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.
Not quite Kon Tiki, but a remarkable adventure long before reconstruction voyages became popular.
My uncle Jack (John) Barry, a clergyman in Ireland, was I believe the original instigator.
I have a copy of the book my uncle gave me, inscribed in the front.
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.
Included in the book are technical comments on Curraghs Ancient and Modern by Wallace Clark and plan drawings by Richard McCullagh reproduced below
About the curragh
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:img1354
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).
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.