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The Amateur Currach Building Association Founding Week

Sarah Wall,Moneen East ,Ardrahan,Co. Galway,(wannabe Clare resident!)

Day 1

Arrive on site and meet the people who would be my colleagues for the week. I had no idea what to expect of the week , but was feeling a tad anxious about being the only woman amidst 13 men. I didn�t know what I was letting myself in for and wondered if I was completely out of my depth this time. Anyway quickly enough we got into the nitty gritty of the wonderful world of currach building. Mairtin and myself volunteered to make stanchions�didn�t know how to spell them and certainly didn�t know how to make them at the time. Using ready made templates, measuring tape, a chisel and hammer, rasp (first time ever for this one), sand paper, saw and imagination we made a stab at getting the right shape. The most important thing to keep in mind for this job was to make sure shoulders were at correct angles to the pins, depending on which type of stanchion we were making�.three types, front bow, back bow and main body. Obviously getting the dimensions right was also crucial. Learning to chisel correctly was a priority! I don�t remember how many stanchions are required for each boat, but I did improve my chiselling skills. Making the stanchions was the hardest job for me�.not because it is a difficult or technically demanding task (which it might be), but because I was so hung up on not making mistakes!! After day one I decided, I needn�t subject myself to that sort of pressure. Mairtin was great to work with, very patient and easy. After spending half the day on stanchions, the other half was spent working on the gunnels, which included cutting in mortices into the gunnels which would later hold the ribs.

Again chiselling skills were useful for this job. The most important aspect of this task was to place the mortices correctly�evenly centred along the gunnel and chiselled to the correct angle to accommodate the rib. The shape of the ribs and the angle at which they are secured in the mortice varies from stern to bow. Having done it once, how this angle is achieved seems perfectly logical, but my head can be very slow with new concepts! The entrance and exit points of the mortices are marked on the upper and lower sides of the gunnels and these are then drilled at the required angle�it was awkward enough holding the drill at the correct angle. Humour and imagination required.

Once the mortices were in place the upper and lower gunnels were lined up and holes drilled for the stanchion pins�.this seemed to be an area were mix ups could easily happen�.we had to be vigilant for the difference between left and right hand gunnels. Managing to drill at an absolute right angle was also not easy.

The next task was to shape the stern ends of the gunnels so that they snugly fit into the transom�the saw and some sand paper�

While all this was going on, stanchions were being fitted into gunnels and gunnels fitted into transoms. The thwarts were also fitted, giving the frame rigidity. When all were fitted the frame of the boat was levelled and squared off using a tri square and cord nailed to the transom. This was an important part of the process�particularly if you want the boat to sit well in the water�not sure now, on trying to recollect, that I actually grasped it fully.

The bow end of the gunnels also had to be shaped to accommodate the bow gunnels. Shaping was by means of sawing and chiselling with Michael Galvin displaying the advantages to be gained in currach building by being a kitheog!�.and having a sharp saw!�.and will power!�.oh and having someone around who you can assign responsibility to, if perchance it all goes wrong�which it didn�t! The bow gunnels were positioned such that they overlapped where they met at centre line of boat (lined up using L square and cord). Once in position they were clamped. We worked late this first day and by the time we finished up we had the guts of the frame of a boat in front of us� incredible to see it pull together� satisfying.. �.and exhausting!! Time to go home, no tent as yet erected�.so back to Moneen east for sleep and recharge.

