Two Newly Hatched Currachs

by editor

by Scott Peterson

by Scott Peterson

 by Arista Holden

In May of 2016, The Scholarshipwrights brought one of Ireland’s few remaining currach builders, James Madigan, and his assistant, Matthew Dirr, a graduate of the Apprenticeshop, to lead a currach-building workshop in Nobleboro, Maine. Working in a former 1950s sawmill on a quiet, pastoral backroad near Damariscotta Lake, nine participants spent two weeks building two boats: a 25-foot racing currach, also called a naomhóg (“nay-vogue”), from County Kerry, and 16-foot fishing currach from Scattery Island, near the mouth of the Shannon River in County Clare — possibly the first of its kind built outside of Ireland. Both boats were launched in Damariscotta Lake on May 29.

Madigan has built more than 40 of them. For the last 10 years he has taught currach workshops throughout Ireland and twice now in Maine. He teaches in the methods he learned as a teen-aged apprentice to his grandfather –– through the oral tradition, using simple hand-made gauges, templates and jigs to produce fine, seaworthy vessels. “They once were a tool for fishing,” Madigan said, “and now they have a new purpose, to be a tool for the community.” Madigan sees it as his responsibility to promote boat building and craft in Ireland, and he wants to help people gain skills, abilities and confidence.

We spent as much time working on the two boats, as we did in the kitchen cooking meals, and so just as we steam bent the ribs to create the structure of these whale-like vessels, we also took hands around the dinner table each night, softening the lignin of each individual and reforming our fibers in theshape of a caring community. Twenty or so people gathered to celebrate the launching of the two boats. James offered a blessing for safe passage. He poured holy water brought from Ireland onto two branches of fir and tucked them inside the rungs of the bow gunnels. The larger group took hands around the two currachs to honor the unique simplicity, sophistication, sensible scale and seaworthiness of this ancient and enduring tradition and to hold space for its continued survival. 

For more information on upcoming/future currach courses: www.scholarshipwrights.org

To learn about Madigan’s and Dirr’s work in Ireland: www.ilen.ie

IMG_7663

by Scott Peterson

IMG_7707

by Scott Peterson

IMG_7773

by Scott Peterson

Currach launching from Scholarshipwrights on Vimeo.

Further reading: Traditional Boats of Ireland:History, folklore and construction. Edited by Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh. Published in 2008 for the Traditional Boats of Ireland Project by The Collins Press, Cork