For sale: 4,000-year-old canoe could be yours for €2,400

Rev Conn Auld bought the canoe from some boys who were about to throw it on a bonfire

A rare Irish Neolithic dugout canoe leads the Bonham's Jim Lennon Collection sale in Edinburgh on Wednesday, January 26th. The canoe (£2,000-£3,000/€2,400-€3,600) was discovered by Rev Conn Auld, a Church of Ireland clergyman who died in May 2020.

Known for his preference for MG cars, Rev Auld was driving through rural Fermanagh in the 1970s when he happened upon a group of boys tending a bonfire. He discovered that the firewood consisted of bog oak canoes that had been uncovered by contractors engaged in building a nearby road.

He persuaded the boys to sell one of the canoes, so that the piece of history would not be lost.

From the Neolithic period, this canoe is from the same era as the Lurgan Canoe; discovered in 1901 in Galway and now on display at the National Museum on Kildare Street. Much smaller than the colossal Lurgan boat which is the largest artefact on display in the museum, the dugout canoe from Fermanagh, serves as a reminder of life in Ireland 4,000 years ago when Neolithic man would have used stone axes to carve the boat from a piece of oak.

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Rev Auld, who died at the age of 90, taught divinity at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, 1958 -1988, and served as mayor and deputy mayor of North Down Borough Council.

In the 1960s he constructed St Gobban’s Church at his summer home in the coastal town at Portbradden. Measuring about 3.35m by 2m, the miniature place of worship was Ireland’s smallest church and enjoyed a short tenure as the “smallest church in the world” in the Guinness Book of Records, until it was demolished by new owners. He had discovered the grounds were one of the Christian sites established in the area by St Gobban in the 7th century, and with the assistance of local schoolboys set about turning his cowshed into a non-denominational chapel. It was used over the years for a range of Christian services including a commemoration for the victims of the Omagh bombing and a number of weddings. There was outcry over its demolition but also relief from local residents who disliked the large crowds the tiny church attracted.

The most remarkable wedding was on June 4th, 1999, when Vietnam veteran Lt Gen William "Bud" Forster married Francine O'Neill. The wedding was officiated by Passionist priest Fr Brian D'Arcy and Presbyterian minister Bill Hazlett, and was described at the time as the largest ecumenical service in the smallest church in Ireland.

Gen Forster, who became the first US Army officer selected as an astronaut candidate and received the Nasa award for outstanding service after his time in the Johnson Space Center, had flown the Stars and Stripes on the Capitol Building in Washington for St Patrick's Day that year, which he later gave to Rev Auld as a souvenir.