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Are Traditional Boat Building Skills Disappearing?

2nd November 2019
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Steve Morris Steve Morris Photo: W M Nixon

Following the interest in last week’s Podcast on the question – Why Do We Own Boats – and the views on the topic expressed by Brother Anthony Keane of Glenstal Abbey, I’ve been intrigued by the number of people who contacted me since, referring to an ancillary issue about owning boats– maintaining and preserving them and difficulties in some areas of finding the necessary skills.

It seems problems are associated with the types of boats needing attention and whether all yards have the skills within their staffs or need to seek it from what appears to be a finite number of people with specialist skills and that shipwrights appear to be a disappearing trade.

I was even told that maritime archaeologists are becoming increasingly interested in working with boat builders to study traditional maritime skills, because of concern that they are disappearing.

There are areas where the skills are being passed on – such as the ILEN boat building school in Limerick and the Hegarty yard at Old Court near Skibbereen, where boat building skills are certainly evident in how the ILEN was reconstructed there. The Meitheal Mara community boatyard in Cork is another area of activity.

THE SKILLS OF A BOATYARD IN EVIDENCE AS NANEEN IS LOWERED INTO THE WATER AT KILRUSHThe skills of a boatyard in evidence as restored Dublin Bay 21 Naneen is lowered into the water at Kilrush

There are courses in boat building offered at Third Level Institutes and voluntarily by sailing and boat clubs, but the passing on of skills and recruitment of apprentices does seem to be an issue. When there is a special boat project underway it can attract a lot of public attention which can feed into an awakening of interest in the skills. That point was made to me by Steve Morris who led the revival of the Dublin Bay 21 Naneen at Kilrush Boatyard in County Clare. When she was launched, he told me that the project would leave behind interest in the skills and referred to the problems which Afloat readers and Podcast listeners have identified.

Listen to Steve Morris on the Podcast below

Tom MacSweeney

About The Author

Tom MacSweeney

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Tom MacSweeney writes a weekly column for Afloat.ie. He also presents the maritime radio programme This Island Nation on community radio stations around Ireland.

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