When GMIT marine-biology mature-student Cathal McCarthy started his work placement in the National Aquarium of Ireland, Galway last February, he did not think that he would end up restoring a traditional Galway gleoiteog which had lay on display, unfinished, upstairs at the aquarium.
The gleoiteog, which is named the Hy Brasil, after the mythical island, is thought to be over 100 years old, and was bought by one of the founders of the aquarium, Liam Twomey.
Mr McCarthy was always fascinated with traditional Galway sail-boats, and when he saw the Hy Brasil gleoiteog without its name, a sail or a mast in the aquarium, he was determined to restore it to its former glory. ‘I couldn’t believe that it was just left there. She has such a rich history, but lacked her name, a mast, and a sail. Just a bit of tender loving care! I think it is so important that today’s generation are aware of the lives of their ancestors, and how Galway was so different back then.
“These boats were a necessity once, used to transport food, turf and livestock, among other things. Now they are used for leisure’ says Cathal, who is originally from Mervue, but who has spent a number of years in the United States.
The official launch of the restored gleoiteog, at the aquarium, was attended by the Mayor of Galway, Cllr Hildegarde Naughton and the King of the Claddagh, Michael Lynskey. The King of the Claddagh was once one of the most powerful men in the Claddagh, responsible for settling disputes, but now it is an honorary title.
Mr McCarthy said he was delighted with the Mayor’s support, and with her rendition of Galway Bay, which he thought was a very nice touch. ‘I got so much support, but I was very determined to get it. I saw a mast on a boat outside a house at the Claddagh one day, and managed to persuade the owner, Peter O’ Toole, to give it to me on the grounds that I wanted the old Claddagh boating traditions preserved.
“Then Peter Connolly, who is involved in St Joseph’s School in another hooker project in Shantalla, gave me an old main sail and a jib, which was very good of him.’
It has also been suggested by the management of the aquarium that a fund will be set up to aid the restoration and maintenance of Galway traditional boats, with the money gathered at the end of the year being matched by the aquarium. The aquarium is also planning to erect a plaque to commemorate the restoration of the Hy Brasil, naming those involved.
‘I went to Connemara and approached local people skilled in boat building and they got involved. I want to thank everyone who helped me in any way, especially Michael Moylan, Aquarium manager Kevin O’ Hara, who always supported me in any way possible, and the team involved in the restoration project.
“I am very proud of what has been done and now people coming to the Atlantaquarium can see part of our own boating history and I felt it was very important to get it finished and launched before the start of the Volvo Ocean Race finale.
“The boats participating in the Volvo Ocean Race are the race-horses of today, and the Galway traditional boats were the work-horses of the past,’ he added.
Since the boat could not be moved, all the restoration work was carried out in the aquarium, which turned out to be an added bonus to visitors, who were seeing the actual work as it was being carried out.
Mr McCarthy is now considering returning to the United States, where he hopes to get involved with the Boston Aquarium. Boston also has a very strong hooker tradition due to the many immigrants from Galway who have settled there over the years.
He also set up a website a few years ago which he feels could be of interest to Galway traditional boat enthusiasts.