CURRACH BUILDERS OF INISHTURK ISLAND
Along the west coast of Ireland, there are a number of small islands that still carry on traditional skills and crafts passed down through the generations. One such craft is the building of the wooden Currach, a traditional work boat and an essential part of island life. The island of Inishturk is one of these special islands. 5km x 2.5km in size, it is located out in the Atlantic 14.5km off Mayo on the west coast of Ireland.
I was curious about these Currach boats, part of the romantic west coast, featured in many films, a symbol of tough seamen and an even tougher way of life. Access to the island is by ferry boat leaving from Roonah Pier in County Mayo, a journey of about an hour. My journey across from the mainland, our boat rolling across the wide Atlantic swells heading almost into an unknown, stirred my imagination and I was eager to meet these people of the island.
Mike O’Toole and his brother Packie were born and grew up here on the island of Inishturk and learned the essential skills of Currach building, a tradition handed down from father to son.
I met with Mike O’Toole and we had a long conversation about this rugged work boat, the Currach.
“A Currach” explained Mike, “is much the same as the care you may have on the mainland. It is a necessity. We use our Currach for fishing, for bringing goods from the mainland and goods from the island to the mainland. In days gone by, it was our only connection to the mainland we would bring the new born babies home from the hospital to the island. On a good day, the row would take a good two hours or more each way.”
The Currach on Inishturk have been used for the last 100 years and are of a wooden lattice and plank construction with a tarred calico outer lining for water proofing. A sturdy, light and versatile vessel, the Inishturk Currach was traditionally rowed by three men and used for fishing and as the main transport between the island and the mainland. Nowadays although the frame work is the same, instead of calico they are covered in fibre glass and have small outboard engines and used primarily for fishing.
Pakie, a quiet, soft spoken gentleman, lives in the hills above Portadoon Harbour with his son PJ half way along the south side of the island. The father of 10 children, PJ is farming on the island in the home place, Robert is a builder and lives with his wife Mary Helena and their two children nearby. All his other children now live and work on the mainland.
Working from his workshop at the back of his home, Pakie, at the grand old age of 80, proudly showed me a Currach in the workshop he had recently completed.
The workshop was used for many things, drying the onions storage of old machinery, and relics from the past. In the corner was a wreck of an old Massey Ferguson tractor; “one of the first tractors on the island“ he pointed out.
We went back into his house, on the way down the slope from the workshop “that’s Clare Island and over to the right Mayo.” Spectacular views across the rugged landscape of the island “and that’s Portadoon Harbour below us“
PJ put on the kettle and we chatted. It was cold outside and the roaring fire in the lounge was welcoming. The walls covered with holy objects and numerous pictures of the children and grandchildren.
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