A curragh - Brian Morrison


A curragh - Brian Morrison


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The Curragh is the Irish boat par excellence. This boat probably originating from the Neolithic period remains the only one still used in the maritime environment for Western Europe. The curragh is the most archaic. It would seem that it served as a vector for the various Celtic migrations from the first to the second millennium BC. There are few representations of the boat and the most famous are found on the Bantry stone or on an engraving dating from the seventeenth century where we can see Captain Philipps.

History of the Curragh

The Curragh, an Irish boat with ancient origins

This type of skin boat has appeared all over the world without consultation. At the same time, among the Normans there were “the cyules”. The Greeks and the Romans had the “Carabas”. The latter, in Caesar’s time, had discovered curraghs during the campaign in the island of Brittany and used them in Spain.

Legend has it that Saint Brendan, an Irish saint and great navigator, crossed the seas and oceans with his disciples on board a curragh.

Presentation of the Curragh

This light canoe has no keel. The skin is being replaced more and more by tarred canvas, but the internal wooden structure remains unchanged. Its use is limited to inshore fishing and transportation between the western islands.

There are two main types of Curragh:

  • the small ones, averaging 5 metres in length, are made from wicker and willow carcasses, all covered with beef skins. It took about 45 cowhides to cover a 9.6-metre long curragh. Their shapes can vary from round, oval or long, woven wooden skirts made of animal skins.
  • the largest were 12 metres long, were equipped with sails called “sous carré” (wider than high). The payload of the latter could reach 2 tons.

The reliability of these coracles in the face of rough seas was proven by the voyages of Tim Séverin and his companions in 1976 and 1977.

Curragh Making Process

Propelled by oar or sail, it can nowadays accommodate a motor. The construction begins with the manufacture of the top of the frame. Two longitudinal pieces of wood connected to each other by a series of spacers make up the gunwale of the boat. The perimeter of the boat being made and assembled, slats are bent transversely and embedded in the gunwale.

Finally, a series of slats are placed at regular intervals lengthwise on the outside of the frame. When the framework is completed, it is covered with tar-coated canvas or 8 to 12 millimetre thick skins sewn together with pitch-coated linen thread to make the whole thing watertight. One of the advantages of the canvas, apart from the cost, is the ease with which it can be repaired by adding new pieces of canvas, on the same principle as the patch.

In inclement weather, this skin covering could be folded down and closed, making the boat watertight and relatively “unsinkable”.


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