Six currachs line up off Donegal for the start in choppy waters for the Tory Island currach races. “We have been very lucky with this weather,” says the king of Tory, Patsaí Dan Mac Ruaidhrí, from the pier. The waters are choppy, but the sun has been shining.
This is the second year in a row that the summer race has been held on Tory, but the last one before that was 25 years ago. Seeing how other island communities had revived the tradition, locals decided to tap the intuitive craftsmanship that had lain idle for decades on Tory. Oak, canvass and tar were sourced from the mainland and currach-makers such as Brian Doohan were put to work.
“It was always in my family,” says Doohan. “My father made the currachs, and my uncles were the same. It’s been long down the family. And my sons are learning it, too.” He takes a tradesman’s pleasure in describing the distinctive quirks of the two-man Tory currach – the shape, the angles, the feel of the slats underfoot, and the trade-off between stability and speed in the water.
“The craftsman needs to have a model in his head, and that’s passed along from generation to generation,” says Michael Rogers, another builder.
The old-style tar has been difficult to find, so a substitute used for roof-tarring has been used on the newer boats. But otherwise the design has remained the same. “It never changes. They’re built as we always built them,” Doohan says, standing over an elegant red-finished frame that he made with children in the local school over the winter.
It was a close race, but a little more than seven minutes after the stopwatch started ticking, 27-year-old Séamus Doohan and his brother Josie (22) crossed the finish line to the giddy sound of their own names resounding across the inlet. The king of Tory handed them their trophy.
“It was rougher than I thought,” says Josie. “The wind was pushing the side of us, so we were always forcing it against us. A lot of it is technique – you could have all the power in the world and you still couldn’t do it.”
Mac Ruaidhrí looks a contented man, meanwhile. Last year there were three currachs in the race; this year there were six, and plans are afoot to build more of them.