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Traditional Boats of Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way

A regular blog by Noel Campbell, Assistant Keeper of the Irish Folklife Division, on the development of a new gallery to display a selection of boats from counties along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

Introduction

The National Museum of Ireland - Country Life is currently developing a gallery at Turlough Park in Castlebar, Co. Mayo for the permanent display of a selection of boats from the Irish Folklife collection. The gallery will focus on the traditional boats of the Atlantic coast with boats and associated material from counties along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. Follow our blog Traditional Boats of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way for updates on the development of the gallery, as well as information on research and fieldwork on traditional boats along the west coast of Ireland.

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The rich history of a Blasket Islands naomhóg

20 May 2024 - The file on any museum object is never truly closed. Additional information, no matter how trivial, is always out there and can lead a curator, and their successors, on to more fruitful lines of inquiry. We are extremely fortunate to have a boat in our Irish Folklife collection whose provenance is so rich that it would make a very special display on its own.

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Voice of the next generation

05 April 2024 - Museums, naturally, are very much focused on the past. However, that statement is not as true now as it was a short number of decades ago. Listening to young people detail how their culture impacts on them is an important part of the modern process of museum engagement. In this post, 15-year-old Amélie Bonner from Árainn Mhór, Co. Dhún na nGall, (Arranmore Island, Co. Donegal), shares her experiences and hopes for her fishing community.

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Steamed ribs on the menu in County Clare

23 February 2024 - James Madigan’s grandfather Sinon Blunnie was the last of the commercial currach builders in County Clare and built Scattery Island currachs in his workshop overlooking Kilrush Harbour. It was in that workshop, with no electricity or running water, that a teenage James learned the craft of boat building from his grandfather.

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Fishing in winter

12 January 2024 - Winter days are more often cold, short and dark but necessity meant fishing off the Irish coast never stopped. Fishermen who ventured out during the winter months often did so to fish with long lines.

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Exploring traditional boats with visual artist Dan Shipsides

15 December 2023 - My online talk to mark World Maritime Day last September continues to encourage conversations on Ireland’s traditional boats. Following the talk, I was contacted by multidisciplinary visual artist Dan Shipsides whose recent work involved exploring the boat or canoe and other forms of indigenous and traditional vessels from many places including Ireland.

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The Madill Archive Project

7 November 2023 - To mark World Maritime Day on 28 September, I gave an online, illustrated talk that detailed the National Museum’s work on a planned traditional boat gallery. I am very grateful to Dr Wes Forsythe, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Maritime Archaeology, Ulster University for getting in touch with me after the talk to share with me the important work recently undertaken by the Madill Archive Project.

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Boat Gallery Update

11 October 2023 - I am happy to report that planning for the traditional boat gallery is entering a new stage. A meeting with representatives from the Office of Public Works has helped clarify work to be done and the movement of boats from the gallery space in advance of that work is progressing.

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Online talk: Wild Atlantic Voices

25 September 2023 - Join National Museum of Ireland – Country Life curator, Noel Campbell, for an online talk exploring his work on the development of a gallery dedicated to traditional Irish boats of the Atlantic coast.

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Documenting Ireland's last surviving traditional wooden boatyard

22 August 2023 - A beautiful exhibition of photographs closed earlier this summer after several weeks on display at Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre in Skibbereen, Co. Cork. The exhibition Hegarty’s Boatyard: Last Surviving Traditional Wooden Boatyard in Ireland is the work of documentary photographer Kevin O’Farrell.

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John Reck - My time on the Dún Aengus and the Naomh Éanna

05 July 2023 - In the weeks following the Museum’s public request last March for objects and memories of the MV Naomh Éanna, I was delighted to receive many phone calls and emails from people registering their interest in the ferry that serviced Oileáin Árann (Aran Islands) from the Galway mainland from 1958 to the late 1980s.

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Clare master shipwright James Madigan

17 May 2023 - James Madigan is well-known throughout Ireland for his boat building skills and his role in preserving traditional boat types. I first got to see James’s craftsmanship when I joined up with students and teachers from the Raheen Wood Steiner Secondary School at Lough Derg, Co. Clare in June 2021.

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Damien Donnellan of Galway City Museum shares his research on the heritage of the Galway Hooker

05 April 2023 - Damien Donnellan works at Galway City Museum and has recently completed his MA in Public History and Cultural Heritage. Damien’s research was on the Galway hooker and he kindly agreed to share his work in this latest offering on Traditional Boats of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

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National Museum of Ireland seeks Naomh Éanna material and memories

03 March 2023 - The National Museum of Ireland – Country Life in Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co. Mayo is developing a permanent gallery to display a selection of traditional Irish boats and associated material from Ireland’s west coast and we are looking for your help.

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Irish traditional boats inspiring the next generation

22 February 2023 - Since opening in 2001, the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life has encouraged cooperation with third level institutions and we continue to strengthen those relationships. The Irish Folklife collection, and the various staff who work with the collection, provide valuable and relevant information to students who visit us at Turlough Park.

