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A legacy that lives on

Maurice Caruana Curran was made Member of the Order of Merit in December 1993 in recognition of his services to the nation by then President Ċensu Tabone. Photo: Department of Information

Maurice Caruana Curran was made Member of the Order of Merit in December 1993 in recognition of his services to the nation by then President Ċensu Tabone. Photo: Department of Information

Maurice Caruana Curran was born 100 years ago. He will be remembered for many roles in his life: as judge, poet, writer, art lover and environmental activist, to mention a few. However, one role stands out, for which he will always be remembered.

It is the one in which he moulded and shaped the organisation of which he was founder president – Din l-Art Ħelwa, the society for the preservation of heritage and the natural environment, which he led for over 33 years. It was an act of vision, of courage and altruism and stemming from a true love of his country that spurred him on to make the organisation his life’s mission till the very end.

Today, 53 years after Din l-Art Ħelwa’s foundation, his aura continues to permeate every aspect of the organisation he created. It has grown and evolved over the years but the backbone that was the product of his vision and endeavour is still recognisable and palpable.

The seed he sowed has grown into an army of over 150 volunteers, caring for and managing 19 historic sites among the 40 national monuments that have been saved from neglect since 1965.

The head office buzzes with activity in the day-to-day running of the organisation, which increasingly requires evermore professional standards to meet its various obligations both in the management of the heritage sites it runs but also of the many popular cultural activities that help raise funds to bring them new life and make them relevant to the people of today.

The aura continues to permeate every aspect of Din l-Art Ħelwa

What the founder would have recognised today, and what would probably have caused him to heave a heavy sigh, is that Din l-Art Ħelwa’s role in the protection and preservation of the historical and natural patrimony of the nation is still as urgent now as when it was first set up. It is still fighting the same battles, still speaking out against the destruction of Malta’s historical buildings or the cementification of the landscape.

There have been many successes as a result of judicious campaigning and lobbying and much heartening restoration of national monuments which give us the impetus to soldier on.

The magnitude of the onslaught on our natural spaces, our historic towns and villages and coastline, however, is such that requires drastic measures.

Din l-Art Ħelwa will carry on fighting with all the tools at its disposal, always keeping a balanced, rational tone that is typical of the organisation, and which has rallied the support and approval of many members and non-members alike.

This is the legacy that Maurice Caruana Curran has left us – an organisation distinguished by its volunteering for the preservation of culture, history, tradition and values through campaigning and restoration, which is all the while underpinned with a good dose of his own unshakeable stamina.

On behalf of the council and members of Din l-Art Ħelwa, I dare say there will be many who join me in giving Maurice a round of hearty applause for his creative and productive life spent entirely in the service of his country. His legacy lives on.

A man of great culture

Maurice Caruana Curran was born in Valletta on June 11, 1918, and was educated at the Old Lyceum and then at the Royal University of Malta where he graduated BA (1939) and LL.D. (1943).

In 1943, at the height of the war, he was offered a Rhodes scholarship at the University of Oxford, which he reluctantly had to turn down to assist his family and his beloved Valletta to recover from the ravages of war.

He was already a leading member of the second Malta National Assembly (1944-1946) that made proposals for the restoration of responsible government in Malta by virtue of the grant of a new Letters Patent Constitution.

He joined the Attorney General’s Office, was appointed deputy Attorney General. Meanwhile, he furthered his studies in legal and civic matters in the US.

In 1963, he was appointed one of Her Majesty’s judges at the age of 45. From 1974, he served as senior judge and as Acting Chief Justice on many occasions.

He delivered a number of landmark judgments in criminal, civil and administrative law and came to be considered as an icon by the Maltese legal community.

Noted for his independent mind and his forthright defence of human rights, President Emeritus Ugo Mifsud Bonnici described him as “the islands’ bastion of liberty”. He retired from the Bench in 1983.

Widely considered pioneer of the national conservation movement, he founded Din l-Art Ħelwa in July 1965. He was soon to become an outspoken and fearless leader in the field of environmental and heritage conservation.

He figured as a man of great culture in the widest sense of the term. But he was also an active sportsman and served as president of the Malta Football Association and of the Malta Amateur Athletic Association. He was even a much-loved actor and played leading roles for the Malta Amateur Dramatic Company and British Council Players.

This biography compiled by Raymond Mangion, head of the Department of Legal History and Methodology at the University’s Faculty of Laws.

Maria Grazia Cassar is executive president of Din l-Art Ħelwa.

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