Asylum seekers launch currach built with traditional boat builders, Meitheal Mara

Men living in direct provision began project in July

Boat-builders working on a currach in Meitheal Mara’s workshop in Cork.

Boat-builders working on a currach in Meitheal Mara’s workshop in Cork.

 

It’s an image familiar to most Irish people – the sight of men carrying a currach on their heads as they walk down to the sea – but it was given a new twist this week when four newcomers to Ireland launched a traditional currach they built themselves in Cork.

Hakim Mandi and Aissaou Mourad, both from Algeria, Alex Abashko from Russia and Jason De Wet from South Africa are all asylum seekers living in direct provision. They spent the past three months working with traditional Cork boat builders, Meitheal Mara to build a Donegal-style currach.

Meitheal Mara’s workshop manager, Séamus O’Brien admitted he was not sure how the project would work out when the four men started making the 15- foot-long currach back in July. But it proved a hugely rewarding experience for both the asylum seekers and Meitheal Mara staff.

“Normally groups come to the workshop with their own project worker, someone to recruit and motivate the participants. In this case we had to go to the accommodation centres ourselves to try to spread the word about the project but the lads were mad keen and we all gained from it.”

Hakim Mandi (40), a Berber from Algeria who has been in Ireland over three years, admitted that building a boat was a challenge. He had never done anything like this before, he said, but he enjoyed the experience and the camaraderie.

“I come from the mountains in Algeria so it was my first time to build a boat. I found it very interesting because when you are making a traditional boat, you use very simple things. It’s very ingenious how they use simple things such as all natural wood to build the boat.”

Educational

Jason De Wet (30) from Capetown in South Africa added: “It was very enjoyable but also very educational – I learned a lot, especially from the group of people putting heads together to get solutions and we swapped jobs from time to time and so we got different experiences.”

Mr O’Brien explained that, through their regular weekly participation, the group got to know every single step of the currach-building process from preparing the hazel rods to tarring the skin of the boat to create an ocean going Dunfanaghy style currach like those used by fishermen in Donegal.

Watching on as the four new boat builders brought their currach, ‘Bad Chorcai’ down to the Lee at Lapp’s Quay was Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Mick Finn. He paid tribute to Meitheal Mara, the Heritage Council and Cork City Council for making the project a reality.

“It’s a blending of traditional Irish crafts with our new communities in Cork to create something very inclusive. Cork is increasingly a diverse city and there’s great work being done by Meitheal Mara. Rolling out these skills to people who wouldn’t traditionally have access to them is very welcome.”