Lough Erne Heritage is an organisation formed over two years ago to promote and preserve the history of the traditional boats of Lough Erne and in particular their uses in supporting the local population writes Fred Ternan. Many boats were designed and built for specific purposes, for example the boats built on Lough Erne were different from the boats built for the more sheltered waters of the riverine parts near Enniskillen. The main traffic was along and across the Lough and river and to the many islands which were inhabited.
Whilst the town of Enniskillen was being built and developed much of the building materials and fuel was brought in from surrounding areas of the Lough by water. Ballyshannon in Donegal Bay was the port for Enniskillen with slates being brought overland from there to Belleek and onward to Enniskillen by Lough Erne Cot. Building sand and turf for fuel was transported from the north shore of Lough Erne by Lough Erne, a distance of 22 miles by Lough Erne Cot. On Upper Lough Erne the cot was as much part of life as was the bicycle, wheel barrow or cart. Before the bridges were built and as Fermanagh is completely divided in two by the lough then the only way to get from one side to the other was by boat and to transport goods was to use the Lough Erne Cot. Some of the smaller Lough Erne Cots designed sometimes only to carry one person were gradually replaced by clinker built boats but sadly with the introduction of GRP all local production of traditional Lough Erne Traditional boats came to an end.
Fortunately since being set up, Lough Erne Heritage has been able to save a number of the wooden boats and one of its members, Gabriel Fitzpatrick whose father was a boat builder has restored them. One such boat was built in Enniskillen, possibly by Irvines the boat builders in 1925 and given to Lough Erne Heritage by Mr. John Madden, Hilton , Clones. It had been carefully stored in a shed and has now been restored.
When built in 1925 it was collected by Mr. Madden`s grandfather who then along with his two sons and over a period of two days rowed it all the way along Upper Lough Erne and up the Finn River to his home at Hilton, outside Clones in County Monaghan.
Mr Madden has also given his family`s three Snipe Class sailing dinghies to Lough Erne Heritage where they will be restored. These were sailed by himself, his father and other members of his family for a period in the 50s and 60s when the Snipe class was raced on a regular weekly basis at Crom, the home of yacht racing on Lough Erne, for a period of 15 to 20 years.
One of the Snipe dinghies was put on display at our Lough Erne Heritage display and Wooden Boat show during the period from 31st July to 5th August and featured in a BBC Newsline story.
Some of our restored boats also featured in the display as did boats from Lough Neagh and Ballynahinch. A part built Lough ERne Clinker boat was on display for part of the exhibition and when completed will be used to demonstrate how they could be sailed using a sprit sail. The sail and oars being the only form of propulsion until the introduction of reliable outboard engines.
Last year Lough Erne Heritage preserved the maritime history of Lough Erne by building two examples of the Lough Erne Cot, a vessel unique to Lough Erne and used there for possibly 2000 years. Following on from this cot racing was re-introduced, not having been seen since the 1880s. Races for cots were often held after the races for the large yachts, held at Crom, were completed. The crews of the yachts who would have travelled in their cots to participate would then race their cots for a cash prize. Regattas for cots and boats were also held in other parts of the lough and this year one of those , held at Knockninny was recreated.
By Sunday the 20th of August with two recreated regattas under our belt and champions established for Crom and Knockninny, the Lough Erne Heritage Upper Lough Erne Regatta for Lough Erne Cots was organised and was a very closely fought contest. All of these community regattas have been organised with the support of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council and the National Trust and we are delighted that as a result of this a further cot is being built by one of our members Liam Boyle to the same design. The regatta was televised for the BBC programme Home Ground and will be aired on Monday 4th September.
We had visitors and participants from Lough Neagh who brought with them some examples of the boats from other parts of Ireland which they replicate. Using these and our own traditional boats we organised the first Lough Erne Traditional Wooden Boat rally and we will with the support of other traditional boat groups throughout Ireland expand on this in the coming years.
Plans are already being made to organise these regattas next year with an additional one in Belturbet Co Cavan on the first Monday in August 2018. It is hoped to expand these regattas around the Erne system culminating each year in a final to establish the winners of the Lough Erne Heritage Trophy to be awarded the the overall champions.