Day 2

This is where things start to get blurry!! I remember most of the jobs I did but don�t remember which day, nor the order in which I did them! Part of positioning the bow gunnels required that � inch be removed from bow end of both left and right upper and lower bow gunnels to facilitate the insertion and fixing of the clairin pico (phonetic spelling?). In addition the ends of both upper and lower bow gunnels had to be shaped to fit the main gunnels. This required that the ends be squared and chiselled and sawed at a slope that would firmly fit the main gunnels. Once fitted they were clamped. Once correctly positioned on the clairin pico the gunnels were nailed temporarily in place. When we were happy with the positioning and all responsibility had been assigned to someone else, we could then release the clamps and insert the staunchions�and hope that they fit! It was then that I realised how adjustable things could be�.the rasp, the saw�.a bit here�.a bit there�wonderful. At this stage we were then able to secure the bow end with copper nails�flexible copper nails�quite malleable but not always going in the direction required. At this stage wedges were glued and inserted into the stanchion pins. Once dry, the pins were sawn such that they were just slightly proud of the gunnel surface�NOT flush! NEVER flush! The shoulders were secured over the gunnnel joints at bow and excess edge sawn off.

Now in case any of this sounds very serious or technical, it should be noted that throughout all of this process there was much blackarding, roguery, banter, whistling, singing, dodging of responsibility and general wicked humour spanning from Clare to France, with representation from Cork, Cardiff, Dublin and Galway. There was also the prevalent smell of people putting their back into it�though occasionally masked by aftershave�not mine�it was rumoured to be French.

Once gunnels secured, the frame was upturned and ribs steamed�.cooking ribs takes 5 to 10 minutes�assuming the steamer has a continuous source of power, which ours God love it, didn�t. Any longer than this and I think they have a tendency to become more brittle?? The crucial thing to watch out for with this step is the bending of the ribs. They need to be shaped as evenly as possible, because once they�ve cooled you don�t have much to play with and it is the shape of the ribs which give the boat its final curves. The ribs vary in shape from narrow bends at the bow to very broad bends at the stern�. important as this step is, it is also quite a fun part feeling hot timber take shape under your hands and feet �and of course hoping it is the right shape!

Somewhere during the week I spent most of a day making a pair of oars�my contribution to the �save the petrol� fund. This was taught by chain communication�John showed Sean, Sean showed me, I showed Colm�.and the end results were fit to row the Atlantic with��it doesn�t matter if there are between pairs differences as long as the two oars in one pair are the same� sounds easy doesn�t it�hhmmh. But it involved lots of chiselling and shaping which I decided I really liked�.despite the occasional stressful thought of �oh what if I get it wrong and feck up the whole oar��occasional and quickly banished. Making the oars had a vaguely meditative feel, particularly planeing them. But then the whole week had a spiritual quality to it.

Day 3

On the Wednesday evening we got to the point were we could start attaching the laths to the ribs, attaching the centre one first and working outwards either side from that. The shaping of the lathes at the point where they meet the clairin pico demanded attention and some skill. Copper nails (with a mind of their own), hammer and lump hammer and a sense of humour required for this job. Short people were also useful for working under the boat. As each lath was nailed in place the ribs were adjusted in height to give a smooth line to the boat�.during this process the amazing flexibility of wood was obvious, not to mention the determination of Padraig to get this boat fully lathed by nightfall.

This though is not such a bad thing when you know that John is back at the base camp (multi tasking as chef for the night) cooking up a storm. And what a lovely meal and company it was too. Reinforcing for the next day.

Day 4 and Day 5

Day 4 and Day 5 involved a repeat of Day 2 and Day 3 in terms of jobs�.but a completely different set of human interactions, jokes, stories, songs and weather. And here I should mention the weather�it was mostly glorious with the odd downpour thrown in�which just added to the excitement. But the glorious days allowed for much needed swims in nearby Spanish Point or Seafield. By Days 4 and 5 the word was out and more and more people were dropping in for a look see as to the progress we were making. It was heartening to see the interest and support our project received and also warming to receive welcomes from the locals, young and old alike.

At times during the day the atmosphere in the yard of St Joseph�s would be frenetic and this could last for quite a time, to be gradually replaced by a lull a sort of natural rest and then back into a frenzy of activity. Tea breaks were most important�.except when �..Colm forgot the cups and then a teabreak wasn�t possible!! I wonder if the Quilty men have forgiven him yet. Its amazing what you forget when you�re hammering copper nails. Tea is obviously very important in Quilty.

