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Displaying items by tag: Currach

On what type of boat did the original settlers of Ireland arrive?

They probably came over 10,000 years ago and began populating the coastal regions.

Could they have come on some type of sailing currach?

The Currach Association of Ireland has been discussing the historic aspects of Ireland’s most iconic boat as they focus on ensuring its protection and preservation for the future. From the paintings of Robert O’Flaherty’s classic film ‘Man of Aran’ through photographs and films, the currach identifies maritime ‘Irishness’ in a way few other symbols achieve.

EXPERIMENTING WITH A SAILING CURRACH VERSION ON THE BOYNEExperimenting with a Sailing Currach version on the River Boyne

“People assume that because they are iconic, with the imagery they have, that the currachs will always be there, but will they, if nothing is done to ensure their future?” That is the focus of the Association.

"Could the original settlers to Ireland have come on some type of sailing currach, 10,000 years ago?"

There is a passion amongst those who love currachs which is uplifting to experience.

They are proud of their boats and the Irish maritime history and culture they resonate. Martin O’Donoghue is one of the leaders who outlines how and why it was founded on my Podcast this week and that it is particularly interested to hear where currachs are used.

CURRACH ASSOCIATION OF IRELAND PRESERVING CURRACHSThe Currach Association of Ireland are preserving Currachs

I was fascinated to hear Claidhigh O’Gibne talk about the research and development of the Boyne sailing currach, made from traditional skin-on-frame. That reminded me of interviewing Tim Severin on television many years ago when he was recreating St.Brendan’s leather boat journey across the Atlantic.

“We are people of the sea, it is our heritage. We must know about our history and skin boats are that history. It is important for young people to understand our history and culture of the sea.” Claidhigh said. He talked about the making of leather sails, the challenge of handling them on a boat and getting that boat to sail.

“The public view is of black boats that all seem alike, but few boats are as varied. There’s enough interest and activity related to currachs going on around the entire island of Ireland, but we have to be certain of preserving their iconic culture and history,” says Martin O’Donoghue on behalf of the Currach Association.


Published in Tom MacSweeney
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Traditional Irish currachs will compete in a Spanish rowing race next week and the crews also hope to will visit the Galician Naomhog exhibition dedicated to the memory of the late poet Danny Sheehy.

Naomhoga Chorcaigh is taking six currachs to Santander next week for a trial version of “Navigatio Santander” – a 22-km rowing race being developed in the fashion of Cork’s Ocean to City Event in Spain.

After the race, the boats will be taken to Vigo where the group that includes Drascombe and traditional boat sailor Jack O'Keefe will visit the Naomhog exhibition reported by Afloat here.

If the weather allows – the currachs will be rowed from Vigo to A Guarda to participate in the 14th Encontro de Embarcationes de Galicia. More here.

As Afloat readers will know, A Guarda is where Danny Sheehy was lost – and the Cork crew intend to pay their respects.

Published in Historic Boats

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.

Currach GobnaitLiam Holden (in foreground), and Breandán Moriarty are among crew of the Camino by Sea voyage now repairing the vessel in Spain, and it will be put on display in either Vigo or in Santiago de Compostella

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.

Gobnait CurrachAn 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

“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.

Published in Historic Boats
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Currachs are important to preserving the maritime history and culture of an island nation a seminar about these iconic boats was told in Cork Harbour today reports Tom MacSweeney. The seminar on the antiquity and sustainability of currachs was part of the Seafest maritime festival in the city.

Martin O'Donoghue of the Currach Association said that currachs had become part of leisure boating interest which had increased their popularity but there is also a huge educational and cultural aspect which is important to keeping the maritime importance of an island nation to the attention of the present generation.

There are speakers and people attending from around the country and from Norway.

Currach LectureThe Cork seminar on the antiquity and sustainability of currachs was part of Seafest

Published in Cork Harbour
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The keen November sailors of Crosshaven, Dun Laoghaire, Howth and Bangor weren’t the only ones to get a bonus afloat from the weekend’s almost freakish sunshine before the first real hints of winter arrived today writes W M Nixon. The Cork city currach club Naomhoga Chorcai - a sub-group of that remarkable all-encompassing Leeside institution Meithal Mara – undertook a friendly invasion of the sublime yet often secret waterways of Ireland's southeast in the ideal weather window, and they neatly fitted in a complex yet worthwhile programme.

