Aran currach

It always amazes me the power of the internet to connect people who share a common interest. After I posted about the launch of our Dunfanaghy curach, 369starchild wrote: August 1969 Inishere, Galway Bay, Michie Conneelly built me a 3 man Aran cwrwch. I was inspired to go there by James Hornell’s paper 1937 “The Curraghs of Ireland”
I have many pics taken during the building. If you want to see them contact me on email address.

Well, of course I wanted to see them and my email brought this wonderful reply from Alan Byde:

Enthusiasm for the oldest form of boat continues. I was inspired first by meeting a bloke, Eustace (?) at Ironbridge with his Severn coracle. 1967. I was paddling a w/w kayak at the time. I entered the coracle carefully, paddled away using sculling strokes and returned to his surprise. “They usually fall in” he said sounding disappointed.

Then I found James Hornell’s collection of papers for the Mariners’ Mirror, circa 1937. Still available from Greenwich Maritime Museum. Then a canoeing solicitor from Southampton suggested I contact Michie Conneelly, West Village, Inishere, Aran by Galway. I did and he invited us to camp on his piece of sand. Michie must be long dead by now but his family flourishes. My currach “Saint Caoman” (Kevaughan)  was launched by the priest and blessed. I am NOT religious, but as he said “It is of and from this island so I bless it for the island.” Saint Caoman circa 6th C was a farmer, fisherman, teacher and had “power over winds, mists and storms”.  He obviously kept an eye on the weather.

I have many sketches of details on the currach, too many to send off now but I will if you are interested. The curragh weighed about 200+ pounds so it didn’t do the Hillman Minx suspension any favours. We travelled from Doolin, aka Roadford, to Oxford where we lived. I took corners carefully. The B&W sketch for the mag. “Afloat” is a fairly accurate image. I know, I helped to build it, photograph and I sketched it. I asked Michie how long did it usually take to build? He said two men in a hurry with everything to hand could do it in two days. This boat took a fortnight of easy work with visits to the two bars on the island.

I am pushing 84 now, but that craft is too important. I was a sea kayaker for 40 years and there are five books published about that. The pic of the Inuit in a Umiak shows how near the two boats are. I feel certain that Inuit crossed the N Atlantic millennia ago. The pic of a curragh circa 1937 was taken by Hornell. My curragh was built from that workshop in 1969. St Caoman eventually arrived at St Fagan’s museum, Cardiff.

Aran workshop 1934 Aran currach on car roof AFLOAT article 2 Umiak and sail

As promised, Alan has sent more details and photos and promised even more which I’ll post shortly.


About Steve Tomlin

I am a greenwood worker and scythe tutor. I carve spoons, bowls and other products from locally sourced greenwood. During the summer I teach scything around the UK.
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2 Responses to Aran currach

  1. Bob Thomas says:


    Please tell Alan Byde alas Eustace Rogers of Ironbridge has long departed the Severn. His memory lives on though as The Greenwood centre stills runs coracle courses each August. The finale is the Bank Holiday Coracle Race when the new coracleers also test their craft on the river. Coracleers travel from all over. Last years Race was on CBBC last night; the action starts at 21.09. Bob

  2. Ed Foster says:

    I could use access to any copies of pictures you want to pass along. I’m working on a 23 ft. curragh, essentially an Aran Islands boat with four and a half foot beam, but with a bit more sheer aft and a slightly smaller transom, more like a Kerry Naevouge (forgive the phonetic spelling).

    A big advantage of the Aran boats is the cylindrical center section, with a constant beam through half the length of the boat, and a thwart at the beginning and end of the load bearing center section. That lets me put the leeboard exactly at the reenforced center thwart, with a 50 square foot balanced lugsail stepped through a hole in both the forward and aft thwarts.

    She should schoon nicely in light airs, and reef down well in a blow, or simply pull the unstayed masts out, tuck them under the rowing seats, and unship the ash breeze.

    A question I have pertains to function under sail. I’m wondering if I could simply steer with an oar trailed from the windward side of the aft thwart, or if I would need a dedicated steering oar?

    I’m hopeing for a few gentle days on Long Island Sound to find out.

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