The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Currach making

 

The making of Irish boats with a wooden frame and traditionally covered with hide or canvas.

This craft uses products derived from animals – please read our ethical sourcing statement.

 

Status Critically endangered
Historic area of significance Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland
Area currently practised Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland
Origin in the UK Neolithic
Current no. of professionals (main income) 0 in Northern Ireland (see other information)
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
0
Current no. of trainees 0
Current total no. serious amateur makers
1 in Northern Ireland
Current total no. of leisure makers
3-6
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Currachs are found all over Ireland as both sea going and river craft, and have varying designs according to how they were used. They are known as naomhóg in Cork, Kerry and Waterford.

Currachs are a light, buoyant, affordable and adaptable craft that can be launched and beached in the most exposed places. Once made exclusively of natural, easily accessible local materials such as willow, hazel and animal hide, they now often use alternative materials such as calico and fibreglass. Despite many changes and innovations, the essential design and qualities of the currach have remained largely unchanged.

Ireland has an unbroken tradition of usage from prehistoric times to the present. Currachs were used in the modern period for fishing, for ferrying and for the transport of goods and livestock, including sheep and cattle. Today, currachs are used for tourism and leisure purposes. Currach racing has become an increasingly popular sport across Ireland and currach designs have been developed specifically for racing.

There is a rich social history surrounding the sea going currach that tell a story of the dangerous and tenuous lives of the subsistence fishing communities of Ireland. For the future, this ancient craft has considerable potential in terms of amenity and recreational activity besides its intrinsic heritage value.

Currach making is listed on Ireland’s Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

 

Techniques

The framework consists of latticework formed of rib-frames (hoops) and stringers (longitudinal slats), surmounted by a gunwale. There are stem and stern posts, but no keel. The outside of the hull is covered by tarred canvas or calico, a substitute for animal hide.

A currach is built frame first and the hull is then constructed by turning it upside down. This distinguishes it from virtually every other boat type which are built from the keel up. Construction plans for most currachs do not exist as the skills of the craft has been passed down hand-to-hand for generations.

 

Local forms

  • Galway currach
  • Clare Canoe
  • Dunfanaghy currach
  • Donegal currach
  • Tory Islands currach
  • Owey island currach
  • Boyne currach

Welsh and English coracles are closely related to the currach but are thought to have developed independently.

 

Sub-crafts

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

 

Support organisations

Craftspeople currently known

Individual craftspeople:

  • Ciaran Breen – Lough Neagh Boating Heritage Association

There are a number of amateur makers who have made currachs but none making on any significant scale.

Currach makers outside of the UK include West Clare Curraghs (Republic of Ireland) and Meitheal Mara Community Boatyard, Cork (Republic of Ireland).

 

Other information

It is impossible to separate the currach tradition of Northern Ireland from that of the Republic of Ireland, although there are many regional variations of the craft.

 

References

  • Mac Cárthaigh, Críostóir, (ed) (2008) Traditional Boats of Ireland (Collins Press)
  • Mac Polin, Donal, (2007) The Donegal Currach (Ballybay Books)
  • Badge, Peter, (2009) Coracles of the World (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch)
  • Hornell, James (1938) British Coracles and Irish Curraghs (Mariner’s Mirror)
  • Mac Conamhna, Breandán, (2010) The Belderrig Curragh and its People