Thursday 17 October 2019

The story of the 'Skerries currach'

The story of the currach that came to Skerries is the subject of new documentary set for film festival circuit

Currach Na Sceirí and its crew on their maiden voyage. (pic by Mark Broderick)
Currach Na Sceirí and its crew on their maiden voyage. (pic by Mark Broderick)
Pulling out of Skerries harbour
Parading the boat to the sea

Ken Phelan

A group of friends from Skerries have got together and built the town's first ever 'currach', an ancient Irish wooden boat which can be traced back thousands of years to the very first settlers in Ireland.

It's believed the first settlers, having come across Europe, made their home in Northern Ireland having arrived in boats much like the currach. The currach dates as far back as the Neolithic period, and even Julius Caesar made mention of encountering them when the Irish made incursions into Britain.

Such was the interest in this ancient craft that a motley crew of Skerries friends decided to put their heads together and build one. The group - which included a pilot, a design engineer, an RTE cameraman, a B&B owner, 86-year-old 'Teddy' and four others decided to get their feet wet and begin work on 'Currach Na Sceiri'.

As Aer Lingus pilot and team member Kevin O'Sullivan said: 'It came out of Shane's head (Project Leader Shane Holland); he was from Donegal and would've been interested in the currachs; he had a history of the sea, and he was fascinated with the boats. He always had this desire to do something for them, as he knew they were disappearing from a lot of places along the coast.

'A couple of years ago, there was a tender out for projects for the centenary of 1916, and he put in a design for a type of currach that had never existed before. He came second in the competition, but because he didn't win, it never went anywhere. Myself and Shane just got chatting a couple of years ago about the idea, and it was only when one of our friends bought a house with a 20 foot by 20 foot garage that we thought it would be an opportunity to take on the project.'

The project itself, built in a garage on Skerries' South Strand, took the men eight months to complete, working diligently through last year's bitter winter. Shane ran his own design workshop near Drogheda, so he was able to cut and prepare the Irish larch they sourced. Every Tuesday and Friday, the friends would work on the boat's construction, all based on Shane's plans.

Kevin explained 'Shane had been taking notes for years, and went to look at currachs in Clare Island, Kerry, Kilkee, Donegal and Achill. There are very few plans around for building a currach so he had to go and try to track them down. There are books, but they're very sketchy. You really have to see one up close and and take photos, so that's what he was doing.'

When it was finally completed in July this year, the boys marched the 20 foot currach through Skerries, much to the bewilderment of the locals. As Mark says, the sight of the lads carrying an upside-down boat on their heads must have looked like 'some sort of bizarre religious procession.'

Currently, another team member, Mark Broderick is promoting a documentary he made on construction of Currach na Sceiri both here and abroad, with, he says, currach clubs opening in the U.S., Italy and Spain and other places. To date, the film has been entered into both national and international film festivals for next year, and Mark is hoping to have some interest from Irish museums and Irish heritage centres worldwide.

Speaking of the warm reception given to Currach na Sceiri in Skerries itself, Kevin concluded: 'The reaction in Skerries has been great, and very positive. People just love the idea. We've had people walk up to us and ask if it's a currach, because it couldn't be a currach in Skerries, so it's really touched on something in the town.

'There's so much going on in Skerries, it just adds to the colour of the place and has really just captured the imagination.

'It's all about rejuvenating the old craft, and what we liked about it is that it's away from mobile phones and computers.

We'd be hopeful too that some youth would get involved in this, and perhaps have currach races here in Skerries, which really would be an amazing thing...'

Fingal Independent