Challenge led to a hooker revival

Mon, Jun 9, 1997, 01:00

MICHAEL Mairtin Jimmi McDonagh could not resist the gauntlet thrown down by a "jackeen" almost 20 years ago to a Galway hooker race in Connemara. The Dubliner, Johnny Healion, used to spend his holidays in Carraroe in the 1970s and had subsequently restored one of the craft - built to ferry turf and bottled gas to the western islands.

Humiliation. Healion won. McDonagh, from Sruthan, Co Galway, could not let him get away with it. Dusting the cobwebs off a hooker owned by his uncle, he challenged the Dub to another race. So began a traditional boat revival which is now part of an established regatta calendar.

Weather permitting, Michael sets sail later this week on another hooker, a leathbhad owned by the film cameraman, Cian de Buitlear. The Star of the West is bound for the Scottish island of Iona and other Scottish islands, before returning down the Irish west coast and regatta hopping en route.

The month long voyage will take the crew to the Isle of Man, and from there to the Portaferry hooker regatta in Co Down. In early July, the vessel hopes to be anchored off Iona, just missing the festival marking the anniversary of Colmcille. It will sail as far north as it can to the Outer Hebrides, before heading southwest for Tory off Donegal, Aranmore, Achill, Clare island, lnishbofin, Inis Mor and finally to Sruthan.

Michael is not the only crew member with a Connemara link. Also on board will be fellow Carraroeman, Seamus Jimmi McDonnachadh, and Mary Lamb, aunt of the skipper. Cian de Buitlear's mother, Lailli de Buitlear, has strong Carraroe roots.

The ship's complement will be made up by Bairbre de Buitlear, the skipper's spouse; Mick Redmond; the Columban missionary, Fr Derek Harris, who is based in Australia, is a keen sailor and member of Poolbeg Yacht Club in Dublin; and a film crew of Paul Holmes and Stephen O'Connell. Holmes, of Red Rage Productions, intends to produce a documentary of the trip.