WETTING THE SHAMROCK
On Saturday August 12th 2000 for the first time in over 50 years, two West Cork Yawls raced against each other. The race took place at the Crookhaven Regatta. The cup, a replica of the Derry na Flan Chalice, beautifully crafted by Mullingar Pewter, was sponsored by them and West Cork Web Ltd. as a perpetual trophy [on permanent display at O'Sullivan's Bar Crookhaven] and a pewter tankard with a shamrock motif as the winners prize. The race was won by Nigel Towse in An Rún. The cup was presented to Nigel by Mac O'Donoghue, RIP the last surviving owner and sailor of one of the original vessels. It was decided that the race should be a special close of season event at Crookhaven to be run on the last Saturday in August, weather permitting, open to all traditional working sailing boats from anywhere in Ireland so watch for local announcements around that time!
The Asgard 2 sail training vessel (now gone to a watery grave) was in Crookhaven as the committee boat for the 2002 event in which two replicas of the historic Hare Island Lobster Boat also competed. The race was won by Cormac Levis in a Towel Sail Yawl, [the local name for a Hare Island lobster boat]. An excellent and very readable book on these boats entitled Towel Sail Yawls, was written by Cormac and is well worth the purchase price.
In 2001, the race was won by Brian Ormond in Macalla. The cup was presented to Brian by Billy O'Sullivan, nephew of Mick O'Sullivan RIP, the owner of the original 'Shamrock'. Since that first race, the Glandore Classic Boat Festival and the Baltimore Wooden Boat festival have become the nautical highlights of the West Cork calendar.
The history of the revival.
During a course organised by The West Cork Leader Co-op in 1994, participants were asked to try to focus on ideas that would improve interest in the area. One of the participants was Terry Tuit, a local fisherman who observed that there seemed to be no physical evidence of the maritime history of West Cork. This seemed strange because fishing was and still is such a large part of the local economy. Galway had its hookers which were of tremendous interest. Where were the historic boats of West Cork?
He applied to West Cork Leader for a grant to conduct a study of the historic boats of the area and see if it would be feasible to restore or even rebuild one or more of them. He believed that the first one would spark local and competitive interest and that before too long, a revival of the design might take place, more boats would be built, races would be run and the design might become as famous to West Cork as the hooker is to Galway thus creating additional work for the local boatbuilders. There was a hope that the boat could be incorporated in the sail-training programme at Schull Community College. It would be wonderful if the students were given a chance to learn to sail on an authentic replica of the type of boat on which their grandfathers or even their great grandfathers sailed, around the early 1900's. Better again if the boat could be operated during the summer months and at weekends by these same students once qualified, offering sailing trips to visitors on this authentic replica, thus increasing tourist interest in the area.
West Cork Leader felt the concept had some merit and duly approved the request. Contact was made with local museums, historians and former boat owners. The National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire, The Ulster Folk Museum, Coiste an Asgard, Tyrrell's of Wicklow and more. The project met with enthusiasm everywhere, but very little information was available. Nonetheless, results of the study showed that there were indeed locally designed sailing vessels but that almost all of them had gone to a salty grave or rotted beyond recognition. Almost but not all.
Plans in those days were practically non-existent. Boats were built to a rule of thumb so that in fact, there were only two ways to duplicate the old designs. Either to have one built by one of the original builders, or take shapes and measurements from an existing hull if one could be found that was not too far sagged or rotted. Jimmy O'Reilly Snr. RIP the Schull Harbourmaster, was the most helpful and recounted stories of the old boats and where they had gone and where existing hulls might still be found. A hulk in Sneem, Co Kerry and another in Schull Co. Cork. An intact hull in Monkstown and another on Cape Clear and yet another report of a restoration project in Glensk, Co. Galway, right in the centre of Hooker territory.
The original boat on Cape Clear was the St Patrick, owned by Mac O'Donoghue RIP a man who had begun fishing in her with his father in 1939. Mac replanked her in 1960 but the timbers were not well seasoned and she needed to be replanked again and some frames replaced. It was Mac's dream that she be brought back to her former glory and sailed again and raced against the replicas. The Shamrock, a hull that had been beached some 20 years or more but was still intact enough to take measurements and hull shapings. A boat with the reputation of being the fastest of the local boats, the one that came first in every regatta.
There were stories of the owner, Mick O'Sullivan RIP [Mick the Shamrock], as told by a relative who was taken on as her mechanic when a Kelvin 15 hp petrol paraffin engine was added in the 1930's. How Mick for one memorable regatta had borrowed an extra mains'l and run goose winged before the wind, so that with every wave she crested, she'd leap almost a boat's length clear of her nearest rival. Stories too from Mick's daughters of the very early days of trawling and the huge fish that were caught because the local waters had never before been trawled.
