Irish Traditional Agriculture FAQs
Learn more about the traditional equipment and practice of Irish agriculture
- How can I learn to build a currach?
- How many types of currach are there?
- What activities typically took place on the farm?
- What is a currach?
- What was the most common implement on the Irish Farm?
- What were the most common sorts of plough?
- Why have currachs survived?
How can I learn to build a currach?
There are a few manuals in existence – see recommended reading above. The craft of currach making is also taught by the Cork based organisation Meitheal Mara, and occasionally courses are taught by various local groups often under the sponsorship of Údarás na Gaeltachta, the Gaeltacht development authority.
How many types of currach are there?
About 12 types of currch were identified in a study in the 1930s by James Hornell. Since then several new currachs have evolved – currachs for racing, fibreglass currachs, and small currachs as tenders.
What activities typically took place on the farm?
These varied according the season. In early springtime the ground was prepared and ploughed for crops. Seaweed might be harvested as a fertiliser. In mid-spring crops were planted. Many lambs and calves are born at this time. In May and June, turf was cut for fuel. Cattle would be let out to pasture. During the summer, crops would be weeded. Hay was the first crop to be cut. Cut turf had to be turned to dry it out. Potatoes would be sprayed against blight. The cereal harvest would begin in August and soon the first potatoes would be ready too. In September the turf would be brought home. Fruit and berries would be picked in September and October, while root crops harvested through to December. In the wintertime, fences and equipment would be repaired, drains cleared. Cattle would be housed and fed. Throughout the year, cows would be milked and markets regularly attended to buy or sell animals.
What is a currach?
Currachs are skin covered boats. Animal skins were stretched over a basket or wooden frame. In the early 19th Century a skin of canvas painted with tar was developed. In the 20th Century fibreglass currachs have become more common.
What was the most common implement on the Irish Farm?
It depends on the farm, but the spade was the single most common implement and existed on the smallest farm. In Ireland there was great local variety in spades, which were particularly adapted to potato cultivation and the making of cultivation ridges. Two-sided spades spread from the north and east and were mainly produced in spade mills. One sided ‘loys’ were more common in the west and south-west and were mainly produced by blacksmiths. Only the two-sided variety are now made. Special spades called ‘slanes’ were also produced for cutting peat for fuel.
What were the most common sorts of plough?
Metal ‘swing ploughs’, which had no wheels, were favoured in hilly and stony places. In better soil conditions, wheel ploughs were more common and made for easier ploughing. In a few places wooden ploughs were made by local craftsmen into the mid 20th Century. Ploughs were made in Ireland most notably by Pierce of Wexford
Why have currachs survived?
Currachs survive for many reasons. They are an affordable boat type well adapted to the sea. Lighter currachs are not dependent on tides and quays as they are carried in and out of the water at each journey. Fibreglass currachs with outboard engines are fast, practical boats. Currach racing is a summer sport, which gives them another outlet. In some areas they are seen as a symbol of local identity and history.