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Hare Island lobster fishing

19 January 2023 - During a recent listing of our fishing related objects from Co. Cork, I came across a beautifully made, and well preserved, lobster pot from Hare Island. Hare Island (also known as Heir Island, Inishodriscol and Inis Uí Drisceoil) is an inhabited island located just north of the larger Sherkin Island in Roaringwater Bay, Co Cork.

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Engagement with the north-west continues

05 December 2022 - October was a busy month in terms of the development of our new boat gallery. A kick-off workshop was held with Museum staff and the gallery’s design team Metaphor at which project objectives, key audiences and themes were discussed. These initial design stages encourage ideas and different approaches that promote the overall objectives of the gallery.

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Research visit to the National Folklore Collection at UCD

18 October 2022 - My recent visit to the National Folklore Collection in University College Dublin to view its boat and fishing related material, further demonstrated the close link that exists between that collection and the National Museum of Ireland’s Irish Folklife collection.

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Community engagement at the National Ploughing Championships

21 September 2022 - The National Ploughing Championships is back after a hiatus of two years due to the Covid pandemic. On the first day of the event, 91,500 people visited the 900 acre site in Ratheniska, Co. Laois and the National Museum of Ireland was there to meet them. The three-day event is a great opportunity for the Museum to engage with rural Ireland and to share details of our own upcoming events and projects.

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Exciting progress at Turlough Park boat gallery

07 September 2022 - The planned boat gallery at the National Museum of Ireland – Country life took an important step to realisation a number of weeks back when key figures in the development met on site at Turlough Park. The gallery’s project manager Vincent O’Shea met with members of the NMI, Office of Public Works and Metaphor Communications Ltd. Metaphor are a UK based masterplanning, exhibition design and architecture company.

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“The currach fed the people”

08 August 2022 - Earlier this year I published a post on the energetic work behind a push to revive interest in the large, five-man currach once used in Béal Deirg, Co. Mhaigh Eo. Work by Currachaí na Sceirí, an east coast based group of currach enthusiasts, and others including locals from Béal Deirg (Belderg or Belderrig in English), resulted in what was truly a very special and emotional day in north Mayo on 30 July. On that day, for the first time in 69 years, Béal Deirg currachs raced in their natural waters.

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Lobster fishing season is no pot luck

This time of year is lobster season for many fishermen. Along the Irish coast, boats will make perhaps several journeys weekly out to the rocky inshore waters to check the catch in pre-set lobster pots. The money brought to the fisherman’s household from the sale of his lobster catch was always welcomed. Lobster fishing was relatively straightforward for anyone who had access to a boat

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Community engagement central to boat gallery development

On the subject of traditional boats and wider coastal life there are scores of organisations working to capture, preserve and utilise seafaring knowledge. Those who live beside and work on our coastal waters are often best placed to inform our work in the Museum.

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A new addition to the Irish Folklife boat collection

A year ago I wrote a post about the model boats in the Irish Folklife collection. We were very fortunate to have been contacted since then by a member of the public who offered to donate his model of a Galway hooker to the Museum. The model is a beautiful object in its own right, but its provenance and connection to people and place made it a perfect fit for the Irish Folklife collection.

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Researching the Belderrig currach

In 2002, the National Museum of Ireland chose to build a Belderrig currach to be included in its collection and eventually to be put on public display. Skilled boat-builder, Pádraig Ó Duinnín and his team from Meitheal Mara, used traditional tools and methods to construct the Belderrig currach in the grounds of the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, Turlough Park in Castlebar.

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Storm season in Sligo eighty years ago

Storm Barra has left us in no doubt that the 2021-22 storm season is upon us. Barra, the second named storm this winter, has done much damage and hampered the delivery of services across the island of Ireland. The west coast bore the brunt of Barra where footage of ferocious seas and high winds reminded me of a near tragic sailing that involved my own grandfather Garda James Campbell during the storm season of 1940-41.

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Mayo defences against the wild Atlantic weather

In May 1955, the Director of the National Museum of Ireland, A.T. Lucas and leading Irish folklorist, Kevin Danaher travelled from Dublin to the Erris region of Co. Mayo to carry out a week of fieldwork. The Director’s handwritten fieldwork notes tell us much about how local people adapted to defending themselves and their livestock against the often-destructive weather experienced on the Mayo coast.

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The last fisherman of Portdoon, Inishturk

The surname O’Toole has a long connection to Inishturk. Working on the first Ordnance Survey of Ireland, John O’Donovan wrote in 1838, ‘This island is said to be in the possession of the O’Tooles for an unknown number of centuries’.¹ Much of Mikey’s life has been shaped by the island.

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1970s Inis Oírr - an American's diary

I was delighted to receive an email recently from Anita White from the midwestern US state of Minnesota. As a young artist in the mid-1970s, Anita moved her life to the unknowns of Inis Oírr to record the island people’s way of life. After viewing our online exhibition, Anita contacted me to share her own tale of Inis Oírr and her time spent with Mikey Conneely.

