Currachs in literature

An extract from J.M. Synge's "The Aran Island's" pp. 97-8. Dublin and London, 1907.

We set off. It was a four-oared curagh, and I was given the last seat so as to leave the stern for the man who was steering with an oar, worked at right angles to the others by an extra thole-pin in the stern gunnel.

When we had gone about a hundred yards they ran up a bit of a sail in the bow and the pace became extraordinarily rapid.

The shower had passed over and the wind had fallen, but large, magnificently brilliant waves were rolling down on us at right angles to our course.

Every instant the steersman whirled us round with a sudden stroke of his oar, the prow reared up and then fell into the next furrow with a crash, throwing up masses of spray. As it did so, the stern in its turn was thrown up, and both the steersman, who let go his oar and clung with both hands to the gunnel, and myelf, were lifted high up above the sea.

The wave passed, we regained our course and rowed violently for a few yards, when the same manoeuvre had to be repeated. As we worked out into the sound we began to meet another class of waves, that could be seen for some distance towering above the rest. When one of these came in sight, the first effort was to get beyond its reach. The steersman began crying out in Gaelic "Siubhal, siubhal" ("Run, run"), and sometimes, when the mass was gliding towards us with horrible speed, his voice rose to a shriek. Then the rowers themselves took up the cry, and the curagh seemed to leap and quiver with the frantic terror of a beast till the wave passed behind or fell with a crash besides the stern.

It was in this racing with the waves that our chief danger lay. If the wave could be avoided, it was better to do so, but if it overtook us while we were trying to escape and caught us on the broadside, our destruction was certain. I could see the steersman quivering with the excitement of his task, for any error in his judgement would have swamped us.

We had one narrow escape. A wave appeared high above the rest and there was the usual moment of intense exertion. It was of no use, and in an instant the wave seemed to be hurling itself upon us. With a yell of rage the steersman struggled with his oar to bring our prow to meet it. He had almost succeeded, when there was a crash and rush of water round us. I felt as if I had been struck upon the back with knotted ropes. White foam gurgled round my knees and eyes. The curagh reared up, swaying and trembling for a moment, and then fell safely into the furrow.

This was our worst moment, though more than once, when several waves came so closely together that we had no time to regain control ofthe canoe between them, we had some dangerous work. Our lives depended upon the skill and courage of the men, as the life of the rider or swimmer is often in his own hands, and the excitement of the struggle was too great to allow time for fear.

I enjoyed the passage. Down in this shallow trough of canvas that bent and trembled with the motion of the men, I had a far more intimate feeling of the glory and the power of the waves than I have ever known in a steamer.

Recent Entries

Celebrating Tim Robinson
By Richard MarshI've always loved maps.  I can't think about travelling or a new place without a map, not always…
Cottage
"The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. . . ."
Photo: Leonard DoyleExtract: JOHN JEREMIAH SULLIVAN New York Times Published: February 10, 2012 He was blind in one eye and…
Separated at Birth, the Burren and the Aran Islands
The Burren, a rocky wilderness in western Ireland, is a region of ancient magic and infinite strangeness The cliffs…
Stones of Aran, a NY Review of books "masterpiece"
Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage (New York Review Books Classics) by Tim Robinson">Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage (New York Review Books…
Inis Meáin, through the peephole, 1973
Inis Meáin, Aran Islands, Ireland. 1973 from Brendan F. on Vimeo.A short film on life in Inishmaan (Inis Meáin) in…
Inis Meáin, Aran Islands, Ireland 1973
Aileen's is the perfect wave
LORNA SIGGINS, Marine Correspondent The Irish TimesIT IS a magnet for surfers, a nightmare for rescue agencies, and now it…
At last the west awakes to broadband
Dún Aonghasa on Inis Mór in the Aran Islands. The islands have already been covered by the National Broadband Scheme,…
Turning Green With Literacy...Why should we celebrate the Irish?
Op-Ed Contributor"Well, the heart's a wonder," says Pegeen Mike in John Millington Synge's comedy "The Playboy of the Western World."…
How Many "Greats" in Obama's Irish Grandfather?
President Barack Obama walks with Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., after a…
St. Patrick's Day With the Irish and the Jews
Above, Mick Maloney's new album recreates music from the nearly forgotten era of collaboration between Jewish and Irish songwriters in pre-World War…