The Irish curragh voyage from Derry to Iona in 1963

The reconstruction of a voyage in 563 AD filled my mind – when I was 13.

Artifacts from The Aegre voyage aren’t just in physical form. But also stories that inspired me growing up. One is the Irish curragh voyage from Derry to Iona in 1963, a reconstruction of the voyage of St Columba in 563 AD, from Northern Ireland northwards in a leather-skinned curragh to the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland. There St Columba founded a monastery that became a centre of the Christian world for hundreds of years.

The voyage reconstruction

In 1963 a traditional Irish curragh was built comprising a light wooden framework with a tarred cloth skin. A design used in western Ireland since at least BC 54 when Julius Ceasar noted it, and is still used today for fishing.

The Curragh under sail 1963
The Curragh under sail 1963
The curragh under oar. 1963
The curragh under oar 1963

Not quite Kon Tiki, but a remarkable adventure long before reconstruction voyages became popular.

The course of the curragh in 1963
The course of the curragh in 1963

The book

My uncle Jack (John) Barry, a clergyman in Ireland, was, I believe, the original instigator. He subsequently wrote a book about the whole project, called ‘Joyful Pilgrimage’ published in 1963. There are still a few copies about of the 2nd Edition, published in 1964 by The Company of the Iona Curragh, but they are hard to find.

Canon John Barry
My Uncle Jack Canon John Barry

I have a copy of the book my uncle gave me, inscribed in the front.

Back cover of Joyful Pilgrimage
Back cover of Joyful Pilgrimage

A 25-minute film about the voyage made at the time, and narrated by Wallace Clark, is available on YouTube. Do watch it; it’s quite something.

Gene Feldman, my co-researcher for this website, recently found another video on YouTube, about St Columba. The second half of the video from, about 19 minutes, is about the 1963 curragh voyage.

About the curragh

Included in the book are technical comments on Curraghs Ancient and Modern by Wallace Clark and plan drawings by Richard McCullagh reproduced below

The curragh was designed by Richard McCullagh, and built by Jim Boyd.

Wallace Clark wrote about the design, construction, rig and performance of the boat in the book, Joyful Pilgrimage. The book is long out of print and hard to find so I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing his words here:

If you want to read more, Richard McCullagh subsequently published The Irish Currach Folk: Life on the Western Seaboard from Galicia to Greenland (Wolfhound Press, 1992).

Currach Folk by Richard Mac Cullagh
Currach Folk by Richard Mac Cullagh

It’s a beautiful book. But I’m sorry, you’ll have to buy it.

2023 Reunion of crew members

in June 2023, four of the original crew got together in Bunbeg to celebrate 60 years since the momentous voyage while also remembering the nine other crew members who have sadly died since the trip. Billy Paterson and curragh builder Jim Boyd met up with Alistair Jameson and John Connolly for the occasion. The Donegal News carried the full story with photos.

More about curraghs

Following the posting of the above curragh story, an old friend from the NZ Outward Bound School, Ian Shapcott, wrote to me about his 94-year-old neighbour in NZ, Alan Byde. In his day in the UK, Byde was a world kayaking guru, writing the seminal book ‘Living Canoeing’ back in the late 60s. But he also knew quite a bit about curraghs and wrote about them in the very first edition of ‘Afloat’ magazine. This has been reproduced on the kayakarchy website. Well worth a look

Subscribe for more background; buy the book for the whole story.

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