18th December

Rathcoursey hookers: gone but not forgotten

Darina Tully
 
Situated on the eastern side of Cork Harbour is the quiet haven of Rathcoursey Creek. In the 19th and early 20th Century, a thriving fishing community operated its own distinctive style of boats. Whilst very few photographs are known to exist, the remains of some of these boats can still be seen within the creek at low tide.
 
4.2 Rathcorsey-Hookers
 
These hookers were similar in shape to Galway hookers - approximately 40 feet in length with a pronounced tumblehome in the hull and a distinctive raked stern.
 
The fishery is still remembered locally and has been preserved for posterity by Norcott Roberts of the Traditional Boats of Ireland Project who has identified four wrecks.
 
Historical reference
Despite being laid up 60 to 80 years ago these boats have survived through local folklore and are remembered as: Katherine, Paris, Flora and Anne and are verified in historical material.
 
An article from The Whitegate Aghada Society journal names the Paris, Aine and Catherine, whilst other documents mention Flora, Anna and Paris. Lloyds Lists for 1906 refers to Flora: ‘a hooker of 22 tons: built Rathcoursey 1885 for Alex Clark’.
 
These hookers are known to have fished as far away as Bantry but also operated in the Cork harbour area as general cargo boats. Smaller boats (‘beamers’ or ‘travellers’) also operated from Rathcoursey.
 
Their last ‘hey day’ was World War I when fish prices were at a premium; a Rathcoursey Hooker is also known to have picked up survivors of the Lusitania. The last of these boats were wrecked in a storm, the year of which remains unclear although a few possible dates are given from 1924 onwards.
 
In 1996 the Irish Maritime Archaeology Society undertook a survey of two: Catherine and Paris. Historian Cormac Lowth wrote a detailed description of the bow assemblage, stern and rudder. Interestingly, features identified are similar to those shown in one of the few known photographs and again on an early 19th Century artist engraving.
 
A reference to Paris was also found in the local school’s folklore collection where one story describes smuggling and another of a voyage to Roaring Water Bay.
 
In the 1940s, Rathcoursey had two shops, a pub and attracted many summer visitors but by the 1970s all amenities had closed. The area is now undergoing a revival, however, and is now a suburb of Cork; the nearby harbour of Ballinacurra has been redeveloped as an apartment complex.
 
This rapid pace of change is being repeated around the coast and makes the recording of local maritime heritage all the more the necessary.
 
Any information on the Rathcoursey hookers would be gratefully received by the author at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Hobbling has turned to skiff racing in Dublin Bay

Darina Tully

Clinker skiff type boats were once one of the most numerous type of working boats along the east coast; however in Dublin Bay today, their numbers still fishing are down to single figures. Most of the skiffs found along the east coast today are engaged in racing. In 1874, historian E.W. Holdsworth noted that ‘The smaller boats employed for the line-fishery are of the same style as the Norway yawl, sharp at both ends.’The few remaining skiffs still fishing Bullock Harbour, Dublin Bay. Photo Darina Tully

The few remaining skiffs still fishing Bullock Harbour, Dublin Bay. Photo Darina Tully

Skiff racing has its origins in the occupation of hobbling. Hobblers were freelance pilots, and competition was strong to be first to board the approaching ships. Not only did the successful hobbler get a payment to pilot the ships into harbour, they might also be awarded the work of discharging the ship in the port.

Read more: Hobbling has turned to skiff racing in Dublin Bay

Steeped in history and sailing into the future

Jehan Ashmore

Dun Laoghaire Harbour has it origins as a ‘harbour of refuge’ − built to provide essential shelter for sailing ships using Dublin port. Captain Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame regarded Dublin Bay as one of the most dangerous in the world. 

Built of granite from a quarry in nearby Dalkey, the harbour took 25 years to construct. Once completed in 1842 it acquired the accolade of being the largest artificially built harbour in the world.

'Eithne' (1893) tacking in Dún Laoghaire Harbour in 2008. Owned by Séan Cullen and Neil Keaveney and currently undergoing restoration, her penultimate owner was the late Capt Kevin O'Neill, assistant Dún Laoghaire Harbour master (1990). Photo Gillian Mills

'Eithne' (1893) tacking in Dún Laoghaire Harbour. Owned by Séan Cullen and Neil Keaveney and currently undergoing restoration, her penultimate owner was the late Capt Kevin O'Neill, assistant Dún Laoghaire Harbour master (1990). Photo Gillian Mills

Dun Laoghaire, or the ‘fort of Laoire’ was also known as Kingstown for a while when the town was renamed in honour of a Royal visit in 1821.  It was also an important base for the Royal Navy’s ‘guard ships’ during the 1800s.

Read more: Steeped in history and sailing into the future

The river cots of the southeast coast

Darina Tully

Some of the least known boats in Ireland are those small flat-bottomed craft known as ‘cots’ that fish the upper reaches of tidal estuaries. While found on most Irish rivers, the use of cots is particularly strong on the rivers of the southeastDouble-ended Slaney River cots. Photo Darina Tully

Double-ended Slaney River cots. Photo Darina Tully

A few hundred cots are still used to fish the tidal stretches of the Slaney, Nore, Barrow, Suir and Blackwater rivers, each of which has its own distinctive style of cot. In a century that has seen dramatic changes in technology, traditional cot fishing has hardly changed at all. The cots are mainly used in the pursuit of salmon by snap, draft and, up to 2006, drift netting. They are also used to a lesser extent for eel fishing, reed collection and tending stake weirs.

Read more: The river cots of the southeast coast

The skin boat tradition in Ireland

Darina Tully

‘Currach’ or ‘curragh’, a boat peculiar to Ireland especially its western coast, used for local traffic, it is of great antiquity’, (Kemp 1976). A form of skin boat, the currach is still very much in use along the west coast of Ireland.

We have two thousand years of direct evidence of the use of skin boats in Ireland, and maritime archaeologists believe that such a long-standing tradition most probably stretches back to the Bronze Age in Europe. A gold model boat, part of the ‘Iron Age Broighter’ collection on display in the National Museum of Ireland, is widely interpreted as an ocean-going skin vessel.

We have accounts from the Early Christian monks of their journeys undertaken in skin boats, and later accounts of the building and use of currachs including those by Giraldus Cambresis (Gerald Of Wales) in 12th Century and Capt. Thomas Philips in the 17th Century. The recent historic period has numerous accounts of their use by early antiquarians and travellers in Ireland.

Read more: The skin boat tradition in Ireland

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