By Noel O’Driscoll
ATHY Men’s Shed has launched the first of what it hopes will be several Barrow Cot Boats to return to the River Barrow. The project is a Kildare Nationalist entrant in the regional newspapers Get Involved 2015 competition run by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. The 20-strong group are a vibrant and active community group and they have resurrected an age old local craft tradition that had sadly died away. Barrow Cots were the traditional mode of transport on the waterways of South Kildare.
They were beautiful 18 foot long vessels that were expertly hand made by skilled crafts men and boat makers in the locality. With the advent of motor-propelled vehicles they were no longer needed and the sight of gondola type boats with their captains at the helm vanished off the Barrow. Now part of an initiative with local bodies, including Athy Community Enterprise Centre, a project was undertaken to replicate one of these boats and put it back into the water. That aim came to fruition last week as the first boat was put on the town’s waterway.
The boat was launched by Rosanna Nolan and Arthur Keppel of Waterways Ireland at the canal bridge. Its maiden voyage took the Cot down the canal and lasted about 25 minutes. The launch was so successful they could have gone all the way to Monasterevin, said Patricia Barry from the Athy Enterprise Centre. Derek Samblin of Athy Men’s Shed explained how the boat was built. “The new boat was made by a combination of salvaged cedar and hard wood from local sources.
The goal was to replicate a traditional boat using as much reclaimed wood as possible. It was all hand built and hand painted. It was a unique and special project that generated excitement and a high level of involvement.” Another shed member, Pierce Mcloughlin, said the project had brought the men together and had benefitted everybody, “It was a huge challenge for us, but through teamwork, some trial and error, and some genuine dedication and hard work, we got it done.
Working on projects such as this brings the community together, it brings people together, gives them a sense of involvement, challenge and excitement, and completing it has given all of us a huge sense of satisfaction and pride. We hope that this won’t be the last project of this sort for the town,” he said. David Kenny, one of the boat builders, said: “The project was a new and exciting challenge for us here in the shed.
We had no experience of boat building in itself but we do have a group of skilled and creative guys who decided that we could study boat building and teach ourselves how to do it. I’m more than delighted to say that we succeeded”. “It meant comradeship working with chaps I did not really know that well – it was educational, a great experience. It formed a bond with the lads working together, we took each other’s advice and listened to one another’s opinions and this generated respect among us for each other,” said Liam Regan said of the project; The long term vision is to build more boats and create a social and community amenity that can be enjoyed by all in the town. There is also the possibility of creating a social enterprise, a micro economy and a tourism amenity should the project extrapolate out from a single boat.
THE first Barrow Cot boat is almost finished and the Athy Men’s Shed members hope to have the boat on the water shortly. The Kildare Nationalist has chosen the project as one of its entrants in the Get Involved 2105 community projects and work on the first boat is nearly complete and plans are in train to hopefully start work on several more boats over the coming weeks and months. Athy Men’s Shed member Pierce McLoughlin explained how the boat has taken shape.
“We were using an old boat as the basis for the design and five of us, Kevin Vernal, John Crenney, Liam Regan, Immed Hammah and myself, have worked on the boat, starting from the bottom up. The boat is a flat bottomed boat and we laid out the base which is three long planks of wood and from there we stepped out the ribs working out from the centre. Once we had that done we started on the sides and put the pieces in place until we had the body shape that we needed. Then we worked up along the sides. We are waiting for the end pieces now and we hope to put them in place shortly. It was like making a large jigsaw. We are waiting for marine paint to come and we will apply underlay felt and a bitumen base to the bottom of the boat to water proof it.
The seats will be black and there will be a black line along the side and the rest of the boat will be sky blue.” Once on the water the boat will be navigated by a long pole similar in style to the one used on the Venetian gondolas. Pierce says the project has brought the men closer together as a team. “We sat down and plotted how we were going to do it before we got started and step by step as we have been going along if someone suggests an idea we trash it out among ourselves to agree how the idea will be executed.
