Four men living in direct provision watched proudly as the currach they built was launched on the River Lee yesterday.
For the men from Russia, Moldova and South Africa, the building and launching of Bád Chorcaí, the Cork Boat, was more than a boat-building project.
It has helped foster their interest in Irish history, heritage and culture, and forge new links and friendships in the country they hope to call home.
Meitheal Mara, the boat-building charity, has been engaging with community groups and working with disadvantaged and socially excluded people for almost 25 years through boat-building schemes and woodwork training.
In a new departure this year, it began a boat-building course with a group of people living in direct provision.
It was part of a project called Making a Connection through Currachs, funded by the Heritage Council as part of the European Year of Cultural Heritage.
Meitheal Mara’s workshop manager, Séamus O’Brien, who visited direct provision centres to tell people about it, said he was initially unsure about how well it would work.
However, those that got involved all shared a similar interest in and passion for the work.
While some had experience of working with their hands, having previously worked in engineering and in construction, for others it was their first time doing anything like this, he said.
They spent 12 weeks at Meitheal Mara’s boat- yard in Crosses Green building a Dunfanaghy-style, two-person currach from scratch. This involved cleaning and prepping the hazel rods and tarring the skin of the boat.
“They were mad keen to learn,” Mr O’Brien said.
Normally groups come to the workshop with their own project worker, someone to recruit and motivate the participants.
“In this case, we had to go to the accommodation centres ourselves to try to spread the word about the project.
“The project was a lovely experience. We all gained a lot from it,” he said.
However, he said the project also gave the group an awareness of a significant element of the cultural and maritime heritage of the country where they now live.
“They were all very curious and really interested in our culture as well. They asked lots of questions about the currach all through the project,” he said.
The boat was joined on the water yesterday by Meitheal Mara’s fleet of Dunfanaghy currachs.
They are used in the group’s wide range of youth programmes and community activities.