In 2013 maritime authors and historians John and Ann Gilman published Crossways, a book about the spread of Christianity from Ireland and South Wales to the Somerset coastline during the post Roman era. From this work the project ‘Saints from the Sea’ was conceived to recreate the sailings in a traditional Celtic boat, the currach. In the August of 2013 John Gilman approached Minehead Development Trust’s Vision Manager, Stephen Hooper, to ask for help in finding funding to buy a currach from Ireland. Stephen says: “I explained to John that I didn’t think it would be easy to find funding to buy one but I was sure we could bid for funding to build one. Celebrating and revaluing Minehead’s maritime heritage is one of the core themes of the Action Plan to regenerate the town and this is a project that brings the community, its heritage and the environment together to create a piece of living history.”
Currachs were the mainstay vessel of the Celtic culture for 1,000 years, they ranged from six to sixty foot long, and followed the same design. The shape of the hull and flexibilty of the structure were perfectly suited to the Bristol Channel and the Irish Sea. Currachs even crossed the Atlantic Ocean. A small boat could be built in a matter of days from locally-sourced materials and they had a work life of around eight years. The currach faded out as the Viking clinker design and Saxon culture spread across Britain but currachs are still very much part of Irish culture and currach racing is a popular sport.
From the 24 -29 March a team of currach builders from Cork will be working with volunteers and long-term unemployed people to build a seven-man twenty-eight-foot masted curragh (timber supplied by Exmoor National Park Authority) outside the new Information Centre and Minehead Museum at the YMCA Beach Hotel and Cafe. The Beach Cafe and Information Centre will be opening on 22 March followed by Minehead Museum on 29 March. The project will launch the concept of a “Heritage Hub” in partnership with West Somerset Railway to enhance the zone as a visitor arrival and welcoming point providing a ambassadorial service for the town.
The boat building will be viewable by the public between 10am and 8pm and there are eight places still available for volunteers to learn about the process from 6pm to 8pm. Contact Dan Cross, Vision Project Administrator, on 07975 640167. The finished boat will be launched at Minehead Harbour on Sunday 30 March.
Watch this space for more news on the project next week!