The project has created a great buzz within the group and when the door is open people drop by to see how we are getting on with it. It has increased the morale within the shed. We have pulled together very well to get it done and we are raring to go if we get the funding for the other boats. The idea is that we will have several boats on the river for people to hire and as a tourist attraction in the town.”
By Noel O’Driscoll
A PROJECT to make replicas of an old boat that is unique to the river Barrow and return them to the river for community use has been chosen as one of the Kildare Nationalist entries in the national Get Involved sustainable community campaign. The Athy Men’s Shed Group will initially make one boat, based on an original Barrow Cot Boat, which was used by Cassidy’s Distillery and Brewery in Monasterevin which operated in the late 18th century and early 19th century. The whiskey and beer was transported to Dublin on canal boats and the Barrow Cot Boat would have been used to keep the river and canal clear for the bigger boats. The boat is navigated using a pole in a manner similar to the Gondolas of Venice.
Barry Keatley, of the North Barrow Branch of Waterways Ireland, said the original boat in their possession, on which they will base the replicas, is over 100 years old. “The brewery closed in the early 19th century and this boat would have been in use for many years before the closure so it’s at least 100 years old if not more. There were different types of cot boat, the River Slaney had the Slaney Cot Boat for example and there were also cot boats on the River Suir. The boats had either a flat bottom or a keel, depending if the water was tidal or non tidal. The ones in this area were flat bottomed and had no keel because the waters here aren’t tidal.”
The project will be co-ordinated by the Athy Enterprise Office. Once the initial boat is made the plan is to apply for funding so that a potential eight boats can be built which can become a tourist attraction on the River Barrow. Patricia Berry of the Athy Enterprise Office outlined the long term aim of the project. “We are looking to promote eco tourism on the Barrow and the idea is that we will use the cot boats as a way for visitors to Athy, as well as local people, to explore the natural beauty of the River Barrow. We are also looking to hold a Cot Race Regatta event in Athy on the Barrow and use the new original template boat on the day of the event.” Helen Dowling, also from the Athy Enterprise Centre, outlined how the idea for the project originated. “The project originated as part of the Barrow Navigation Study. Athy was highlighted as an activity hub. Through this the tradition of the Barrow and its boats was explored and local research lead to us finding a Barrow Cot in need of repair in Monasterevin. ”The owner of the boat, Mr Edgar Holmes, has allowed us to take the boat back to Athy to replicate the original design down to the last bolt.”
The men who have been tasked with building the boats are the Athy Mens Shed group. In the past they have worked with the local St Vincent’s Hospital to set out a garden and build a fence. They have also stepped in to assist a local crèche who needed sensory tables built, as well as painting work and shelving carried out. Some of their longer term projects have also included bicycle repairs and recycling and computer repairs. The group has approximately 30 members according to chairman Pat Vaughan. “We have around 30 members but the numbers fluctuate depending on who is around. In the past we have also built nesting bird boxes on the River Barrow. Different members of the shed will have different skills that they can bring to the project. We have done quite a bit of research on the boats. For example we know that there was a Royal Charter in the year 1200 which regulated the use of boats on the Barrow. For the metal work we have contacted local blacksmith John Forkin who will do the metal work for us. We have also been in touch with the Arklow Mens Shed Group. They have done quite a bit of boat restoration in the past so they will be able to advise us on anything we aren’t sure about.” The timber for the first boat arrived last Wednesday at the Athy Men’s Shed workshop and Derek Samblin, who has taken on the role of project leader for the boat build, explained how the wood was chosen. “For a boat like this they recommend you use either larch, red deal or red dedar. We decided to go with red cedar even though originally the boat would have been built using larch. Red cedar probably wouldn’t have been as readily available then as it is now. The numbers working on the boat will vary up and down over the course of the build. I reckon though that we will have about 15 to 20 working on the boat and we hope to have it ready in a couple of weeks.”