My afternoon with a Galway Hooker

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  • Courtesy photos John and Charlie Kennedy flank Ciaran Oliver as they examine the restored ‘Loveen’ boat.

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    Courtesy photo Ciaran and Ronan Oliver

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    Mike Kennedy

  • Courtesy photos John and Charlie Kennedy flank Ciaran Oliver as they examine the restored ‘Loveen’ boat.

  • 1

    Courtesy photo Ciaran and Ronan Oliver

  • 2

    Mike Kennedy

I should probably start by saying it’s not what you think, but more on that later.

After three years of schedule conflicts, my brothers and I finally picked a date and flew to Ireland to bring our parents to their final resting place in the Galway Bay of Ireland, as per their wishes. It was a lovely ceremony on a rainy, overcast day. We said our brief words and prayers and sent them on their way.

As our host Ciaran Oliver said, the way the tides ran they would spend the better part of the day circling about and visiting in the bay, then a few hours later they’d begin their trek out to the Atlantic Ocean. That was fitting, as our grandparents made a journey west almost 100 years ago that began in the same place and brought us full circle to where we were.

Ciaran’s 14-year-old son Ronan was our skipper for the morning. Ciaran is a full-time member of the Galway fire service, but he and his siblings work on the side as much as possible to carry on the multi-generational history of commercial fishing in the bay. The family is from nearby Claddagh, an ancient town of about 500 people. He’s teaching his kids the family traditions, and the boat we were on was bought for them to learn and manage.

I loved telling the skipper that our youngest son is also named Ronan. The boys have obviously never met though they share a warm smile and a facility for meeting adults with a strong handshake.

But back to the hooker.

In nautical terms, a hooker is a specific kind of traditional wood fishing boat — unique to the west coast of Ireland. Usually black on the hull and with vibrant colored sails, the hooker has a striking look and it’s built to withstand the strong winds that the Atlantic whips up. As modern commercial fishing techniques have overfished the Galway Bay and slowly ground away at the small family fishing industry, time had also somewhat left behind the classic old history of the hookers.

So last year Ciaran and some friends started a nonprofit in service of the “Loveen,” a 95-year-old boat that was battered and beaten but still had “good bones.” They committed to restoring it as a community effort.

We were planning to have lunch at a small restaurant in the fishing village, so we invited Ciaran and his son and our driver for the day, a kindly gentleman named Tommy, to join us. As we had discussed the restoration of the boat earlier in the day, Ciaran asked if we wanted to take a few minutes to look at her.

It was a highlight of the trip. We were fascinated with the story and the description he gave of how they’re doing what they’re doing in Galway. We walked around the boat, asked questions, and heard details about the process. I shared with him a bit about our wood boat-making experts in Coeur d’Alene.

Despite jet lag, some emotion, and the short period of time we had to spend with our hosts, I was absolutely taken by what they are doing.

The goal of the effort is to completely restore the Loveen to pristine original condition and get it sailing again by next year. Ciaran told us there are over 100 people volunteering their skills in unique and different ways. Some have never swung a hammer or used a plane saw in their lives. Most have no experience in boat building. But what they all do have is a rallying point to connect them to their community and their history in a way that is alive and tangible. It’s become a local mission.

They graciously gifted us a copy of a calendar they published featuring hookers to raise money for their efforts. And they encouraged us to share their story and their website if there is anyone who’d like to follow along or maybe even appeal to their Irish roots to make a donation.

Though I traveled abroad quite a bit as a younger man, studying in Europe and taking trains all over the continent, I was reminded again on this trip how much we all want similar things the world over. While the people of Coeur d’Alene were rallying to save, move, and restore a big white house that was important to us and our history, the people of Galway are restoring a boat that is symbolic of their history and bringing their community together as well.

And in the tradition of my ancestors, sharing a personal story and introducing folks to one another seems a perfect way to start.

Especially when the story includes a beautiful Galway Hooker.

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For more information:

https://www.galwaybaytours.com/sailingingalway

https://www.galwaycitymuseum.ie/galway-hooker/

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