Currach Racing in Ireland

A Currach, sometimes anglicized as Curragh, is a sturdy, light and versatile boat unique to the west coast of Ireland. Used on the seas as well as on inland waterways, the framework of a Currach consists of latticework formed of rib-frames, also known as hoops and longitudinal slats known as stringers. Over this frame, animal skins or hides were once stretched, though now canvas is more usual. When the traditional Irish boat was no longer needed for work purposes, it was still popular as a recreational boat for racing.

Racing on the River Thames

In 1988, London’s River Thames hosted its first ever racing Currachs as part of a festival bringing Irish culture to London. The race attracted crews from London, the west of Ireland, and the famed Oxford and Cambridge boat clubs. It was not surprising that the race was won by the Folan Brothers from Carraroe in Galway.

Currach Racing on the River Thames.

Coiste Lar Na gCurrachai

Coiste Lar Na gCurrachai.By the 1990s only Galway and Kerry were rowing Currachs in regular competitions, but this was soon to change thanks to an Irishman living in Louisiana, USA. Danny O’Flaherty became committed to reviving the Currach which he had loved so much in his youth. By 1994 he had founded Coiste Lar Na gCurrachai (Central Currach Committee) to promote Currach racing, and the Celtic Nations Heritage Foundation to host the annual World Cup Currach regatta in his adopted home of Louisiana.

The aim of the Coiste was to set the rules for regattas that would take place between May and August that he hoped would encourage other counties and regions of Ireland to join. Currach clubs began to form along the western coast from Co Donegal in the north to Co Cork in the south. A points system was set up to encourage regular activity since missing even one regatta could make the difference between winning and losing. Thanks to Ireland’s temperamental weather the racing season can continue into September.

Current rules in racing

There are now rules and a referee at each race, who sails alongside the Currachs in a speedboat. There are now 12 senior men and four ladies’ teams plus six junior teams competing across Ireland who race every weekend along the western seaboard using four standard Currachs rented out by the Coiste.

Races can vary, but typically, four Currachs row to a distant buoy, round it and pelt it back to cross the finish line. There is a technique to getting around the buoy that requires an understanding of the winds and tides so that the boat does not overshoot or go the wrong way around the buoy, which means going back and trying again.

Current rules in currach racing.

Training is hard in the summer competition season, with a focus not just on training, but also on eating well and a ban on alcohol and smoking. The sports gear consists of durable tracksuit pants to save abrasions to the skin, tight tops and a boot with a heel.

The male and female teams with the most points at the end of the season win an all-expenses-paid trip to compete against at The World Cup Currach regatta in Louisiana, which is underwritten by the Coiste, with competitors hosted by residents of Louisiana and Lake Charles.

Liffey City Currach Regatta

In 2012, Dubliners saw the first Liffey City Currach Regatta in the heart of the city. Now in its seventh year, the races for junior and senior men and women run from Tom Clarke bridge to Sean O’Casey bridge. Thanks to sponsorship from the Dublin Port Company width="580" height="340" and Dublin City Council, crews from Donegal to Kerry were able to compete in May 2019.

Celtic Challenge

There is now also a 145-kilometer Currach race across the Irish Sea in the Celtic Challenge from Arklow in Co Wicklow to Aberystwyth in Wales, believed to be the longest open water rowing race in the world. This race can take anywhere between 15 to 24 hours, with crews of 12 and four rowing at any one time. This has brought the history of the Currach full circle since this is a route that historically may have enabled early Irish settlers to make their way over to the British Isles.

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