Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Currach - A Symbol Of Ireland

The Irishman Greg Denieffe sends greetings for the new year:

“Athbhliain faoi Mhaise Duit!”

Greg got a very nice gift for Christmas. He writes:

My very good friend Seamus Keating and his wife Margaret gave me a beautiful Celtic Wood Carving for Christmas. Above you can see a picture of it in its presentation box and I thought the HTBS readers may like to know a little bit more about this boat type, “The Currach”.

According to “Currachs are heritage, culture, history, and athletics all in one; and the history of the Currach is as old as Ireland itself. The first written record comes from Julius Caesar in 100 BC and early Gaelic accounts speak of large ocean going sailing Currachs roving the North Atlantic. However, such a light and graceful craft were not only used on the sea and it is recorded that in 1602, O’Sullivan Beare, the Irish chieftain, quickly assembled Currachs to cross the Shannon to escape from the Earl of Thomond and his army.

“The origin of the Currach may be lost in the mists of time, but their traditional construction has changed little over the centuries. Now made from tarred canvas they were originally built by craftsmen using animal skins, stretched over wooden slats or laths and rowed with bladeless oars. Although flimsy-looking it is perfectly adapted to the local seas. Irish legend has it that it was in a Currach that St. Brendan journeyed across the Atlantic 900 years before Columbus and 400 years before the Vikings! He speaks of his visit to a vast land across the Western Ocean (Newfoundland) and a great impassable river (the Mississippi?). If true, the first European to arrive in America (in a Currach, no less) was an Irishman! The Currach is a one of the most romantic Irish symbols, familiar to tourists all over the world.”

A model representing St Brendan’s currach.

It would seem that the gift was a precursor for me to look into the history of the Currach at a very momentous time as it is been reintroduced to the east coast of Ireland today, 7 January 2012.

As reported on on Wednesday 4 January this year:

Two hand-built currachs to be launched into the Irish Sea this weekend

TWO HAND-BUILT CURRACHS will be launched in to the Irish Sea this weekend after being built by a team of volunteers in Dublin’s East Wall. The boats were built as part of a month-long currach workshop in East Wall, where artist and boat builder Mark Redden led a team on what’s involved in the ancient Irish technique of boat building. Currachs are traditional Irish boats, which used to be covered by animal skins, and are often found on the west coast of the country. “As a physical thing the currach represents something more than a simple water craft. It stands for the quality of ancient design, a legacy left to us by our forebearers, and a resourcefulness applicable to today’s life,” said Redden.

The team behind the new currachs hope that they will be able to compete in regattas off the west coast. The boats were built in the East Wall Water Sports Centre in Dublin’s docklands, right beside the river Tolka. In a piece of good news for the currach team, Met Eireann says that the weekend is going to be relatively mild and less cold and blustery than the last few days have been – which should mean less choppy waters for launching the currach.

There is a page on Facebook "East Wall Currachs" with more information and pictures of the boats being built.

The Aran Boatmen by Islandcraft Studios.

“The Currach, a traditional west of Ireland rowing boat has been used for centuries on the Aran Islands by skillful fishermen. It is covered in tarred canvas and is very light, graceful and sea worthy. This product is made by a process known as Intarsia which is the ancient art of making pictorial mosaics by laying precious and exotic woods onto a solid wood surface. Seven different woods are used to make these Celtic designs.”

1 comment:

  1. A very interesting read - excellently timed with the journal article. What a lovely present too!