When west Kerry poet, farmer and sailor Danny Sheehy lost his life during the last stages of a “camino by sea” off the Spanish coast two years ago, his fellow oarsmen were so heartbroken they could barely think about the boat that had saved them writes Lorna Siggins.
There is also a tradition that if a currach or naomhóg loses crew to the elements, it does not launch again.
However, the naomhóg Naomh Gobnait is now being restored by Sheehy’s fellow seafarers, with the support of a Galician cultural association in northern Spain.
As Afloat reported in 2017, the 66-year-old award-winning writer had rowed and sailed the Naomh Gobnait on the Camino na Sáile. The three-summer voyage from Ireland to northern Spain completed in late June 2016 was documented by film-maker Dónal Ó Céilleachair.
"There is also a tradition that if a currach or naomhóg loses crew to the elements, it does not launch again"
Some of the crew then decided to continue to navigate the Galician and Portuguese coasts during the summer of 2017, but the boat capsized when caught by a wave close to the Minho river estuary on the Spanish-Portuguese border.
Musician Liam Ó Maonlaí of the Hothouse Flowers, west Kerry musician and oarsman Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich and Co Cork boatbuilder Padraig Ua Duinnín stayed with the upturned craft, along with Sheehy, but he was taken ill and did not survive.
Ó Beaglaoich, who has recently returned from Vigo where the reconstruction is taking place, said that at first everyone had wanted to burn the naomhóg.
“I pleaded for the naomhóg to be saved, as it saved all our lives and it brought Danny back to shore,” he said. “And it came to shore itself in perfect condition. It won’t go back to sea, but it will be a symbol of Irish-Galician links.”
Artist Liam Holden, who built the original craft and is now working on the rebuild with Ó Duinnín, said the boat had been badly damaged from Sheehy’s seat up. However, it is hoped to have most of the repair work completed this week (June 18).
“It is like an emotional healing to see it coming together again,” Ó Beaglaoich said.
“At the time of the capsize, the boat looked like how I felt, but now it looks like how I am feeling now.”
“The naomhóg has Danny written all over it,” he said.
Better-known in his native Kerry as Domhnall Mac Síthigh, Sheehy won Oireachtas awards for his poetry and storytelling and was a broadcaster on Raidió na Gaeltachta and RTÉ Radio.
Sheehy had previously circumnavigated Ireland in a naomhóg with Ger Ó Ciobháin in 1975 and also rowed to Iona in Scotland, while also undertaking several sailing voyages west and north.
An exhibition about the reconstruction of Naomh Gobnait has also been put together with the support of Buxa, the Galician association of industrial heritage, the Museum of the Sea in Galicia and Galician Television.
“The boat is fated to become the symbol of the Santiago pilgrimage by sea, consolidating at the same time the historical relationships between Ireland and Galicia,” the exhibition records.
It also marks the essential sea and shore support provided to the Camino crew of Sheehy, Ó Beaglaoich, Holden, Breandán Moriarty and musician Glen Hansard.
Ó Beaglaoich said that while the plan was to display Naomh Gobnait in Vigo, he would also love to see it exhibited at the Irish College in Santiago de Compostela, which educated hundreds of Irish clerical students from 1605 after the flight of the earls and the later imposition of Penal Laws.