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.”