Graiguenamanagh bridge2 1Starting port – Graiguenamanagh in County Killkenny with its famous bridge. Photo: W M Nixon 

barrow trip map3Secret waterways – the Cork currachs rowed along the Kilkenny-Carlow border on the River Barrow from Graiguenamanagh to overnight at New Ross, and then went up-country next day by the River Nore to the hidden port of Inistiog

barrow trip okeeffe4Jack O’Keeffe at Tinnahinch on Tybot with Alan MacNamidhe’s guide dog Pippa

They had themselves a fine old time in the last of the Autumn colours, rowing down the River Barrow from Graiguenamanagh with four locks of the Barrow Navigation to negotiate before overnighting at New Ross, and then next day rowing back up the Barrow again in Sunday’s sunshine to take a left into the River Nore, with a brisk final pluck upstream to finish their inland voyaging at Inistioge.

barrow trip diamond5A new currach-rowing waterway is found deep in Ireland’s southeast. Photo: John Diamond

barrow trip6What’s to be found round the next bend in the river? There’s only way one way to find out….Photo: Jack O’Keeffe

With five currachs and organizer Jack O’Keeffe’s Drascombe Coaster Tybot as mother-ship to make up a tidy flotilla crewed by a total of 26 voluntary rowers plus Pippa, friendly guide-dog to blind oarsman Alan MacNamidhe, the logistics alone would have defeated many larger organisations.

But Naomhaga Chorcai seem to think as one, and act in unison and effortless co-operation to get boats and people here, there and wherever else is necessary with a minimum of fuss, leaving no trace.

barrow trip7Even a rusty railway bridge is brought to life by the vivid sunshine. Photo: Jack O’Keeffe

They have returned to Cork with an abiding impression of a region in which rich farmland is intercut by river valleys of perfection, the winding waterways enlivened every so often by going through steep tree-lined gaps in the hills.

The smooth running of this friendliest of invasions was made possible by warm hospitality in every place visited, and full encouragement from all background organisations involved, with Naomhoga Chorcai particularly wishing to thank Waterways Ireland, Kennedy Boutique Hotel, The Otter Inistioge, Donnelly’s Pub, Kilkenny CC, New Ross Marina, New Ross Port, Graiguenamanagh RC, and New Ross RC AOK Soup Kitchen.

Published in Historic Boats
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Glen Hansard, Brendan Begley, Liam Holden and Brendan Moriarty were on The Late Late Show this past Friday evening (16 November) to talk their incredible adventure rowing and sailing a traditional curragh to Spain.

The ‘modern day Celtic odyssey’ is the subject of a new documentary, The Camino Voyage, that had its Irish premiere earlier this year. Footage from the expedition was also featured on TG4 in the spring of 2017.

Hansard, an Oscar-winning songwriter and frontman of rock band The Frames, tells Late Late host Ryan Tubridy how his five weeks on board the Naomhóig na Tinte along the coast of northern Spain sparked a reconnection with his sense of what it means to be Irish.

It also inspired a feeling of ‘meitheal’ with the late Danny Sheehy and his Kerry crew mates — the same spirit of community that’s seen in the Meitheal Mara boat-building collective in Cork.

The 20-minute interview is available for viewers in Ireland to watch back on the RTÉ Player till Sunday 16 December.

Published in Historic Boats
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In July of this year, a group of adults arrived in the boatyard at Meitheal Mara in Crosses Green in the heart of Cork City to learn about a proposed new boat-building programme. For 25 years now Meitheal Mara has been engaging with community groups all over Cork and working with disadvantaged and socially excluded individuals, providing them with boat-building and woodwork training. In a slightly new departure from this, in the summer of 2018, Meitheal Mara began a boat-building programme with a group of people living in direct provision.

