Author Archives: BoyneCurrach

Currach Association of Ireland Gathering – Kilkee 2023

The Galapagos Iguana

A great weekend was had by all in Kilkee last weekend, at the annual gathering of currachs, hosted so kindly by the Dixie and Kilkee Currach Club. On our arrival, the Atlantic waves could be heard crashing across the plateau of Liscannor grey slabs and into the pollock pools where so many go each morning go to swim. The colours of the rainbow stemming from the escaping mist grew deeper and clearer as a rogue cloud blackened on it approach from the Atlantic. Before we could take cover, a deluge of water came tumbling over the town. we scurried into the Stella Maris where we stayed for the night. A well-established hotel in the town square, where an artist successfully captured all its caricature by blending the craftmanship with gorgeous colour and natural light as if they had been influenced by the canvas of colour we had just experienced on our arrival.  The next day calm had returned to the skies and the sudden outbursts thrown about in the form of morning greets and along the road as we walked to the harbour was overwhelming not to mention a warm and much needed surprise. Anyway, we walked and talked all the way to the very ridge of the great expanse of flat stones, to the edge of the rolling ways that gushed and sucked all the energy around you. And just as we thought we had gone as far as one could go, a fear (man) shot past us in a pair of shorts and a peaked cap carrying a plastic bag as he went. The ground was flat all around us and as if the Atlantic came and sucked him out we could not for the life of us figure out where he went.  And just as we approached the ‘menopause mermaids’ (Ulster terminology I read in a book once) shot past us like the March hare from Alice in wonderland. Surprised and amused we struggled on, not wanting to be late for the takes on local currach fisher men, about to commence in the community hall.

On returning to the carpark, there he was, like a Galapagos Iguana basking in the sun with the bag open on the car bonnet offering samples of seaweed that he had just managed cut before the tide turned, to strangers like us to sample and talk. The hospitality continued with a fill of food and remarkable stories of men who live to fish for mackerel in tar covered currachs, out beneath the majestic cliffs of county Clare. The spin in the currach….. icing on the cake!

Thanks to Mairtín, Dixie and his gang of like-minded pirates. Go raibh mile agaibh go léir…..

WF Wakeman

While exhibiting the Boyne currach at the Galway festival this year, a man from An Spidéal quizzed me about an illustration he found while browsing the internet. I recognised the name under it as WF Wakeman. Wakeman was a travel writer from around the 1850s who spent a lifetime documenting the highways and byways of Ireland throughout and after the Great Famine. The drawing itself was done beside Arkin Castle (Caisleáin Aircín) on Aran Mór, Co Galway in 1857. He first travelled to the Aran Islands with John O’Donovan in 1837 at the age of 17, and thus began his great interest in the structure of the traditional currach. The man I just met who possessed the illustration had just completed an Aran currach himself and was at pains to compare the traditional boat he had made, with Wakeman’s version that he had drawn beneath one of Cromwell’s castles.

Firstly, Wakeman’s boat only had a single gunnel, similar to those found in the more northern regions of the country. Secondly, I notice (and I could be mistaken) that the bow is not pointed, but more rounded with possible woven strokes representing a wicker craft rather than the wooden ribs now used. Hornell records Hartshorne in his book ‘The Conquest of the North Atlantic’, published in 1853, stating that the currachs of the Aran Islands were still covered with animal hides around then. And finally, two rough lee boards lie in front of the boat indicating a sail may have been used.

All in all, it’s a great illustration and I look forward to getting the magnifying glass out to have a better look for a mast foot of some kind. Recently published colour photos of men landing fish from Tory Island at Downing Pier, Rosapenna, Co Donegal shows a fleet of 5 wicker currachs, two of which have masts and sails to boot and hidden behind a traditional wooden Drontheim. These can be seen in the infamous book Irish Folklore and are well worth a look.

But back to Wakeman….

His sketches are ok to be shown as the copyright has long since expired.

The second ever drawings of the Boyne Currach were also done for WF Wakeman in 1848 above a famous weir close to Navan, Co Meath. His third illustration that I know of, was done beneath the Battle of the Boyne monument of 1690, the location where the last Boyne Currachs ever fished.