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Cork’s currach rowing success

The sport of rowing is strong in Cork with numerous clubs located across both the county and city. Nestled between two of those city-based clubs along the south bank of the River Lee is an alternative rowing club that I recently had the pleasure of visiting. The Naomhóga Chorcaí currach rowing club aims to promote an appreciation of the culture of traditional boats in Ireland.

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Shellfish collecting objects from the Irish Folklife collection

Now that the summer has arrived, many of you will be planning trips to our beautiful beaches. The views along our coastline are unparalleled and you would be forgiven for spending the majority of your time gazing out to sea. As you crunch over the sand to access the best vistas, take a moment to look down at the history under your feet.

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Clare students get a taste of the sea on Lough Derg

One of the attractive characteristics of the currach is its accessibility. They are relatively easy to transport and handle on the water which makes them a growing favourite for recreational rowers. I travelled to Mountshannon in County Clare recently to join students and teachers from the Raheen Wood Steiner Secondary School as they rowed their way up through Lough Derg in beautifully-built west Clare currachs.

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The rebirth of a nobby in south-east Galway

or the past three years, Mattie O’Malley has been building a 40 foot nobby at the yard of his timber construction business. Mattie is building his nobby from the design and measurements of the ‘Santa Maria’ nobby that was built in 1918 for the Cloherty business family of Roundstone, Co. Galway. The ‘Santa Maria’ was built by Bartley Cloherty on Inishnee, Co. Galway.

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Making a currach - Michael Conneely, a new online exhibition

n 1968, the National Museum of Ireland recognised the threat to the traditional currach and given the Museum’s role in preserving heritage objects for the benefit of the Irish people, it began the process of having one commissioned for the national collection.

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Seaweed harvesting - the tools of the trade

For tenants living in coastal areas where the soil was not as fertile as further inland, seaweed was a productive manure. Because of its high potash content, seaweed is suited to potash feeders, such as potatoes. In the often rocky and barren coastal fields, mixing seaweed with quantities of sand could literally create soil in which crops were grown to feed families.

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Model boats of the Irish Folklife collection

The National Museum of Ireland’s Folklife collection contains about 35 model boats of varying size and quality. While attention to detail and scale are not always guaranteed, those that are of a good quality can tell us much about their full-size versions. Models can be a useful reference when one cannot access the ‘real deal’.

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Tim Severin's The Brendan Voyage

Tim Severin was an explorer, author and historian who sadly passed away last month at the age of 80. Throughout 1976-1977, Severin led a small group of fellow explorers as they sailed the journey from Ireland west across the Atlantic Ocean to the Promised Land believed to have been completed by Saint Brendan in the sixth century.

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Dónal Mac Polin artwork donated to Museum

The National Museum of Ireland – Country Life received a very generous donation of 18 boat prints recently from artist and traditional boat expert Dónal Mac Polin. Dónal was the assistant editor and art editor of Traditional Boats of Ireland: History, Folklore and Construction, which was edited by Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh. Dónal is also the author of The Drontheim: Forgotten Sailing Boat of the North Irish Coast and of The Donegal Currachs.

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The hand line - if it's not broke, don't fix it

While working in the stores of the Irish Folklife collection recently, I came across a fishing hand line that was acquired by the National Museum of Ireland in 1928. It did not look familiar and a check of our object database told me that in my almost twenty years working on the collection, I had not worked on this particular object.

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Reviving the Galway hooker

Covid restrictions have struck again and travel outside of Mayo has been controlled. Thankfully, I was able to get to Galway city on Culture Night (18th September) to get updated on the tremendous work being carried out locally to revive the iconic Galway hooker. The hooker is an iconic symbol of Galway and the west coast that was admired in the past for its usefulness in a range of tasks and today for its beauty and history.

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Currach fishermen of Clare Island

In planning this year’s fieldwork last spring, I drew up a list of locations that I was keen to visit during the summer months. Traveling during the favourable summer weather would allow for some nice photography, more flexibility with extended ferry timetables to the islands and calmer seas which would permit more activity on the water. My plans were dealt a blow with the introduction of pandemic restrictions but once travel within your own county was permitted I immediately set about organising a visit to Clare Island.

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An afternoon with a currach fisherman

Standing at Port an Chuaille on Clare Island, I scanned beyond the quiet pier and tried to imagine what the seascape would have looked like when working currachs delicately hugged the lobster rich rocky coast and crisscrossed the choppy waters on route to the better local fishing areas. I did not have to imagine for long when a fisherman appeared on his motorbike and began to ready his currach for a day’s work.

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What boats are in the Irish Folklife Collection?

The collection contains over thirty traditional Irish boats. These boats are stored in three sites throughout Ireland including the home of the Irish Folklife collection at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life in Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co. Mayo. Currachs are particularly well represented in the collection with fifteen examples.

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Remembering our West of Ireland boats

Did you grow up in a fishing community, was your family involved in boat building or have you a memory of boats from the west coast? If you do, we would like to invite you to contribute your memories to inform the development of a new gallery at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life.

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