The group of prospective boat-builders that arrived in Meitheal Mara’s workshop that day were a diverse bunch of people, coming from all over the world, and bringing with them a broad range of skills and experience. While some of them had prior experience of working with their hands, having previously worked in engineering and in construction, for others this was their first time doing anything of this nature. However, while they differed in their skill levels they all shared a similar interest in and passion for the work. Every week the workshop was filled with high motivation, great enthusiasm and fierce concentration to create a brilliantly finished vessel. Séamus O’Brien, Meitheal Mara’s workshop manager, described the group as ‘mad keen to learn’. He admits that at the beginning he wasn’t sure of how well the project would work. ‘Normally groups come to the workshop with their own project worker, someone to recruit and motivate the participants. In this case, we had to go to the accommodation centres ourselves to try to spread the word about the project.’ While this meant a good deal of additional work for the Meitheal Mara staff, Séamus is satisfied that all of this work paid off. ‘The project was a lovely experience. We all gained a lot from it.’

The boat-building course was part of a project entitled ‘Making a Connection through Currachs’, funded by the Heritage Council as part of the European Year of Cultural Heritage. Through their regular weekly participation, the group got to know every single step of the currach-build process, from cleaning and prepping the hazel rods to tarring the skin of the boat. The project also gave the group an awareness of a significant element of the cultural and maritime heritage of their new country of residence. It was clear to Séamus that this element of the currach-build intrigued the participants. ‘They were all very curious and really interested in our culture as well. They asked lots of questions about the currach all through the project’.

In fact, as part of Heritage Week in August, these novice boat-builders hosted members of the public at an Open Day in Meitheal Mara, demonstrating their newly acquired skills and knowledge to members of the public.

Now their boat a Dunfanaghy-style currach is completed and ready to be launched. On one of their last sessions in the workshop, the group sat down together to try to choose a name for their boat. There were lots of different suggestions in a lot of different languages but in the end, the boat-builders decided that an Irish name for their traditional Irish boat was most fitting and so ‘Bád Chorcaí’ (Cork Boat) was selected.

Bád Chorcaí will be launched at Lapps Quay pontoon at 4 pm on Tuesday 16th October. The boat will be joined on the water by Meitheal Mara’s fleet of Dunfanaghy currachs so that the boat-builders, their families and all of their supporters will have a chance to experience currach rowing.

Published in Historic Boats
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There’s something about the magnificent West Coast of Ireland that produces larger-than-life characters of prodigious energy writes W M Nixon. And James Cahill of Mayo is one of them. Way back in 1974, he sailed round Ireland in a 13ft 6ins clinker-built open sailing dinghy, sometimes with a friend as crew, sometimes single-handed. Whatever about the size or otherwise of the ship’s complement, it was all done without any support vessel whatever.

Then he got the idea of the Atlantic triangle cruise, so he built himself a handsome and hefty steel cruiser for the project, and he did it. And by the time he returned, there was a Cahill family in the making, so he settled back again on the shores of Clew Bay, and buckled down to domesticity and work.

But with that extra Cahill energy, he also found the time and space for other things. Thus when he had ascertained that there are thirteen different identifiable types of traditional skinned-hull curachs to be found in Ireland (he spells it with just the one “r”), he set to and built one of each himself, to be preserved for us all in his own private collection of thirteen curachs.

james cahill2
James Cahill bringing his 13ft 6ins Ireland-circumnavigating dinghy in alongside the late Tad Minish’s S&S-designed Finisterre yawl Kiff at Murrisk Pier on Clew Bay in 1978. Photo: W M Nixon

So although he now also has something of a flotilla of larger more modern craft, the curachs have always had a special place in his heart. And when he heard that a book of the complete story of the curach had been written by the former Principal of the Sligo Institute of Technology Dr Brendan Caulfield – and in Irish too, which is very rare for a maritime book – he decided the world should know more about it, so he forwarded us a copy, and obligingly included a review-cum-guide in Irish and English by Dr Caulfield’s son Oisin.