The fourth account he gave was in Drogheda and he writes ‘Ireland represents some curious contrasts. For instance, upon one side of the bridge of Drogheda may be seen steamboats in all their luxurious completeness. On the other the currach, such as was probably in use amongst the builders of the cairns and cromleacs of Brú na Boinne.’ The fifth sketch that I know of is again in 1852 where he comments, ‘The Turf boats which here in Athlone dot the river are the rudest species of craft, except for the currachs formed with wattle covered in cowhide and are common above Lough Ree.’

It must have been hard to sit and draw antiquities when 8 million people were either dying or on the move. Perhaps Britain welcomed some good news from across the pond as a distraction to only hearing about McClintock’s search for Franklin’s failed Arctic expedition or the impending war about to break out in the Crimea. That saw 500,000 soldiers dead, 7000 of whom were Irish.

Slán, Currach abú!

The Home-coming…

Well…..the boat is home again and as the house slowly became quieter and quieter, I poured myself that glass of whiskey that I had promised myself and as I drank it with glee, I thought of that red-headed rat in the harbour wall, crying her heart out as she realises that the fat-laden cow has left for good. There is so much to say about everything that was learnt from spending the last 3 months in Dundalk bay.
This was one of the longest summer I’ll ever remember, or at least since I was a child anyway. We managed to get out sailing in the skin-boat about thirty times……but with all of the usual elements of wind and tides put aside, nothing could happened without the help and support of people who, in their own very busy lives, took time out to help make the project work. Be it enthusiasm, knowledge or brawn, each piece of help linked one particle to another to pull, what sometimes felt like, answers out of the rabbit’s arc. I learnt that you can repeatedly blind yourself with knowledge on a subject, so much so that the obvious becomes impossible to see, until someone else spots it out for you. That happened again and again this summer and it was because of this, that we had such a successful series of sea trials. Thanks to everyone for their good will and support. Thanks also to both Meath and Louth County Councils and to Indaver Ireland Ltd.  In the next few weeks we will be posting up a report about all that has been learnt this summer.

59km….3 days….6 currachers….

I was privileged, this year, to have my 11 year old daughter as co-pilot. It was her first time to travel from the boundary of the pale towards the sea with us in our little leather currachs. With a method I had learnt years earlier from her brother, Ruarcan, when he perched himself on the rim of the boat and paddled from the rear like an open canoe, while I on the other end, sculled happily and easily down the Boyne. As he got older and stronger I found it harder to keep up with his energy and strength and in a relentless battle of wills to keep the boat straight he would spin me like a cork if I said the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Caer found a far simpler method to temper my resolve and with a lot less energy involved she simply ducked me by lifting her weight forward and with a tip of her paddle from behind when I tried to remind her to paddle. After a few unexpected ducks I learnt to find other, more diplomatic ways to say the same thing. 15kms, 26kms and 18kms for three days, camping beneath some of the most magical locations I’ve ever known. To journey the Boyne in a vehicle is like changing channels on TV, dipping in and out of other people’s lives and experiences. But to travel the river in a leather wicker craft is the same as having hitched a ride with a time traveller.

William Wilde’s old map was quickly unfolded from the back of his book to find where we were on the river, by the bridges we climbed onto or rated its echo qualities from beneath. On reading his descriptions of brutal battles by men, long forgotten by history your respect for the rivers heritage becomes heightened by every mile.

We have it easy, in comparison to the well laboured shoulders we now find ourselves standing upon. Snaking through the dredged remains of the upper Boyne, the south west winds and crossing sun are the only implements available to alert us of the direction we are pointing towards, the river constantly throwing us an event from its past to ponder as we paddle; Gaelic lords and Norman alliances, fairy God battles or great voyages yet unspoken of. The river turns and a new century unfolds, back and forth like mist filled layers of important notes to be held in trust for the ones who have not yet come to pass.

The river sucks you away from the present noise filled world, to see it as it was, and for the few of us, still is, when consumed by the rhythmic noise, that of your paddle, your companions and the river poets’ ripples, that Wilde captured so elegantly in stories. The apple falls not far from the tree, as Oscar Wilde was a progeny of a well-seasoned oak whose roots began their immersion by the grassy banks of the Boyne.