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Kilrush Adds St Ayles Skiff to Shannon Estuary’s Growing Traditional Fleet

22nd February 2022
Steve Morris at the centre of the skiff-building group in Kilrush. Pandemic mask precautions are a good idea in any case when you’re using epoxy resins
Steve Morris at the centre of the skiff-building group in Kilrush. Pandemic mask precautions are a good idea in any case when you’re using epoxy resins

Kilrush may be best known internationally these days as the place where the Dublin Bay 21 fleet - originally from 1902 - is being re-born through the developing skills of the Steve Morris-led boat-building team in the south Clare harbour town.

But the local maritime group Seol Sionna have long been noted for their breadth of interests, and though their flagship continues to be the charismatic 25ft Shannon Hooker re-creation Sally O’Keeffe – one of the best-looking character boats in Ireland – the group’s members and associates take in a wide selection of craft, one of the more recent being a new-build gleoiteog – the Naomh Fanchea – which chimes very well with the spirit of the times as her auxiliary is an electric motor.

The St Ayles skiff concept is now well provenThe St Ayles skiff concept is now well proven

In recent months as pandemic regulations ease, Seol Sionna have added yet another dimension by building themselves a St Ayles skiff in one of Steve Morris’s sheds under the tutelage of Steve himself. Although the 22ft St Ayles design by Iain Oughtred has very specific origins at Fair Isle in the far north beyond Scotland, midway between the Orkneys and Shetland, the result – thanks to edge-glued marine ply clinker construction with just six planks per side – is a four-oared easily-handled craft of notable lightness, a more manageable proposition for a small group than the traditional 32ft Irish coastal rowing skiff.

The new Kilrush skiff starts to take shapeThe new Kilrush skiff starts to take shape

The new skiff ready for turning in Kilrush – any Viking would feel at home with this hull shapeThe new skiff ready for turning in Kilrush – any Viking would feel at home with this hull shape

For an organisation like Seaol Sionna, this offers the option of easy trailering to rowing and trad-sailing events at some distance from Kilrush. For although Kilrush undoubtedly feels like the hub of the universe when you’re actually there, other “less important” traditional boat centres tend to seem a long way away, and maintaining healthy interaction with them will be facilitated by a proper road trailer being part of the grant package which made the project possible.

The traditional classic Sally O’Keeffe slipping effortlessly along on a sunny Shannon Estuary evening   The traditional classic Sally O’Keeffe slipping effortlessly along on a sunny Shannon Estuary evening  

That said, most of the new boat’s activity will be in the Shannon Estuary, and as she is just about as different as possible in concept from the hefty but surprisingly swift Sally O’Keeffe, a certain level of competition can be expected in the local sailing waters round Scattery Island. The St Ayles boat may be primarily a rowing craft, but they can give a good account of themselves under sail, and the challenge is right there, ready and waiting.

Encouraging junior sailing talent at the helm – Sally O’Keeffe plays a central role in the maritime life of Kilrush.Encouraging junior sailing talent at the helm – Sally O’Keeffe plays a central role in the maritime life of Kilrush.

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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