The wind is at last from the west, the easterlies of the longest winter in memory have finally relented, and it’s time to be in the west of Ireland and Connemara, time to eavesdrop on two senior boat restorers as they yarn about the challenges they face, and where it might all go writes W M Nixon.
Dickie Gomes of Strangford Lough has been custodian and skipper of the 36ft–Ainmara for more than fifty years. She was designed and built by John B Kearney in Ringsend in Dublin in 1912. The other boat custodian is Paddy Murphy, who once upon a time was Ringsend-based, but he now lives in far Renvyle in northwest Connemara. For many years he has been grappling – both in Dublin and in Connemara - with the challenge of bringing the 1916-built 45ft Isle of Man fishing boat Aigh Vie back to life.
Both boats have more stories entwined about them than you’d think possible. John Kearney was a foreman shipwright in Dublin Port, but he wanted to be a yacht designer. And he is so described on his gravestone in Glasnevin in Dublin, his wish fulfilled when he died aged 88.
"John Kearney was a foreman shipwright in Dublin Port, but he wanted to be a yacht designer"
He was one tough little man. So determined was he to design and build Ainmara to prove himself that, after he’d finished his hard day in the Dublin Port workshops, he would return home across the Liffey to Ringsend by the little local ferry, and then set to work every night, building Ainmara without any power tools, with his tasks illuminated by oil lamps. He had the job finished in 18 months.
Aigh Vie, as we’ve recounted here in Afloat.ie, was the result of an anonymous gift to the captain of an Isle of Man sailing trawler which was owned by others. That trawler – the Wanderer - was the first vessel to reach the stricken ocean liner Lusitania after she’d been hit by torpedoes from a German submarine off the Old Head of Kinsale during the Great War in 1915.
The trawler captain William Ball and his crew were heroic in saving something like 160 lives. And within a year, this mysterious sum of money appeared with a firm of solicitors in his home port of Peel, with the request that Captain Ball commission the local boat-building company to construct his own dreamship. The Aigh Vie was the result.
Thanks to the uniquely informative Cormac Lowth, we knew that Paddy Murphy’s recently-launched vessel was berthed at a quay on Ballynakill Harbour. Nevertheless it was one of those moments of purest serendipity when we settled into our place for the weekend while still in the distinctly crisp weather of late April, and there right below the window was Aigh Vie, at Letterfrack Pier glowing in the evening sunlight.
Next day, the two great men, Dickie Gomes and Paddy Murphy, got together without any pre-arrangement. It was something special being in their company. It was five years since last they met, at a time when the Aigh Vie project was still at an early stage. But they’re so precisely on the same wavelength that there was no need for re-introductions - empathy was always present.
Paddy still has much to do, but it was inspirational nevertheless. He has his own way of doing things, yet beneath all the signs of Work in Progress, there was much evidence that a very attractive layout is developing below, while on deck the concept speaks for itself.
"It is a drumbeat which only a few can hear clearly enough to follow, but those that do sometimes follow it for very many years"
But to understand it all, to grasp the deeper meaning of why people take old boats and work all hours to breathe new life into them, you have to be of a strange brotherhood, a brotherhood which walks and sails to the beat of a different drum. It is a drumbeat which only a few can hear clearly enough to follow, but those that do sometimes follow it for very many years.