Pushing the boats out
As the sight of upturned currachs being carried to the water’s edge returns to Ireland’s coast, the revival of traditional boatbuilding is maintaining a link to the handcraft of our ancestors
If you want to starting rowing naomhóga, head to the Dingle Marina after 8pm on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays, and if you want to learn how to build one, start hanging around Hutchinson’s shed door in Ballydavid on winter evenings. “As long as it’s on our watch we’ll try our best to keep it going,” says Heidtke, “and after us, we hope someone else along will come along.”
Cumann Rámhaíochta Corca Dhuibhne , Dingle Marina, Co Kerry. Search for Dingle Rowing Club on Facebook
Pádraig Ó Duinnín, Meitheal Mara, Cork
Cork city, which had no tradition of west Kerry currachs, now has a thriving culture of naomhóg racing. It’s all down to one man, Pádraig Ó Duinnín, presenter of the TG4 series Muintir na Mara, in which he rowed around Ireland in a naomhóg.
In 1993, while still learning to build currachs, Ó Duinnín was invited to build one at an exhibition in California. The reaction he got made him determined to foster the craft back home. He set up Meitheal Mara as a FÁS community employment project in Cork city to build five naomhóga in 1994. Soon, the Prison Education Service heard about it and sent some young offenders to him.
“You have to ask yourself who the project should help,” says Ó Duinnín. “People that have a lot or those that don’t? It’s a fairly easy answer.”
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Since then, Meitheal Mara has run countless FÁS, VEC and other educational and community service courses, teaching traditional skills to a new generation. “The people that we reach are the most marginalised,” says Ó Duinnín, “people who don’t have to engage through ideas, but engage through their hands.”
Cathy Buchanan is now coordinator of 22 full- and part-time Meitheal Mara staff. “In any week we can have up to 120 people here – homeless young people, tourists, people with learning difficulties, aspiring professionals, recovering addicts, hippies, retirees or ex-prisoners. It’s a real melting pot – everyone from asylum seekers to millionaires. There is something very satisfying about working with your hands; starting with hazel rods and shaping them into a boat. We teach groups how to use the boats too – some of whom wouldn’t normally get a chance to take to the water.”
Meitheal Mara has built currachs for museums, for the English National Opera and in 2007 they completed a Bantry Bay longboat that was used on HBO’s TV series, Game of Thrones. They also run the Naomhóga Chorcaí rowing club on the Lee.
“Currachs offer a fresh way of looking at the world,” says Ó Duinnín, “a way of accessing aspects of life that have been eclipsed in recent years. If you’re a young person who has spent time in prison or a lifetime at an office desk, it’s important to be part of a project that produces something positive.
“The experience can shift you from one track to another.”
Meitheal Mara, Crosses Green, Cork. meithealmara.ie