We’ll let Oisin’s review speak for itself, as he makes some unexpected points of special interest. Bur we can’t let it go that Dr Caulfield assesses that there are fourteen different identifiable Irish curach types, which is good news for those of us who might incline to be superstitious about James Cahill’s reckoning of thirteen.

Curach book cover3
This definitive guide to the Irish curach is a rare example of a maritime book entirely in Irish


Curaigh na hÉireann – a stair agus a scéal.
Breandán Mac Conamhna
Foilsitheoir Cló Iar Chonnachta

Is stair mhuirí chósta iarthair na hÉireann í an saothar tábhachtach seo, scríofa i nGaeilge, a fhiosraíonn an pháirt láirneach atá ag an gcurach in oidhreacht mhuirí na hÉireann. Is iar-stiúirtheoir é an t-údar ar IT Shligigh, a chaith roinnt maith bliana ar an staidéar seo, agus leabhar eile foilsithe aige cheana fhéin faoin gcurach óna áit dhúchais fhéin ar chósta thuaidh Mhaigh Eo.

Ríomhann an leabhar stair an churaigh, ó na tagairtí clasaiceacha agus ó na hAnnála is luaithe, tríd na himmrámha agus faoi “impireacht an churaigh” timpeall an Mhuir Éireann le linn na Ré Dorcha, go dtí forbairt an churaigh traidisiúnta san naoú haois déag. Déanann sé cur síos ar a thábhacht mar an príomhshoitheach iascaireachta ar feadh breis agus céad bliain, agus leanann sé a fhorbairt agus a áit i bpobal chósta an iarthair go dtí an lá atá inniu ann.

In éacht suntasach de scoláireacht nua, cuireann sé béim ar an bpáirt riachtanach a ghlac oifigí fórsaí armtha na Breatainne i fhorbairt an churaigh traidisiúnta, ag cur na teicnící agus ábhair na Réabhlóide Tionsclaíochta i bhfeidhm ar dhearadh Nua Aoise na gCloch, de chiseán caoladóireacht clúdaithe le seithí. Go háirithe, léiríonn sé gurb é an Ginearál Affleck a bhí freagrach as garmain sáfa agus tairní iarann a thabhairt isteach; agus do cheap Lieutenant Traxton den Chabhlach Ríoga ar an gclúdach canbhás tarráilte. Bhí an nuálaíocht seo thar a bheith tábhachtach, mar gheall ar a thoradh eacnamaíochta; ina dhiaidh, bhí na teaghlaigh bhochta ar chósta an iarthair abálta líon a shaothrú chun clúdach an churaigh a thóigeáil, in áit an praghas ró-ard a n-íoc ná aon bheitheach a bhí acu a mharú chun a sheithe a fháil. Teasbánann an t-údar – trí léiriú mionsonraithe ar an gcomhchoibhneas atá ann idir na chineál curaigh atá ann leis na rannóga stairiúla de Gharda Chósta na Breatainne – go raibh an Gharda Chósta freagrach as an dearadh nua a scaipeadh agus a chur chun cinn ar fud an chósta, i gcúnamh mór do na pobail bochta. Leanann sé scaipeadh an churaigh nua trí anailís ar an athrú a tháinig ar an mheáinchriú de réir rannóga an Gharda Chósta, foinsithe ó na tuairiscí iascaireachta agus ón Gharda Chósta ón naoú haois déag.

Sa dara chuid den leabhar, tá suirbhé iomlán de gach saghas de churaigh atá ann inniu, agus curachán na Bóinne chomh maith, le saibhreas mór de stair mhuirí agus sóisialta, léirithe i ngach áit le grianghraif stairiúla. Tá téarmaíocht áitiúil a mbaineann leis an gcurach bailithe ag an údar ar a thaisteal go gach port an churaigh ar chósta an iarthair, agus tá taifead déanta aige de i ngach caibidil. Críochnaíonn an leabhar le cúpla aguisín, le pleananna mionsonraithe de gach saghas de churaigh, agus treoir praiticiúil chun curach a thóigeáil.