This was the boat with the biggest acclaim and was surely the one most worthy of restoration or duplication. As part of the feasibility study, it was of course necessary to obtain estimates (at least two) from boatbuilders. Of those who came to price the job, Liam Hegarty's estimate for building the replica of the Shamrock, was almost 25% less than his nearest competitor and his interest was deep rooted and genuine. A natural historian, Liam was at that time working on a classic vessel designed in 1947 which was not a local design. He admitted that, had he known of the whereabouts of the old hulks, he would have built a replica the previous winter for the sheer love of his trade and the beauty of their design, in the hope that he would later find a suitable buyer. Liam was concerned that the Shamrock's hulk might spread and lose its geometry. He wanted to take measurements and shape profiles so that the design at least, would be preserved for all time. Permission to do so was readily obtained from Mick's daughters who were delighted to hear that their father might be remembered in this way. The biggest problem (surprise, surprise) was how to finance the actual construction of this ambitious project. West Cork Leader had intimated that subject to certain criteria, they would be willing to provide up to 50% of the necessary funds, but where to obtain the other 50%. Vince Ahern, principal of Schull Community College, was enthusiastic but had no funds available. He offered to approach Bobby Buckley of the Cork Vocational Education Committee, but was informed that no funds were available from that source either. Since the original vessel was The Shamrock, and the replica to be named the Shamrock 11, it was considered that the boat might make an excellent company image for Shamrock Foods if they would help to finance it. They turned it down. Erin Foods for a new fresh clean image? Not interested. Ford Motor Company with their major interest in sailing and as sponsors of Ford's Cork Week? Sorry, thanks but no thanks. Murphy's Brewery and their friendly rival? Same story. Even veteran film producer David Puttnam, who has a holiday home in the area, was approached by letter with an idea that if he or his company Enigma Productions, helped to finance the boat, it could be used in any historic films that might later be shot in the area. No reply was ever forthcoming. West Cork Bottling's Jerry Donovan was the most sympathetic supporter of the project. Born and reared in Schull, with an inborn affinity for the sea and most things nautical, Jerry could readily appreciate the value of this boat to the school and the community at large. However, while he offered the most encouragement, he was unable to offer financial help. Dialogue continued between Liam Hegarty and the project's researcher and time passed through the seasons back to winter again with no new financial developments.
Shipyards tend to be busier in the summer months but work was beginning to get scarce so Liam decided that although financing was still a problem, he would go ahead and build her anyway and she would be bound to generate her own interest and so Shamrock 11 began to take shape. Nigel Towse, a Sherkin Island resident had approached Liam because he wanted to build some kind of a boat, a punt or any boat at all. Liam suggested that he build a sister ship to the Shamrock 11. Working alongside Liam on the first replica and subsequently laying down the second keel in Liam's yard, Nigel had no previous boatbuilding experience but under Liam's expert guidance, Nigel learned fast and replica number two, An Rún (pronounced "an roon") is now berthed in Sherkin Island. Since her maiden voyage to the Glandore Classic Boats sail past in August 1996, Shamrock 11, has been quietly making her presence known by appearing unannounced at various West Cork regattas. Yachting buffs would question the local terminology. Strictly speaking, a yawl, recognised by her rig, is a two masted sailing vessel, with the after mast back of the sternpost and shorter than the foremast. A WestCork Yawl actually carries the rig of a gaff tops'l cutter. Meanwhile, Shamrock 11 is owned by Ivan Wolffe of Monkstown, who renamed her the Noble Shamrock. Ivan has looked after her well in the ensuing years and is now open to selling the Shamrock if there is someone interested enough to give her a good home. An Rún is still owned by Nigel Towes her builder and is based on Sherkin Island. It was sad to see the the third replica, Macalla, being sold into France where she got too much sun but is now happily back in Liam Hegarty's yard undergoing refurbishment. Sad also to see the fourth original, Nellie B go to Sligo but she too is now back to West Cork. Renamed An T-iascaire and owned by Uilleam Lorcan, she is presently stored in Liam Hegarty's yard ready for the new season.
An excellent book, showing restorations and new builds is: Hegarty's Boatyard- Last Surviving Traditional Wooden Boatyard in Ireland. A photographic essay by Kevin O'Farrell
Available in all good bookshops.
To date none of the boats are destined for the Schull Community College Sailing School. The dream lives on of seeing a replica [either existing or newly built] to be owned and/or operated by the Schull Community College or even the wider community, with the college as custodians, and becoming an icon for Schull or the Mizen peninsula.
The original Shamrock built early in the 1900's sold for less than 30 pounds. The first replica built in the late 1990's cost less than €15k. To build one today, all up, engine sails and rigging and ready to go would cost closer to €90k
Interested in helping to finance a new vessel or purchase an existing one?