International meitheal gather in Kerry to recreate boating history

Niall Gregory and his meitheal of willing volunteers from the local direct provision centre in Kenmare pictured crafting an oak tree into a boat at Bonane Heritage Centre. Pictures: Don MacMonagle

An archaelogist who plans to create a craft last used by our forebearers more than a millennium ago is getting a dig out for his “dugout” boat from people from all corners of the world.

Niall Gregory, who did his doctorate on dugout boats, has gathered a meitheal of willing volunteers from the local direct provision centre in Kenmare to help him hew the craft from a 250-year-old oak tree on the grounds of Bonane Heritage Park.

Work has already begun on the craft and should be complete by mid-summer when they hope to take the boat out on the tranquil waters of Kenmare Bay.

“It’s going to take up to 30 working days to complete and we’re working on it every weekend,” he said.

As we’re seeking to replicate everything as accurately as possible, the tools are replicas of those found on Irish archaeological excavation sites.

The volunteers working alongside Mr Gregory include helpers from Albania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria, and Poland as well as some locals.

The craft they are building is based on a dugout boat which was retrieved from the Shannon estuary some years ago and was initially on display in Muckross House before being moved to the North Kerry Museum near Ballyduff.

“Based upon evidence of Irish dugout boats and my expertise, I envisage the boat dating to possibly 600 to 700AD,” he said, pointing out the caveat that it was impossible to date it accurately without submitting the craft to carbon dating or other scientific methods.

The craft should be complete by mid-summer when Niall Gregory and his volunteers hope to take the boat out on the waters of Kenmare Bay.

According to Mr Gregory, there is a global community of dug out boat builders and his plan is to stage a regatta for this ancient craft in Kenmare in the next few years.

Kerry County Council has been very supportive of Bonane Heritage Park where the boatbuilding is taking place. The project is being supported by South Kerry Partnership.

Bonane Heritage Park is a treasure trove for those interested in archaeology with sites from different periods located there.

People can call in to talk to the people working on the project on Saturdays or Sundays.

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