23rd July

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

Bright future for 19th century ‘mariners’ church

Pat Sweeney, former President of the Maritime Institute of Ireland

Looking from the lighthouse at the end of the East Pier in Dún Laoghaire landward, the town skyline is dominated by two church spires. On the right is St Michaels and on the left is that of the former Church of Ireland place of worship erected in 1837 to serve the needs of the maritime community, especially the crews of ships in the harbour, known locally as ‘the Mariners.

Mariner's Church, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin. Photo Eogan Ganley

The Mariners' Church, Dún Laoghaire                                                                                                                      Photo Eoghan Ganley

An 1835 document speaks of ‘the want of an Episcopal Church contiguous to the Harbour in Kingstown, for the benefit of the sailors in men-of-war, merchant ships, fishing boats and yachts frequenting it.’ The church opened in 1837 and the Deed of Trust laid down that one-third of the seating be reserved for seafarers; the rector was provided with a boat and crew by the harbour master so that he could visit vessels at anchor.

Read more: Bright future for 19th century ‘mariners’ church

Bantry Bay longboat for Cork City

Diarmaid Murphy, Atlantic Challenge

Meithal Mara, a city based organisation better known for exploits with currachs, is the most recent group to join the Atlantic Challenge Ireland family and is in the process of completing a longboat at their premises at Crosses Green, Cork.

The group intend to be on the water by June, in time for the ‘Ocean to City’ race when they will be up against other longboat crews from Bantry, Waterford and Antrim. In the meantime during the build, the crew will travel to Bantry and Waterford to gain valuable experience on board other longboats to learn the necessary skills to row and sail these dynamic vessels.

International crew in Genoa overtaking the Dutch team

 International crew in Genoa overtaking the Dutch team

2006 was a very busy and successful year for Atlantic Challenge Ireland, especially when the Bantry-based Irish crew were victorious in Genoa, Italy, winning the prestigious Atlantic Challenge International contest with style. There were sixteen boats in the contest with representatives from over twenty different countries.

Read more: Bantry Bay longboat for Cork City

Irish maritime history sails by

Shrouded in morning mist Le Aoife and ILV Granuaile escort Asgard II, Dunbrody and Jeanie Johnson to the start line of the 2005 Tall Ships Race off Hook Head, Co Waterford

Shrouded in morning mist LE Aoife (just visible far left) and ILV Granuaile escort Asgard II, Dunbrody and Jeanie Johnson to the start line of the 2005 Tall Ships Race off Hook Head, Co Waterford. Photo Gillian Mills/Inshore Ireland

Early on a misty morning on July 9, more than 80 of the world's most spectactular tall ships slipped anchor at Waterford and began their passage down the River Suir, making their way past Dunmore East to open water at Hook Head and to the start of the 2005 Tall Ships race.

The parade of sail was led by Ireland's three  tall ships: Asgard II, Dunbrody and Jeanie Johnson, representing a "magic moment in Irish maritime history," remarked Capt Michael Coleman, retired Cork Harbour Pilot and master of Jeanie Johnson.

Seventy young Irish sail trainees took part on the fist leg to Cherbourg, France. The race continued on to Newcastle, England, and finally across the North Sea to Fredikstad, Norway. 

Safeguarding Ireland’s maritime heritage

Bloomsday Regatta 2005, Dalkey Sound. Photo Gillian Mills/Inshore Ireland

Bloomsday Regatta 2005, Dalkey Sound, Dublin Bay. Photo Gillian Mills/Inshore Ireland

Beatrick Kelly, Heritage Council

Ireland’s maritime heritage is a critical element of this nation’s well-being. In addition to its intrinsic value, our seas and coasts generate important economic activities such as ports and harbours, fishing, aquaculture, as well as providing space for recreation and tourism. The coastline is home for much of the population and is shared with by many plant and animal species, reports Beatrice Kelly, Heritage Council.

Over the past year and a half, the marine and coastal committee of the Heritage Council has been drafting policies for Ireland’s maritime heritage, so as to ensure that all elements - natural, cultural and built - can be maintained and enhanced for future generations.

Read more: Safeguarding Ireland’s maritime heritage

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