They were the boats that Moville & Greencastle people’s ancestors used to transport sheep, turf and seaweed and used for fishing more than 200 years ago going right back to ancient times. They ventured to the islands in them and even as far as the West of Scotland to trade. The ancient curragh was used for centuries until replaced in this area by the Drontheim which originated from Trondheim in Norway. Timber was imported from Norway to Derry and the Drontheims replaced the native Curragh.

Curraghs continued to be built in other areas of Ireland such as Galway where upgraded versions were used. The traditional Curraghs around here were mainly made in the Sheephaven area.

Donal MacPolin, a master craftsman, who is from around here but lives in Dublin, published a book which sells in the area called Curraghs. Donal was brought up in Montgomery Terrace and heard the hammering of the boatbuilders when he grew up there and got the bug for boats from that.

Edmund Tunney working on the Curragh

Edmund Tunney working on the Curragh

Curraghs were still being built in Sheephaven till the 1950s. Donal talked to all the old Curragh boatbuilders who were left from that era and found out all the tricks of the trade and how to build them. Just as well he did as all the old curragh builders are now dead and the skill would have been lost.

He has built Curraghs in Islay, Los Angeles, Norway and Holland.

But to our tale.

Edmund Tunney, who is an Irish American who lives in Minneapolis but owns a house in the area, decided that he wanted to build one. He asked Donal if he would help and advise him. Donal agreed. Next he enlisted the help of a friend of his, Balaji Kancharla (called BJ) originally from Hyderabad in South India but now resident in St. Louis in the USA.

Well, he didn’t exactly enlist him. When he picked BJ up at the airport he told him “BJ, we’re going to make a Curragh and I want your help”. It turned out later that BJ thought Edmund said they were going to make a curry. They went out to the woods where they collected twigs and branches from the hazel tree. “What sort of curry is this?” thought BJ.

However, after it was all explained, they set about their task. It is being built in Mickey McCormick’s workshop in Greencastle and he has supplied all the tools and Donal has supplied the expertise. It’s made from all locally grown hazel and some willow.

Edmund, Donal and BJ

Edmund, Donal and BJ

At the moment, after 5 days, the frame is all built. It took 4 days to make the frame and one to paint it. They have to put the canvas skin on and then three or four coatings of tar. They reckon that it will take them three days and it will finish this week.

They will trial it by themselves first of all but the formal launch will be during the Greencastle Regatta. That will be something to look forward to.

THe Curragh is 16 feet long and just over 4 feet wide. It will be used for fishing and rowing. As there were no labour costs and no consultancy charges from Donal, and as they were able to use Mickey McCormick’s tools, the total cost, they reckon, will be about €600 to build the Curragh. There is no keel on the boats but they are built to ride the waves and I’m told it is an amazing feeling to be in them on the waves.

The last thing they will do before the launch is to attach a small bottle of Holy Water to the bough (that’s the tradition) and then it’s away. That should be something special to see at the Greencastle Regatta in mid-August. The dreams of Donal and Edmund are very close to fruition. The curragh is back in Greencastle.

Edmund, BJ and Mick McCormick with the Curragh they are building

Edmund, BJ and Donal with the Curragh they are building