Making a Curragh: 
"On the leval sward--his rustic shipyard--the boat-builder first marks out, with string and pegs, two semicircles of a 2 ft.radius their centers being about twenty inches apart.  This will give the basket a mouth measuring 6ft by 4 ft, a size determined by the average  size of a hide.  Joining the two circles into an ellipse, he thrusts into the ground along this line, at ingervals of about nine inches, long pointed hazel rods which have been cut the previous autumn after the leaf fall and allowed to season. They are pushed about six inches into the ground,at an angle so that they slope outwards somewhat.  At one end, the bow-to-be, an extra rod is inserted  on either side to give strength where the weight of the kneeling paddleman will  fall.  Against the ground a strong gunwale of  withies is woven on to the rods, and above it a skirting of lighter withies.  Opposite rods on each side are now bent over and their thin ends pushed into the ground to secure them temporarily. The fore and aft rods are similarly 
bent over and heavy stones placed on the basket, their weight distributed so as to make a symmetrical frame with the top (that is the bottom of the curragh)as nearly flat as possible.  At this state two or three days are allowed for the frame to set.  Then the crossings of the rods are lashed with a continuous twine and again the frame is left weighted.   The thin ends of the rods are now broken off at thelast lashings in such a way as to leave the bark projecting to prevent the ends from damaging the hide.  This, which has meanwhile been softening in the river is sewn on to the gunwale with twine, the basket having been pulled out of the  ground and inverted.  The thwart is fixed in position amidship, its ends suspended from the gunwale with withy ties, and withy braces  are laced across the stern portion to form a rest for
the net.  Sitting on the thwart, the boat-builder
now drives in the projecting rod-ends to tighten
the skin, and trims them to within an inch of the gunwale.  Finally he weaves on a protecting mouth of hazel rods which he binds to the gunwale and covers, behind the thwart, with canvas to save the net from damage as it iss played out."
(the Boyne curragh-used for salmon 
fishing) Irish Folk Ways, E.Estyn Evans, 
Routledge and Kegan Paul, London,pp.234-236
Starving in a Sea of Seafood! 

"So rude is their tackle and so fragile and liable to be upset are their primitive boats or coracles, made of wickerwork over which sail cloth is stretched, that they can only venture to sea in fine weather and thus, with food almost in sight, the people starve"-James H. Tuke, 1846 

                       This page will explore how a people could starve when located within a sea filled with abundant food resources. How did culture contribute? What about cultural dietary taboos? What about cooperation vs. competition of fishermen? As usual there are many facets for discussion. More will appear here soon!  Let us know your suggestions! 

In her famous work The Great Hunger Cecil Woodham-Smith responds to this issue with a environmental determinism which pits strong and determined fishermen against an all powerful sea and cliffs.  There is little background provided  to demonstrate that the government's  opinions of Irish fishermen were not based upon hard fact-that as her account of the Claddagh fishermen demonstrates  Irish fishermen were a class unto themselves and extremely hard to deal with-even in the face of famine.  Woodham Smith does expose significant cultural concerns which do indicate that "fisherman culture"  was a factor as strong as those of the environment in the limitation of efficient exploitation of the resources of the sea. 

My comments are inserted into Woodham-Smith's account click here 

In 1833 the Royal Commission chaired by Archbishop Whately recommended that the government should promote economic development by developing the fisheries this suggestion was not in keeping with the political philosophy of the time and was rejected. 

Via the efforts of the Relief Commission by 1822 improvements had been made to piers and harbours.  In November 1845 Sir Robert Peel and the Irish Executive recommended giving a stimulus to the fishing industry by the building of larger boats and making of better nets.  This took shape with acts introduced in March 1846.
This funding was strongly opposed by Trevelyan who was concerned that funds would be used by individual benefit rather than for the public good. (Kinealy, Christine, This Great Calamity.,,Roberts Rinehart,1995)
The bottom line is however, that after centuries of seasonal famine due to crop failure the Irish people had not adapted to the consumption of seafood nor had they developed a fishing community- a culture of fishermen which could rise to the occasion by producing a larger supply of food. The fishing community/culture failed to develop cooperative relationships with the  government and community and between its own members. As a result greater  efficiency and free access  to the ports was impossible. Past behavior of the fisherman culture and the fishing communities had poisoned the relationship with the government making relief more difficult.  More important perhaps, is the observation that rather than appearing as an industry overburdened by demand which overtaxed its resources the Irish fishing industry appeared to be an industry with no customers and weak demand even at the height of the Famine.   This has all of the hallmarks of a problem related to cultural practice and failure to adapt to a ready food resource.  Even British assistance failed to develop a market and much seafood went wasted.
              These problems like others that compose the tragedy of the Famine were built over several centuries and were based upon basic and strong cultural patterns and practices which commanded exceptional popular loyalty amongst those who became the victims of the famine. Such fierce conservatism-loyalty to what were considered "barbaric" Peasant ways  was a wonder to contemporay visitors to Ireland.   As a result the quick fix was illusive during  the few short decades in which the reformers of the Famine had to work. The hard task of restructuring Peasant
culture itself lay between reformers and their worthy goals. I am confident that such restructuring
and interference with a native culture came only after the culture of the Irish Peasantry  had failed
to act on its own to pick up and utilize the new and existing  technological tools, practices, and food supplies which were accessable within its own environment for itself, on its own.

Menu of Famine Issues:

The Famine 
Starving in a  
Sea of Fish 
Failure to Utilize  
Seafood resources 
Cultural or Logistical
Irish Celtic Culture 
Liability or  
Return to the  Top of this Page 

 Return to the main Menu of the Famine Commemoration
 Main Menu of the Famine Commemoration Pages

Potatoes and Fungus Potato Miscellany page. Fungus 
Late Blight Simulation Software  Potato 
Science Update  Potato Recipes
The Irish Potato Famine 
An Gorta Mor-
History of 
the Famine
Ideas for   
Famine Links
 About the Author and Webmaster              Help these Pages to continue

  To Return to the Main Page Click Here