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The Galway hooker (Irish: húicéir) is a traditional fishing boat used in Galway Bay off the west coast of Ireland. The hooker was developed for the strong seas there. It is identified by its sharp, clean entry, bluff bow, marked tumble-home and raked transom. Its sail plan consists of a single mast with a main sail and two foresails. Traditionally, the boat is black (being coated in pitch) and the sails are a dark red-brown.
Recently there has been a major revival, and renewed interest in the Galway hooker, and the boats are still being painstakingly constructed. The festival of Cruinniú na mBád is held each year, when boats race across Galway Bay from Connemara to Kinvara on the Galway/Clare county boundary.
Classes of Galway Hooker
The hooker refers to four classes of boats. All are named in Irish. The Bád Mór (big boats) ranges in length from 10.5 to 13.5 metres (35 to 44 feet). The smaller Leathbhád (half boat) is about 10 metres (28 feet) in length. Both the Bád Mór and Leathbhád were decked forward of the mast. These boats were used to carry turf to be used as fuel across Galway Bay from Connemara and County Mayo to the Aran Islands and the Burren. The boats often brought limestone on the return journeys, to neutralise the acid soils of Connemara and Mayo. The Gleoiteog ranges in length from 7 to 9 metres (24 to 28 feet) and has the same sails and rigging as the larger boats. They were used for fishing and carrying cargo. Another boat, the Púcán, is similar in size to the Gleoiteog but has a lug mainsail and a foresail. These smaller boats were entirely open.
There was also a class fitted with a cockpit floor over the ballast used for fishing. When the Irish settlers at Boston USA needed fishing craft, they built the hooker that they knew from home. These boats became known as Boston Hookers, Irish Cutters in official reports, or Paddy Boats.
While a very utilitarian boat, well suited for the shallow waters of Galway Bay and being capable of being beached where necessary, the Galway Hooker is prone to being swamped and sinking in a short time in the absence of a cabin and high freeboard.
Eighty two shipwrecks are recorded in the unpublished Shipwreck Inventory of Wrecks for Galway Bay. These eighty-two wrecks date to between 1750 and 1938 and of these, 59, are from the 19th century. No records currently exists for the period prior to the 18th century. Cargo throughout this period would usually be held in wooden casks varnished with fish oil for waterproofing.
All shipwrecks which sank at least a hundred years ago are designated as monuments under the National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1994. Virtually every class of vessel has been wrecked in the area, many of which are regional traditional boats including eight hookers, one gleoiteóg and one púcán. Several other fishing vessel were wrecked also including one trawler, one fishing cutter, a fishing smack and other types of vessels that were also used in the fishing and local coastal trading.
The origins of the craft are not clear. They have been in use for at least two hundred years, although it has been suggested that the design of the boat may date back further, owing to the Eastern appearance of the púcán sail and the craft itself. Some[who?] have suggested this as another example of Coptic influence on the west coast of Ireland. The Conamara area had many boatbuilders and it is thought that they formed these boats especially to suit the area. The boats were able to sail in shallow waters and thus were ideal for the areas around South Connemara. It is most likely that the báid have their origin in the area as opposed to being inspired from outside. A major spark in the revival of interest was the publication in 1983 of "The Galway Hookers , Sailing work boats of Galway Bay" (Richard J. Scott, d 24/01/08), now in its fourth edition. For the first time detailed construction and sail plans were published. The late Richard (Dick) Scott was also a founder member of the Galway Hooker Association.
Galway Hooker Art
Galway Hooker have been the inspiration for a lot of artwork throughout their history, artists like James G Miles capture the movement and color of these magnificent vessels. James also records songs and creates Bronze Sculptures of Hooker and Currach boats.
- Scott, Richard J (1983) The Galway Hooker. Ward River Press. ISBN 0-907085-58-X
- Chapelle, Howard I (1951) American Small Sailing Craft. W W Norton & Co. ISBN 0-393-03143-8