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What is a Currach?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
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  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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A currach is a type of watercraft native to Ireland and Scotland, and closely related to the Welsh coracle. The basic design of the currach has been in use for over a thousand years, with written records dating back to Roman descriptions of currachs in use along the coast of Ireland. Traditional makers of currachs are on the decline, but a few are still in existence, and some boat hobbyists are also involved in the production of currachs.

The design of a currach starts with laying down a framework made from a sturdy wood, such as oak. Next, the framework is covered to create a lightweight, watertight boat. Historically, the framework was covered in cured animal skins, although modern currachs are usually covered in canvas and other alternative materials which are coated in paints to resist water. People maneuver the currach with the use of oars, and may row alone or in teams, depending on the design of the boat.

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The Irish and Scots historically used currachs for fishing in inland waterways in addition to the open ocean. Some evidence suggests that the seemingly fragile boats were used in exploration, and that people may have even reached the New World in currachs. In 1978, one sailor successfully traveled from Ireland to Canada in a currach, demonstrating that such travels would have been possible. A number of regional variations on the basic design addressed unique conditions such as shallow rivers which required boats with a low draft, or rough seas which necessitated the use of a high sided currach to avoid swamping the boat.

In addition to being used for fishing and exploration, the currach was also used for regular transit of people and cargo. Unlike the Welsh coracle, a traditionally small boat, the currach could become quite large when made by a skilled craftsperson, and some regional variations were even made from solid wood, making them rather heavy and extremely sturdy.

This boat design was supplanted by the development of larger craft and all wooden craft, both of which could cause severe damage to currachs in the event of a collision. The boats were also pushed out by the use of sail and other propulsion techniques which were not considered practical for the currach. In some regions, people retained the use of traditional currachs to stay in touch with history, and currach rowing is a popular sport in several regions of the world.

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