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Native Irish boat building

The previous sections within this chapter have discussed the evolution of boats within a European context. My intention is to adapt the information on boat building in which to enable me to discuss the Irish dimension of the double-ended and clinker-built vessels. The native boats of Ireland are not standard or industrially produced vessels but are a traditional and cultural part of Ireland, which have stood the test of time. They are not built from plans but by craftsmen who have embraced their local traditions and passed on the legacy. According to Gailey (1975, 103)

“Design comes from within a community and is almost unconsciously reproduced by builders.”

The variation in local boat types can be attributed to three factors, function, environment and perhaps more strongly tradition. Firstly, function can be described as fulfilling a specific purpose. McCaughan uses the example of trawl-net fishing to illustrate this factor. Effective trawling power, strength and good sea keeping qualities must all be considered when constructing a boat for the named task. Secondly, environment can influence the size and shape of boats. For example boats found on sheltered Loughs and rivers can have a very different form to those used on the open sea, such an example would be a barge which would prove no match for the ‘swell of the sea’. Tradition underlines the regional differentiation which occurs in boat types and their methods of construction. For the purpose of this section I will concentrate on boats which fall into the category of ‘planked’ as they are the most built boat type in Ireland. As discussed in detail previously, planked boats are constructed either incorporating carvel-construction or clinker-construction. The earliest date for data on Irish sea fishing boats is 1836, as suggested by McCaughan (1975, 168) McCaughan (1989, 35) has identified that during the middle of the nineteenth century the predominant type of open worked boat on the north and east coasts of Ireland was the double-ended clinker-built Norway yawl. Figure 2.13 illustrates the extent of this boat’s distribution. This dispersal extended from Dublin Bay to the Inishowen Peninsula in northeast Donegal. However, the Norway yawl was regarded as the

“…Common row boat of Ulster” (McCaughan, 1982, 160)

The problem which arises when discussing the typology of Irish fishing boats is that a great variety of descriptive ‘names’ are used to refer to them, which to the novice causes much confusion and frustration! For example, a ‘skiff’ in Newcastle is regarded as a ‘yawl’ in Killough, while a ‘hooker’ in Galway is known as a ‘wherry’ in Cork. (Scott, 1983, 21) However, what might appear to be the same form of boat differs due to a vernacular distinction in shape, rig, build or purpose. In the case of the Norway yawl, these boats were entirely open and double-ended, that is sharp at both stem and stern. Dimensions for this type varied slightly, but they usually had a keel length of 18-20 feet with a beam of 5.5-6 feet. (McCaughan, 1982, 178) The yawls were primarily used for line fishing and rowed with four oars but often set a lug or sprit sail. (Joe McClean, oral evidence) Norway yawls were regarded as safe, service-able boats and could be easily hauled out of the water by two men. (Malcolm Collins, oral evidence) As the name suggests these boats were imported direct from Norway but were modified in Ireland by the addition of one or two ‘strakes’. (McCaughan, 1982, 176) Commentators have suggested that by the 1840’s these boats were in some areas coming to the end of their working lives. The explanation was believed to lie in the decline of the timber trade with Norway brought on by raising duties on Baltic timber. (Davis, 1979, 46) This effected the shipment of Norway yawls as they were brought in with the timber cargoes.

However, as mentioned above, by the second half of the nineteenth century the double-ended clinker-built boat had remained the characteristic sailing and pulling craft of the north and east coast of Ireland. It also spread out and replaced other boat types in Donegal, Sligo and Mayo. (McCaughan, 1982, 179) On the north coast of Ulster the successors of the Norway yawl were known as Drontheim boats (Trondheim) receiving their name from a port in Norway. They were also referred to as Greencastle yawls, after the village in east Donegal, although the main building centres for this boat type were at Moville in County Donegal and at Portrush in County Antrim. (McCaughan, 1982, 38) From about 1880 Moville and Portrush boat builders began to export yawls to Scotland were they became known as Greencastle skiffs. The appeal the yawls generated appeared to focus on their usefulness in areas of limited harbour facilities and as a result were introduced to parts of Ireland that had a concentration of poor fishermen such as Mayo and Galway as identified by McCaughan (1982, 179) In Ireland today the double-ended clinker-built boat is still alive and well however it is generally found in a motorised form. The general shape and construction of this particular boat type forms a small part of the north west European boat building tradition. This as discussed previously centred in Scandinavia and was developed and modified to suit the needs of the many indigenous peoples of Europe. It is evident when looking at Ireland that this tradition lives on, reflected in the half-decked motor boats of Donegal to a reconstructed fishing yawl in Killough!

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