Traditional Boyne Currach making involves the weaving of hazel rods, which have been cut in the month of January and measure 8ft in length. These are place 6 inches apart in an oval shape in the ground. The gunwale is then woven in the traditional method known as ‘an buinne béal’ and the long rods are then bent over their opposites and weighed down before being tied. The now basket is removed from the ground and covered in cow hide. The Boyne currach is then fitted with a seat and a paddle is also carved with which the currach will be propelled using a method known as ‘sculling’.
These ancient crafts were traditionally used for fishing on the river Boyne, but due to the government’s strict regulations on netting, which were introduced back in the 1960s, this whole tradition died away as the local men no longer had a use for them. The Boyne Currach is woven in a method that allows a multiple of hands to be involved all at once and the making of its leathern cover has been done as a community gathering, using flint tools, water, oak bark and fat.
In the early 20th century, the Boyne Currach gained international notoriety when in 1913, Albert Kahn, a millionaire French banker sent two photographers to photograph the Boyne Currach on Lady Cunningham’s estate at Slane. This was part of an ambitious project to create a worldwide collection of colour photographs of local people.
As part of our efforts to revive this ancient tradition, the Boyne Currach Heritage Group collected many stories from local men and women who recalled their memories of these currachs being used in their daily lives, for transport and for an income from fishing. Today these Boyne Currachs are back on the river and are used purely for leisure. Long summer days are often spent meandering down different sections of this historical river, like in a time machine, transporting us through the centuries as we scull along, marvelling at the man-made objects and the natural beauties of our glorious riverscape.
Practice and practitioners
The tradition of currach making continues along the River Boyne, not as a fishing boat but as a recreational craft. Owing to its large size (6.6ft long and 4.5 ft wide) and highly durable leather covering the craft can negotiate the sluices and weirs on the river during the summer months and allows two people paddle with ease side by side, or scull by one or other of the crew when necessary. There remains ample space for another passenger with picnic baskets etc and because of the depth and width of the craft there is plenty of leg room to move about within the craft. Because of this people, can stand up while the boat is buoyant, so as disembark from the boat and step onto the river bank, compared with canoeists who have limited space and often have difficulty entering and accessing their craft so efficiently. The draft of the currach and durability of the leather allows for the craft to be used even during the driest of summers.
It is surmised that the Boyne Currach is the closest relation to the original sea currach that being the Currach Dhá Éadan, which was used out at sea and from which the Bunbeg, and perhaps Boyne Currach evolved. The Boyne Currachs also take part in what is becoming a regular gathering of currachs at between Omeath and Warrenpoint. Six currachs are kept, maintained and displayed at the Boyne Currach Centre, on the opposite side of the river to the monument of Newgrange, by the Boyne Currach Heritage Group. They are also often displayed at various shows and festivals around the country to evoke an awareness among the public about the folk traditions of our Boyne Valley.
Claidhbh Ó Gibne has been building currachs yearly, for over 20 years, and has worked full time on expanding the method of making Boyne Currachs to better understand how our Stone Age ancestors successfully carried animals to our shore and transported 5 tonne stones from quarries further north. Claidhbh is currently experimenting with a 36ft woven leather currach, sewn and lashed with rawhide with sails made from 420 velum deer skins prepared and sewn together over a period of a year. Sea trials over the past 3 years have been used to relearn the tradition of quarter rudders on such boats along with bipod and tripod masts. Claidhbh has demonstrated the making of Boyne Currachs in Milwaukee USA, in Auronzo, Italy, and in many shows around Ireland. He has also given talks on the subject around Ireland and in Spain, where he hopes to eventually sail to with the 36ft woven currach, after all our trials and experiments are complete.
Development, transmission and safeguarding
The Boyne Currach Heritage Group, a not-for-profit community group, has been in existence since 1997 and draws from a wide array of skilled people. Many are drawn toward the currach for its physical link with Ireland’s past and to revisit the Boyne Valley’s 5,000 year old history, by way of the river itself. Others simply see it as a way meet with like-minded Irish speakers with whom they can converse, while communally weaving the large baskets, or pruning hazels from trees planted by them and others 20 years previous in the valley. The group have actively promoted the ancient tradition of weaving boats at events, over the years and has taken part in various parades with the boats.
A yearly event takes place where the currachs travel the 75 mile distance of the River Boyne from source to sea, using the travel journal written in 1847 by William Wilde, to explain the landscape and monuments which they pass on the way. The group has always made efforts, by way of experimental archaeology, to expand towards the sea with the traditionally woven currachs and have more recently built a fleet of naomhógs to travel and meet with other like-minded currach communities where currachs, language and ceol are to the forefront of the event.
Twenty years of baskets boat making has given ample opportunity to tweak and perfect many of the skills attributed to making such a craft, while all the time trying to improve on the basket’s longevity or to increase the leather’s durability, so as to last out another season before having to be striped apart and remade.
Our projected plan over the next 5 years as a group is to hold a National Boyne Currach Regatta up river at Trim, where young people can participate in workshops within their schools to weave their own currachs and to then compete in the event.
It is also our hope to develop a programme for use in schools at primary and secondary level to foster a connection with this heritage.
Boyne Currach Heritage Group
About the Inventory
Ireland’s National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage exists to promote, protect and celebrate Ireland’s living cultural heritage. It provides official State recognition of cultural practices all around Ireland.
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