Monday, 12 December 2016


(Admirably, Bádóirí an Cladaig teo - the Claddagh Boatmen - insisted they wanted me to write a purely positive progress report: please find below. However, in my opinion, this splendid community group have constantly been hampered and harassed by bureaucratic incompetence and small-minded officials, lacking courage and vision.)

As 2020 Capital of Culture approaches, there’s much discussion about what is and is not Galway culture. About Galway’s boats there can be no debate. Take a look at artist Eamon O’Doherty’s Quincentennial Sails sculpture in Eyre Square: the essence of Galway culture, those sails express the vital relationship between Galway and its unique boats.

Nothing more wholly represents Galway culture. History and poetry combine in those black hulls and russet sails; in that blend of bay, boat and Burren.

Despite recently facing extinction, hookers are now being restored and sailed once more.

Thanks to community group Bádóirí an Cladaig teo - the Claddagh Boatmen - a new generation are being taught how to build hookers; how to sail them; how to navigate and maintain them.

With centuries of expertise in their genes, this group of Claddagh men decided to revive Galway’s maritime tradition, and on the way gained the support of our entire community.

After restoring their first boat in 2009, the Boatmen nurtured a vision of hookers moored from Spanish Arch to Jury’s hotel. On Culture Night this year, six restored hookers were moored along that wall.

They had made their dream a reality.

As group secretary Peter Connolly explained, that vision has now grown.

“The Regatta has been a phenomenal success over the last 4 years, and May 2017 will see the launch of our new initiative, in support of 2020. The Navigational Trust has allowed the use of the Claddagh Basin, so the sailing communities of Claddagh, Connemara and Kinvara will come together to showcase 14 boats in full sail, for an entire week, subject to weather conditions.

“Each boat will carry an emblem of a Tribe of Galway, and they’ll sail together over the next four summers, in the build-up to 2020. 

"We’ve also invited two 40 foot Viking boats from Bangor, while the 47ft Chicago-built hooker ‘Naoimh Bairbre’ sailed across the Atlantic, to be left in the caretakership of Bádóirí an Cladaig teo for 10 years, for training and tours on the bay, with all income to be reinvested into our project.

“All these crews, owners and countless others support this project, yet nobody has asked for any money. Not one person. Why is that? They love the Galway hooker. It’s in their blood.

“Only a massive combined community effort could achieve so much so quickly. We’re grateful for the support of small businesses, the general public, the Latin Quarter, West End Group and Galway City Partnership, and we’ve had tremendous support in the council chamber. Now that the city hierarchy is fully behind the project, the work feels so much easier.

“Nothing would be possible without the partnerships we’ve developed. The DSP seconded 35 trainees for work experience and the GRETB supplied a support builder and six others. Everyone has enabled our project to succeed.

“We needed young people on board, to build skills through training and education, and that has happened. We needed a team to maintain the boats. That has been done.

“Next came the training of confident crews and skippers, and thanks to the expertise of people from Connemara, we’ve now 10 skippers trained up and several very competent crews.

“Finance has been a problem since recent scandals concerning charities. There was a government drive to support Community Groups, but sadly they’re so concerned with correct corporate governance, it makes a mockery of the grant process.

“Groups like ours have to spend 25% of our grant on public liability insurance and another 25% on accountancy and audits. We are left financially strangled. There has to be a way of doing this which allows us to apply all the grant money to the purposes for which it was granted.

“Our fundraising has matched all grants for the last five years, yet we can’t afford to develop the website. We wouldn’t dare do that before we bought a nail. Buying nails comes first. A certified nail from Glasgow is much more important than spending money on a website.

“We completely respect everybody’s contribution, and believe we’ve spent every cent efficiently. We work 6 days a week, but when you see the smiles of people from all over the world, and particularly the young people of Galway, it’s wonderful. The usual comment is that they feel privileged to have sailed on Galway bay on a Galway Hooker.

“This is no longer the vision of Bádóirí an Cladaig teo. This is now Galway’s vision. When a fleet of hookers are in full sail, with hundreds of people taking photos on Claddagh Quay, we might ask:

“Is our dream is too big? No. Does Galway deserve this? I think we do. Is this part of Claddagh? Yes it is. Is this real Galway? Yes it is.”

Well said sir. What better way to launch Capital of Culture 2020 than a fleet of 14 Galway hookers, the greatest symbols of Galway’s culture, sailing up the Corrib, bearing the crests of all the Tribes?

If that sounds perfect, please give everyone you know a beautiful Bádóirí an Cladaig calendar this Christmas. Then, when you first sail on a hooker in Galway bay, you can feel proud that you too had the vision to support the Claddagh Boatmen’s magnificent dream.

Calendars available at: Woods, Roundstone. Joyces, Recess. Morans, Carna. OMaille, Rosmuc. Hooker Bar, Eannach Mheain. Zetland, Cashel. Slemons Daybreak, Furbo. Post office, Kinvara. Clarks Supervalue, Barna. Charlie Byrnes Bookshop, Middle Street. Londis, Newcastle Rd. Nestors Supervalue Fr Griffin Rd.


© Charlie Adley


Unknown said...

i remember the hookers well in the 30s and 40s tacking their way into kinvara with their loads of turf for our ever open hearths. only means of cooking and heating that was available to us at that time.
the badoirs were a hard race of men when tied up to the quay. spent most of their money in st georges bar on the black stuff and were mostly fighting and throwing hatchets at each others boats late at night.
i loved the smell of tar and smoke that wafted up to the quayside
they spoke a version of gaelic that only two oldish men in kinvara understood and acted as interpretors and negotiators as they spoke no english
average price for a boatload of turf 12 pounds
happy days
mike picker

Charlie Adley said...

Thanks for that atmospheric window into the past Michael - you really built a good picture. Much appreciated.