A revival of interest in the traditional working craft of West Cork started in Baltimore in 1997 with the construction of the Noble Shamrock, a 33-foot long mackerel yawl built by Hegarty’s Boatyard at Old Court.
This was done from measurements taken from one of the last surviving hulls of her type, the Shamrock that was built in Baltimore in 1910. Three other craft of this type were built over the next few years.
Traditional 25-foot Heir Island Lobster Boats have also been built. In 1999 the last remaining boat of this type, the Hanora, built in 1893, was rescued, restored by Hegarty’s yard and re-launched in May 2014. Hegarty’s is the yard which restored the ILEN, Ireland’s last trading schooner, that recently sailed to Greenland.
Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival has become a national success. It includes shipwrights and maritime archaeologists amongst its organising committee.
With this has come the plan by CUAS, the West Cork Maritime Heritage Company formed by the village community, to turn the disused former railway station into a Museum of Maritime Heritage, with hands-on activities, teaching traditional boat building and sailing skills, maritime archaeology and rescuing and conserving traditional West Cork craft.
That station, a brick building, was once the most southerly railway station in Ireland when it served the thriving fishing village that Baltimore was. It opened in May 1883, but was closed in April 1961.
It was a base for Glenans sailing operation until 2013 but, unused since, has become the target of vandalism.
It is owned by Failte Ireland, but the local community group is frustrated. At first large amounts of money were being sought for the building. It managed to stop attempts to sell the station, pointing to the benefits which its plan to preserve West Cork’s maritime heritage would have.
Falite Ireland eventually agreed to hand over the building to Cork County Council, with the intention that the community group, CUAS, would turn it into the centre. CUAS says it is confident it can do this. But Fáilte Ireland has still not given a date when it will hand over the building.
A request to Fáilte for information was not answered.
CUAS says they are showing commitment by local people to their area and its maritime heritage in a “determined, positive way”.
It seems time that Fáilte Ireland would respond equally positively.