River Lee from Haulbowline Island with Lisa Hannigan on board. A recording of Lisa singing songs about the heart will play together with the sound of the glass armonica, played by Alasdair Malloy.

The ship will dock and remain on the riverside where an audience will be able to hear a live performance by Lisa. Admission is free.

Renowned filmmaker Alan Gilsenan will work with Dorothy Cross to create a film that embodies Heartship. When complete, the film will be screened at The Crawford Gallery.

Sounds from a Safe Harbour takes place from September 10 to 15.

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