Coracle building at the NZ Gaidhealtachd festival


In the first week of January 2015 I held a coracle- making workshop at the Gaidhealtachd (pronounced erm.. Gailtackd), a small community festival based on culture and music of the various Celtic nations, held annually in NZ. Me and my friend Caleb supervised the construction start to finish and we had dozens of helpers throughout the 5-day process.

A real highlight was toward the end was a late- night session of haunting traditional worksong by candlelight. A big group of people gathered around and helped tailor and stitch up the canvas skin by hand.

Named Curraghin, (Irish for “Little Currach”) he was launched with great fanfare and a Ceilidh on the beach. Lots of people had a go and mastered the unusual sculling technique.

A wonderful sense of community sharing and acheivement, and what remains is beautiful craft for future Gaidhealtachd attendees to use and learn watercraft for many years to come.

Curraghin is based closely on an Ironbridge coracle from west England, made from milled Ash timber, soaked in water and woven together then covered with canvas and bitumen. Coracles are the smallest practical, buoyant boat for one adult to both carry and to paddle on rivers and sheltered waters. It is propelled by a single paddle over the front, using an oscillating figure-8 motion similar to a fish tail. Having built and paddled these craft, to me it seems it must have historically been the most practical solution for minimal materials and effort to create a vessel for day-today tasks on inland waterways. This is probably the case, as they appear in similar ancient forms in many parts of the world (Iran, India, Europe, North America etc.), but are commonly known only as Welsh vessels!

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