In the summer of 2008, an audit of the traditional boats and currachs of Co Clare was undertaken by the author. A steering group of interested parties was set up under the direction of Congella McGuire, Clare Heritage officer and Tomas Mac Conmara, Heritage Project officer. The project produced an inventory of traditional boats and currachs that established a priority list for their future conservation. The study also examined the local variations in traditional boat and currach building, associated customs, usage and typology.
50ft fishing boat at Kilrush boatyard. Photo Darina Tully
Vessels over 25 years
The audit was confined to boats deemed to be ‘heritage boats’. In keeping with the definition of heritage under The Heritage Act 1995, heritage boats were defined, for the purposes of this study, as vessels over 25 years old.
The project found that Co Clare has three distinctive areas of water-based transport: the dynamic West Coast, the Shannon Estuary and the relatively calm waters of Lough Derg. Thirty classes of boats were identified in use within the county. Currachs and gandelows make up more than half of the 220 heritage boats now on the inventory.
A total of 70 currachs were found, displaying eight different styles; the most numerous styles are the West Clare currach of which 39 were identified. Over 60 gandelows, the flat-bottomed dory style boats of the Shannon estuary were found, displaying six regional styles. Other boats recorded were heritage barges; angling boats; clinker lake boats; classic sailing dingys and yachts, and a number of wooden half deckers and trawlers.
The Clare study noted that the problems of the fishing sector, particular traditional net fishing, need to be highlighted as it will directly affect the numbers of working boats in the near future.
Preserving local identity
A study of this type quantifies the heritage resource to heritage managers. Publication of the report is also an endorsement of the work of the many individuals and groups involved in preservation and education. The study also showed that traditional boats, as well as being important physical cultural artefacts, are also strong symbols of local identity.Research into other aspects of maritime heritage noted in the study has a national significance, such as the value of traditional boats to local economises.
At the maritme summer school in Glandore last July, Henrick Boland of the European Maritime Heritage Association gave a overview on the economic value of traditional boats. He highlighted how investment in maritime heritage can have a direct contribution to local communities – not only as a means to continuance boating traditions but also in monitory terms.
He outlined the experience in other Europeans countries where small investment in restoring traditional craft; dissemination of information; regattas and festivals have had a direct return in increased visitor numbers and tourists. He reported that the 500 annual traditional boat regattas and open days throughout the EU attract around 25 million visitors and generate around €500 million in revenue.
The Heritage officers of Clare, the Clare Heritage Forum, the Heritage Boat Association and the West Clare Currach Club are to be commended for the work they are undertaking to preserve their traditional boats.
The study was part financed by the Heritage Council; a synopsis is available in a colour booklet from Clare County Council (Details on The Clare Co. Co. website)