Background

The Causeway Coast Maritime Heritage Group (CCMHG) is a special-interest community organisation, proactive in the revitalisation and interpretation of the North Irish seafaring experience. As of January 2001 CCMHG is now registered for charitable status. Our aims are to preserve and interpret the maritime heritage of the North Irish coast in imaginative and interactive ways, which enable both community participation andpersonal development.

The CCMHG was found in 1993 in Portrush, by three local maritime enthusiasts – Robin Ruddock, an outdoor educator, Jim Allen an environmental officer and Robert Anderson, a river pilot and maritime historian. Today group members enjoy a close partnership with the local community and are also actively involved in the:

  • Northern Ireland Museum Council’s working group on Maritime Heritage
  • Irish Whale and Dolphin Group
  • Yawl and Drontheim Association

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CCMHG have been campaigning for the establishment of an interactive maritime heritage centre in Portrush, as one part of the revitalisation of the local community. Our project and activities are part of a wider European revival of interest in maritime heritage, traditional boats and the life of coastal communities.

CCMHG provides exciting opportunities for the local community, educational groups and visitors to experience firsthand the use of traditional boats. It is actively involved in a range of marine-orientated initiatives, which include:

  • High Profile Community-based Expeditions
  • Training on Navigation Skill, Boat Handling, First Aid etc.
  • Environmental Education
  • Restoration and use of Traditional Boats
  • Development of a Maritime Heritage Exhibition
  • Organising ‘Portrush Traditional Boat Rally’ and ‘Festival of the Sea’

“Colmcille” – the Curragh and Crew

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1997 was a unique year for Christianity in Ireland as it was the 1400th anniversary of the death of St Colmcille, also known as St. Columba. The inspirational Irish monk and sailor established the now famous monastery which is situated on Iona on the West coast of Scotland in the year 563AD. He is credited with being responsible for the spread of Christianity to Scotland and England. Later missionaries from the little island of Iona helped to bring the message of Christianity to further parts of Europe.

CCHMG celebrated this extraordinary life by commissioning the construction of ‘Colmcille‘, a “skin covered curragh” built in Kerry in the winter of 1996 and similar to that used in the 6th Century. Curraghs are the oldest working boats in Ireland and have probably been in use since late Mesolithic times (8000 years ago). These craft were used by Irish seafaring monks to reach settlements lying out on desolate islands off the south-western Irish coast. They also made extended journeys across the North Channel to Scotland, the Irish Sea to Wales and England and further to mainland Europe, especially Brittany where Irish and Welsh monks established monasteries.

Curraghs are still used today for lobster fishing off the south and west coasts of Ireland. They are extremely seaworthy craft which are capable of tackling large swells offshore and breakers when beaching.Furthermore, they are extremely light for their size, can be carried onshore above the high water mark and do not need to rely on harbours for shelter.

 

The Colmcille curragh is designed on the shape of a traditional Kerry naomhog and was constructed using three types of wood – Canadian oak, African teak and Irish deal. At 36 feet 9 inches in length and 8 feet in beam, Colmcille is a true ocean-going curragh, which can be powered by 12 oars or two gaff rigged sails. A large oar at the stern is used for steering. The hull was built with a double gunwale which was set down first. Short stanchions were then inserted between the upper and lower gunwales and thwarts with knees strengthened the structure. This resulted in a girder structure that made up for the strength lost by the absence of a keel. The hull was then shaped by slotting steamed oak ribs into the lease of the up-turned gunwales and fastening long laths from bow to stern. Finally, three layers of canvas were stretched over the wooden frame and waterproofed with 24 gallons of tar.

In 2009 the Colmcille was re-painted, re-skinned and repaired. The builder of the Colmcille,Eddie Hutch and members of the CCMHG got together and got to work;

 

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The cross-community element of the CCMHG work has been greatly enhanced through the existence of the Colmcille …. currently the world’s largest curragh. The curragh is based on the north of Ireland and is used by schools and community groups to provide meeting ground where people can share experiences and explore aspects of our common heritage.

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The cross-community crew consists of men, women and young people of different nationalities and religious backgrounds. During the Colncille’s journeys, the crew visited harbours and met school children and community groups. The sea routes travelled by the Colmcille to date have linked up the coastal communities of Islay and Kintyre, Donegal, Antrim, Cornwall and Brittany. The voyage Colmcille 2001 – Towards Galicia, extended these links into France and Iberia. Subsequent voyages have included Navigating Peace 2003, in which the Colmcille circumnavigated Ireland in the company of the Basque whaling boat, Amerikataktik, Urdina Itsasoari (Keep the Sea Blue) 2005, another joint venture with the Basque group Albaola, in which the Colmcille and Amerkataktik voyaged from Galicia to the Basque Country, the Dalriada Voyage 2007, from Rathlin to many of the islands of the ancient kingdom, Back to the Kingdom 2009. (subsequently renamed ‘To Wherever and Beyond”)which started from the Roundstone Maritime Festival in Connemara, but thanks to contrary winds ended up nowhere near the Kingdom of Kerry, instead voyaging via Clare Island and Inishboffin to Mayo. The Isle of Cumbrae Voyage 2010 culminated at the Sail and Oar Festival at Millport, in the Clyde Estuary.

The CCMHG believe that as members, by exploring the lmaritime heritage or our own region, we will discover much that is of relevance for us today. Through the voyages of the Colmcille and the use of this curragh in the years to come, we hope to continue to build bridges between our communities and help promote a peaceful and sustainable culture.

Traditional Boats

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The “Drontheim” or “Greencastle Yawl” was once a familiar sight on Irelands North coast and the nearby Scottish islands as the traditional sailing fishing boat for generations of fishermen. The launch of the “James Kelly” in 1999, in honour of the last boatbuilder in Portrush, is evidence of a revival of these sleek and graceful crafts.

The Drontheim, descended from Viking ships, has influenced boat design from its home on the north coast of Ireland to the Great Lakes of North America and ultimately to the Pacific coast of Canada. Its story links together a multiplicity of peoples, from the Scottish and Irish coastal communities who developed it to the Native American and French Canadian fishermen of the Great Lakes who changed and adapted it to suit their own circumstances, to the Japanese salmon fishing communities of British Columbia whose Columbia River Skiffs were directly descended from the Drontheim.

The Drontheim is therefore an ideal symbol for CCMHG and its purpose of bringing together different groups of people in pursuit of a common maritime heritage.