Ba chóir don leabhar seo a bheith I leabharlann gach duine a bhfuil suim acu i stair mhuirí na hÉireann. Mar gheall ar an saibhreas atá sna foclóirí de téarmaíocht áitiúil nach bhfuil ar fail in aon áit eile, bheadh suim ag scoláirí na Gaeilge ann chomh maith.

Aran curach4
Is this the definitive curach? The book’s detailed analysis of the Aran Curach is typical of the devoted scholarship which has gone into compiling a unique history.

This important book is a maritime history of the west coast of Ireland, written in the Irish language, which explores the central role played by the curach in Ireland’s maritime heritage. The author, a former director of IT Sligo, has devoted many years to this study, having already published a book on the curach on the north Mayo coast, where he was born.

The book traces the history of the curach, from the earliest classical and annalistic records, through the immrámha and the Dark Age “empire of the curach” around the Irish Sea, to the development of the traditional curach in the nineteenth century. It explores its importance as the primary fishing craft on the west coast for over a century, and follows its development and its place in coastal communities to the present day.

In a significant contribution of original scholarship, it highlights the central role played by officers of the British armed forces in the development of the traditional curach, in applying the techniques and materials of the industrial revolution to the Neolithic design of a hide-covered wicker basket. In particular, it shows how General Affleck was responsible for introducing sawn gunwales and iron nails, and how Lieutenant Traxton of the Royal Navy was responsible for the introduction of a tarred canvas cover.

Before that, valuable animal skins had to be used. This crucial innovation, which had far-reaching economic consequences, meant that impoverished families of the western seaboard could grow flax to make linen which was then tarred when the boat was covered, rather than being faced with the prohibitive expense of slaughtering whatever livestock they possessed for their hides.

The author proceeds to show – by a detailed demonstration of the correlation of extant curach types with historical UK coastguard districts – how the coastguard was responsible for the introduction and promotion of the new curach design along the western seaboard, in a material contribution to the well-being of its disadvantaged communities. The propagation of the new design is traced by an analysis of the change in average crew size by coastguard district, sourced from nineteenth century fisheries reports.

The second part of the book consists of a comprehensive survey of all the extant curach types, as well as the Boyne coracle, supplemented by a wealth of maritime and social history, illustrated throughout with historical images. Local Irish words of curach terminology, sourced by the author in his travels through all the curach ports of the west coast, are recorded in each chapter.

The book concludes with a set of appendices, containing detailed plans of every curach type, and practical instructions for building a curach. This book deserves a place on the shelves of everyone with an interest in Irish maritime history. Because of its wealth of local vocabulary which is unrecorded anywhere else, it will also be of interest to scholars of the Irish language.

Published in Historic Boats
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#CaminoVoyage - Saturday night (10 March) saw the Irish premiere of The Camino Voyage as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

The documentary follows a motley crew including a writer, an artist a stonemason and two musicians — including Oscar-winner Glen Hansard — as they embarked on a 2,500km odyssey by currach from Ireland to northern Spain, following the trail of the Camino de Santiago.

The 2016 adventure in the Naomhóig na Tinte was previously broadcast on TG4 and covered on by our own Winkie Nixon, but this past weekend marked the first time the international feature-length version had been shown on the big screen in Ireland.

Crew members Brendan Moriarty, Brendan Begley and Liam Holden were in attendance with director Dónal Ó Ceilleachair at the Irish Film Institute on Saturday for the screening, which also served as a tribute to fellow crew Danny Sheehy (Domhnall Mac Síthigh), who died in 2017 while sailing the Naomhóg south to Portugal.

The Camino Voyage will have its next Irish screening as the opening film of the Dingle International Film Festival next week on Thursday 22 March, and can be seen in Westport on 13 April as part of the Celtic Camino Festival.

Published in Maritime TV
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#Currach - The first of four new community-built currachs launches from Inishbofin this afternoon (Sunday 30 April), as Galway Bay FM reports.

Young people from the Connemara island have been heavily involved in the traditional boat-building project, funded via the Coca-Cola Thank You Fund for voluntary groups.

And they will see the fruit of their hard work take to the water from the Old Pier at 1pm today, coinciding with the final day of this year’s Inishbofin Arts Festival.

Published in Historic Boats
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