Downstrands Boat Building Project Open Day this Saturday

The art of wooden boat building is being revived in Portnoo. The traditional skills are being kept alive in the community as part of a Downstrands Family Resource Centre boat building project based at the old AOH Hall in Kilclooney. The Rosbeg and Portnoo Community Boat-building Workshop got underway in October with 15 men from SW Donegal meeting together, passing on their skills and learning from each other.

The art of wooden boat building is being revived in Portnoo. The traditional skills are being kept alive in the community as part of a Downstrands Family Resource Centre boat building project based at the old AOH Hall in Kilclooney. The Rosbeg and Portnoo Community Boat-building Workshop got underway in October with 15 men from SW Donegal meeting together, passing on their skills and learning from each other.

The Rosbeg and Portnoo Boat Building Workshop is holding its open day and launch this Saturday, December 10, from 11am to 1pm. Visitors can come along and see the seven 17ft wooden boats in progress, talk to the boat builders and get an insight into the traditional art of building a wooden boat.

The three workshop leaders are all skilled boat builders from the community who are giving their time to pass on their knowledge and expertise to a new generation. “There is a skill in building a wooden boat and that will be lost if we don’t keep it going,” said Patsy Harkin from Rosbeg, one of the Workshop Leaders. Pasty built his last wooden boat in the 1980’s with his father Packie Harkin. Patsy kept meticulous hand-written notes on how to construct a 17ft boat and it is these notes and measurements that are being used as a blueprint to build the new boats.

He told the Donegal Democrat: “My father was a tradesman and a boat builder throughout his life. He built rowing and sailing boat and his first motor boat in 1955, I think. He built boats from 17 to 30 ft long for commercial fishermen, right up until the early 1980’s, when the fiberglass boats came in and demand fell.

“My son Patrick, who is 28 and so was born in 1982, had never seen a boat being built but this was an ideal project. There was a great interest for me personally, to be able to pass it on, even though it’s been 30 years since I built a boat.

“Michael John Nicholson is in the same boat, so to speak. He was a boat builder and was involved in the last boat building class here 30 years ago.

“We’re only on the go about five weeks now but we hope to have the seven boats finished by Easter. It’s been a great success so far and we’re really looking forward to seeing the boats out on the water at Easter.”

The Ancient Order of Hiberian Hall in Kilclooney is no stranger to boat building. From 1979 to 1981, around 20 boats were built in the hall as part of a government initiative to upgrade the fishing fleet in Portnoo. Pat McLoone from Rosbeg,another of the Workshop Leaders ,well remembers this time because his father John McLoone was the carpentry teacher working on the project. The fishermen of the area came together to build boats in teams of three and over the duration of the project they each took possession of a new boat. One of the fishermen was Michael J Nicholson from Portnoo. He built a fine 20ft boat which is still in use today. The size of the boat caused some consternation as the door had to be removed and the floor dug out to remove the finished boat! Michael is one of today’s Workshop Leaders, passing on his skill and ingenuity.

Today’s boat builders - Patrick Harkin, Shane McLoone, Declan McLoone, George Adair, Daniel Johnston, Patrick Johnston, Pat Conlon, Ronan O’Muruchu, William Gallagher, Paul Brennan, John Carr and Joe Butler- are working in teams to construct the red deal, larch and oak boats. It is anticipated that the boats will be complete by Easter 2012 in time to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the AOH hall in Kilclooney

One of the participants, Willie Gallagher from Dunkineely, was on holiday in Pearl River upstate New York when he spotted the advertisement for the boat building project in the Donegal Democrat. He was so keen to learn how to build a boat, Willie lost no time by calling Downstrands Family Resource Centre from the US to register his interest.

Thanks must go to Maeve McGarvey, Donegal VEC Community Education Officer, who part funded the project, and to the Dolmen Centre, who loaned the AOH hall for the duration of the project. Everyone is welcome to attend Saturday’s Open Day.