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Making a currach - building the frame

Michael Conneely making a currach on Inisheer, County Galway, 1968.

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1. Constructing the wooden frame

Mikey Conneely followed a set process when building his currachs. First, he would construct the wooden frame of the boat. The frame of a typical currach is made up of the gunwales, shoulders and transoms. Mikey purchased the timber for the frames from a supplier in Galway city. Working outside his workshop on the beach, he measured out the long timbers that would form the lower gunwale. With chisel and mallet, he then cut mortice holes in the lower gunwale in preparation for receiving the upper gunwale and ribs at a later stage.

2. Making the shoulders

The shoulders (front curved sections of the gunwale) were cut from single pieces of wood using a template. Using templates guaranteed that each piece fit as intended and that waste wood was kept to a minimum.

3. Securing the seats and transom

Before the shoulders were fitted, Mikey nailed down the seats to the lower gunwale and secured the lower transom to the stern of the currach using a mortice and tenon joint. These steps helped firm up the developing frame.

4. Checking the shoulders

When the shoulders were fitted, their correct height from where they met at the front was checked with the aid of thread stretched from stem to stern.

5. Boring holes in lower and upper gunwales

An auger was used to bore corresponding holes in both the lower and upper gunwales in order to receive short wooden plugs that joined the gunwales together. Mikey also cut a tenon into the end of the upper frame with a hand saw so that the upper transom could be precisely fitted on.

6. Fitting the upper shoulder

The fore ends of the upper frame were then drawn together with rope and holes bored in the lower shoulder to continue the row of plugs from stern to bow. With the plugs in place in the lower shoulder, the upper shoulder could be fitted.

7. Creating the shoulderpiece

To create the shoulderpiece, the joint that attaches the upper shoulder to the rest of the frame, Mikey marked out the required piece in a block of wood and shaped it with a hatchet. The shoulderpiece was further shaped using a plane.

8. Fitting the cláirín píce (stem-board)

A fitting at the stem of the currach known as the cláirín píce was measured, cut, fitted and trimmed with saw and chisel.

9. Fitting the knees

Each seat was further joined to the frame by what are known as knees. The knees were L-shaped branches that, after being trimmed with a hatchet and drilled with a hand brace, were nailed to seat and frame. The glúain tosaigh, glúain i láir and glúain chun deiridh are the front, centre and back knees.

10. Finishing the frame

Following the fitting of the knees, Mikey shaped and fit the relicks (roillic). Each of the six relicks in Mikey’s currach were shaped from a piece of wood by his trusty hatchet. Each of the relicks hold a thole pin in place. The thole pins hold the oars in place during rowing. The currach’s frame was then turned over for the ribs and laths to be fitted.

11. Next: From ribs to water

Follow the link to see the next steps in the process

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