Thursday 20 June 2019

Three-island challenge

Shane Holland talks to Ken Phelan about one of the highlights of this year's Skerries Midusmmer Festival that aims to recreate a famous stout ad

The crew of the Skerries Currach
The crew of the Skerries Currach

The seafaring environmentalists behind Currach na Sceiri, a kayak-style 'currach' which collects waste from Skerries' three islands, have announced their 'Three Island Challenge', to take place during this month's Skerries Midsummer Festival.

The novel challenge, based on a famous Guinness advertisement, involves crews transporting a keg of Guinness around Colt Island, St Patrick's Island and Shenick Island, before returning to shore to celebrate over a pint of plain.

The motley Currach na Sceiri crew includes a pilot, a design engineer, an RTE cameraman, a B&B owner, 86-year-old 'Teddy' and four others, who constructed the ancient vessel in 2018 after designer Shane Holland followed his dream of constructing the town's first currach.

Speaking to The Fingal Independent in the run up to the festival and the Three Island Challenge, Shane explains what will happen on the day, and what will become of the barrel of the black stuff: 'We had been encouraged by Michael Brannigan (one of the organisers of the festival) to take part when we were supporting some of the sea swimming races.

'He encouraged us to do something, and we were kind of discussing that we could do a three island challenge, and that we could replicate the old Guinness ad with the three lads and the currach, with the keg of Guiness in the back of it.

'So we're encouraging Ollie from Ollie's bar to put up a keg for the winner to get a few currachs out from Ringsend and East Wall and possibly Carlingford to partake in the challenge.

'The challenge is to row from Colt Island to St Patrick's and Shenick then back to the beach; that's the three islands, so either go around or tip off the islands and back to the shore, which is about an eight or nine kilometre run, then first home will win the keg or a suitable prize.

'It's really also weather dependent, but we'll certainly be there at the beach and people can look at the construction and maybe even take a spin in it on the day.

'It hasn't been confirmed yet, but we're trying to get three or four currachs in on it, and we're just working on that at the moment.

'Ringsend have certainly said they might be interested in coming out, and they might have two currachs, so I think it's going to be three currachs for the challenge.'

He says: 'We just want to tip off the islands so we're not disturbing any of the wildlife, because it's nesting time this time of year.

'Our island challenge is just an idea we had, and we wanted to show people that they're (the currachs) able to travel decent distances and that you're able to get a bit of fitness out of it.

'I'll be doing a bit of training over the next couple of weeks, and hopefully it'll be one of the highlights of the festival.

'People love seeing it out, and there's always somebody watching from the beach, and I think everybody in Skerries is very proud of it.'

Shane, who designed Currach na Sceiri himself, had helped, along with his son, with the construction of a Donegal currach in 2015, and decided this was something he wanted to do himself.

He gathered a group of likeminded boat enthusiasts, and soon set to work building the 20ft Cork larch and ballistic nylon-made vessel.

The currach, Shane says, was a unique design to Skerries, being a mixture of currach styles.

'The nice thing about it', he says, was that the currach was financed entirely by the crew, affording them all joint ownership.

The currach 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 runs 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.

After five or six months' hard work, the lads were ready to test the waters in July 2018.

Shane says: 'I designed the currach at the start of 2018; we built it during the winter, then launched it in the summer of 2018.

'We built it on the South Strand in Skerries in Teddy's shed.

'We've been doing the rounds now, going out to the islands collecting plastic and ocean waste.

'Originally that programme started as a kayak project, which started just over two years ago.

'We hit the 10,000 mark last week, in terms of 10,000 pieces of plastic removed off the islands.

'So that was forty six trips, mostly by kayak and mostly by myself, but also with friends. Then more recently, the currach has been able to take more of the heavy stuff, like the lobster pots and things like that.'

Shane says the real purpose of the Three Island Challenge is to highlight the environmental work the project is carrying out on the three islands, which have been littered with plastic bottles, fishermen's waste and other debris.

Interest in the crew's project has been such that their endeavours have attracted the attention of national broadcasters RTE and TG4, with an online film of their work reaching 150,000 views.

One of the crew, Mark Broderick, made the film about Currach na Sceiri, which appeared in the Fastnet Film Festival this year, and details the construction of the currach and its environmental work.

The film has now gone out to an Australian film festival so the story of the Skerries currach is being spread right across the world.

The crew have even been approached by a farmer in Ballyboughal who also wants to build a currach, so Shane hopes the idea of this kind of traditional Irish boat-building in Fingal has been re-energised.

The sea dominates Skerries and has its say in almost every aspect of life in this coastal town and it is one of the greatest attractions of living there, according to Shane.

Asked of the influence of the sea on Skerries life, Shane says: 'Skerries is nearly in the sea, so it's a huge thing.

'I'm a blow-in to Skerries, I came over from Co. Meath and from Dublin City, but I always came to Skerries as a kid.

'It was all trawlers and everything, and it was a great influence.

'Everybody in Skerries walks the beaches, everybody loves seeing the sea and using it. When I moved here, I got straight into kayaking and into boats and loved that whole element of it.

'I think there's a whole culture of being beside the sea and using it rather than just looking at it.

Speaking of the role the sea plays in the local economy, he says: 'It's obviously important to people who have boats and all that, there's all the restaurants and people around the harbour that depend on it, and the watersports and the outboard people and the people with B&Bs.

'People come to Skerries because of the sea, and from all around Fingal, just to hang out and see a bit of the sea.'

The local environmentalist says: 'I think Skerries has a special place in a lot of people's hearts, it's known as a great place to live, and I wouldn't move out of it for any money.'

Shane says that after the Three Island Challenge, there'll be lots of music and merriment on the Skerries seafront, and as to what else happens on the night, 'that's the hundred dollar question.'

The famed Guinness barrel, Shane says, may have to be repatriated with Ollie's bar once the sun sets and Currach na Sceiri has been put to bed, but as Ollie himself is in on the act, the Guinness is likely to flow as the crews regale locals with their fishermen's tales into the early hours.

The sixth annual Skerries Midsummer Festival takes place on June 21-June 23, and promises to be a fun-packed event for all the family, with watersports, family amusements and a beachside tented festival village with something to entertain and interest the whole family. It's on of Fingal's youngest but finest festivals.

Bring the kids along and don't forget to look out for Shane and his currach.

Fingal Independent