After a week of thinking maybe too much about modern and ultra-modern boats contesting the Fastnet Race and Calves Week at Schull, it’s a comforting relaxation to settle gently into contemplation of this weekend’s annual Crunniu na mBad (The Gathering of the Boats) for traditional boats and Irish culture at Kinvara on the west coast, and the championship of the venerable Seventeen Footer class at Howth on the eastern seaboard writes W M Nixon.
Not that the racing, in either case, is a matter of comfortable relaxation. With the Howth Seventeens, it’s the quality of the sport that has kept them going since 1898, unchanged from their original jackyard-topsail-setting design. And with 18 boats in commission this year, the old class is truly fighting fit. That said, the way this weekend’s low pressure area has been behaving, the winds on the east coast have tended to be stronger than in the west, so the Seventeens cancelled their first race scheduled for last night, and start the competition this morning (Saturday).
Cruinnui na mBad is a much more complex affair organised by Dr Mick Brogan and his team, an extraordinary interaction between sea and land which was started by the late Tony Moylan in 1979 – making this its 40th Anniversary – to commemorate and celebrate the fact that in times past, and particularly in August, the traditional Hookers of Connemara would sail right up Galway Bay and into the sweet natural harbour of Kinvara carrying turf.
Kinvara is at the heart of a relatively lush area which is very different from Connemara, and thus lacking in readily-available natural supplies of the traditional fuel. So the voyage there with a useful consignment of winter warmth had a natural harmony, and of course, the safe arrival and discharge of the cargo was something for celebration in the Pier Head bar and other hostelries in the popular little village by sailors and locals alike.
These days, the useful motorway from Dublin to Galway, plus the continuing strength of trad-boat enthusiasm in both Connemara and in Galway city itself, has seen a resurgence of life in the traditional sailing boats of the west. The convenience of the motorway means that any Galway hooker enthusiast living in the outskirts of the greater Dublin area can be with their special craft on Galway Bay as quickly as the boat could be reached at a Dun Laoghaire, Poolbeg or Howth harbour berth, and needless to say berthing charges in the west are a very different proposition – indeed, in some of the more picturesque places, the traditional boats should be paid appearance money…….
Certainly, it’s the massed appearance of the Galway Hookers in all sizes which is the making of the Kinvara festival, even if the music and dancing and singing and festivities seem to grow with every year. The time-honoured ceremony of discharging the turf cargo is completed on the quay in the heart of the village today at 4.0pm, while as the tide make towards high water the racing gets underway today at 2.30pm at Parkmore for the Gleoiteog Race, and for the bigger boats at 2.0 pm tomorrow (Sunday), starting and finishing almost in the heart of town.
Last year in the four divisions, the winner of the Bad Mor (big boat) Class was the Tonai, skippered by Mairtin O’Brien, while the slightly smaller Leath Bad (half boat) class went to Croi na Cladaigh, built in 2012 in Galway city by Peter Connolly, and raced on the day by the legendary Colie Hernon.
John Flaherty sailing the Gleoitog Mor Naomh Cailin was the winner in that class, while the small boats of the Gleoitog division were led in by Colie og Hernon. All this was only part of the sport afloat, as the seaweed raft racing took place right in the harbour, and simply staying afloat was as important as winning.
With this weekend’s volatile weather, several boats from Connemara had already made the prudent decision to get themselves to Kinvara before the current low-pressure system began to do its worst, and as of last night there were already nearly 30 of those classic hulls to be seen at the quay.
As it happens, the low-pressure area itself had filled a bit over the land, but as ever there always a vicious twist or two in the tail in the form of sudden squalls and maybe thunderstorms as the system re-gathers strength over the North Sea. But nevertheless the unusual situation has developed where there may be more wind on the east coast than in the west, so all being well the racing programme will be completed at Kinvara in a westerly today, and a moderate to fresh northwest to north breeze tomorrow
Whatever the outcome, the underlying trend in the Connacht traditional boat movement is healthy, and the latest piece of good news is that the famous True Light, after quietly decaying for a number of years, has been bought by a quartet of new owners, and they’re bringing her to Galway city itself for a complete restoration in the same place as the much-admired Gentle Ann was given new life.
With the Howth Seventeens all being based in the one harbour and most owners living almost within walking distance, the decision to cancel the first race last night was not a big deal. So for now we should enjoy some unusual photos of these little boats taken by Tom Ryan who - in addition to a day job - is Assistant Cox’n of Howth Lifeboat, and is also an amateur photographer (using the moniker Stormy Photos) who enjoys finding unusual shots out on his RIB or up on the cliffs in Howth.
It takes a fresh eye to remind us of what an odd and exotic place is the Howth Peninsula, for inevitably we sometimes tend to take it for granted, yet all these images were obtained within a couple of kilometres of where I’m sitting writing this.
And as for the Howth Seventeens racing, the word is that Ian Malcolm with the 1898-built Aura has been winning when it involves going south of the Baily, as he topped the class in the VDLR19 Regatta in Dublin Bay and also won in the annual race to Clontarf for the recent Clontarf Y&BC “At Home”.
But in home waters north from the harbour, defending champion Deilginis (built 1907, Massey family & Mikey Twomey) has been setting the pace, but well challenged by Conor and Brian Turvey in Isobel (built 1988), Peter Courtney in the 1909-built Oonagh, and Marcus Lynch and John Curley in Rita, another of the original 1898 boats.
Although there seems to be an increase in the use of the Howth Seventeens for day sailing as the young tearaways of yesterday become parents and hope to get their own young children to enjoy sailing as much as they do, it is still the racing which is the cement which holds the class together At 121 years old and still going strong, it’s quite something.