Day4 / 5 the first of the boats was fitted for her skin of calico�plenty of jokes about bridal fittings, shrouds etc kept things light hearted, despite the fact that the objective was to wrap a very oddly shaped object with the minimum of pleats, tucks or folds and deadlines were looming large. No two boats were the same and the pleats and tucks that suited one wouldn�t suit the others�even though we tried! The pleats and centre line were marked on the canvas for sewing ready for Pat the following day.

Day 6

Day 6 Saturday, and things are starting to heat up�we have three boats that need to be finished by 10am next day�..and a lot of work to be done. To be honest, it�s a blur except I know that ribs were bent and laths secured and clenched, copper nails lost, hammered out of shape, reshaped, laths planed, transoms shaped up, the undersides of gunnels chiselled to a smooth profile, gunnels sanded, laths coated with linseed oil, knees inserted and secured and everything sanded again (possibly!)�not to mention the remainder of the 18 oars which had yet to be made!! And on top of all this the boats were tarred. Yippee what a feeling to be plastering on thick black tar and converting our albino whale into a black one. Beer at 6pm was very welcome�.probably more so even than the tea. My house mate Rose, has a nose for beer and turned up just in time to share the moment. Admittedly a combination of beer, mental and physical exhaustion and female company for the first time in a week made me distinctly uncooperative when it came to Padraig�s suggestion of tackling more jobs�though I�m not quite sure it was a �suggestion.� Anyway, I mutinied and went for some food, a shower and later another beer. Butter really does get rid of tar.

And on the seventh day...

7am Sunday morning and three magnificent black currachs like beached whales, sit in an empty yard waiting patiently. There is no one else there, I�m thinking should I linseed those oars. Still don�t want to make mistakes so I go do my Tai chi on the beach instead�a good decision given the excitement and length of the day to come!

8am Mark and myself linseed the oars�others are working on pins for the oars, the canvas is fully tacked and trimmed�..and at 9.50 we have three currachs completed and loaded along with 18 oars. What a sight, what a feeling, what an experience, what a day, what a week�..

Coming through Quilty and hearing the car horns blowing and seeing such magnificent boats built of determination, dedication, generosity, love, a sense of community, pride and tradition put the hairs up on the back of my neck. It also made me realise if I hadn�t already, just how significant this project was to each of us as individuals, but also to the communities of this area.

More was to come however, and when the boats arrived on the beach at Seafield there was already a large turnout of locals there to support our launch. From the very old to the very young, from Wellingtons to stilettos. After some time we all calmed down (we were very excited and emotional) enough for the local priest to bless the boats�music followed along with songs�.and then it was time to actually put them to sea and to test not only the boats, but also our rowing skills. The interesting thing that I realise now that I�m writing this is that there is as yet no anticlimax to this story and therefore no natural or easy way of ending this tale�other than to say� eventually, late that day a perfect sun set on a perfect day. But sun sets are only recognised by people and the three currachs built during this course have a life of their own now�.which it can only be hoped will inspire many others to come.

This is only one side of a story that involves a lot of people and even this story has bits missing. The people that have the other sides of the story (and the pictures to prove it) are: Colm O� Garbhith (Toulouse, Inagh), Padraig O� Duineen (Meitheal Mara, Cork city), John O� Donovan (Meitheal Mara, Cork city), Mark Redden (Meitheal Mara, Cork city), John Joe Ryan (Quilty), Michael Galvin (Quilty), Martin Shanahan (Quilty), Sean Walsh (Kilmaley), Kieran Shanahan (Miltown Malbay), Patrick Galvin (Quilty), Martin Murrihy (Miltown Malbay), Pat Ryan (Quilty), Donal O Beara (Miltown Malbay) as well as all of our families and friends and people of the local communities who supported this wonderful project.

Sarah Wall

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