The Galway Hooker

/The Galway Hooker
The Galway Hooker 2017-10-05T14:34:09+00:00

Sail on the roaring seas

Sail On The Roaring Seas

The Galway Hooker exhibition tells the story of the iconic Galway Hooker boat, unique to the west coast of Ireland and regularly spotted on Galway Bay. It documents both the history and living tradition of these boats through objects, film, text and imagery.  This exhibition illustrates the pivotal role these vessels played in the social and working lives of Galway coastal communities.  The boats vary in size and shape and this is determined by their functionality i.e. for cargo or regatta.  The displays are a strong addition to the iconic Máirtín Oliver hooker, which has been one of the highlights of the museum since its installation in 2006. This is a long-term exhibition created in-house.  Visitors can access it on the first floor of the museum.

Classification

The four types of Galway Hooker are: Bád Mór, Leathbhád, Gleoiteog, and Púcán. The vessels are classified by size and load capacity.

All hookers, with the exception of the Púcán have either an open, or half open deck and are gaff rigged, meaning the main sail is four-cornered. The larger hookers could carry 7 – 8 tons of cargo, with the latter being the upper limit for a 40-foot boat.

Bád Mór

[Bawd-more]

The Bád Mór (Big Boat) is between 35-44 foot long.

Leathbhád

[Lah w-awd]

The Leathbhád (Half Boat) is roughly half the carrying capacity of the Bád Mór and measures between 28-35 foot.

Gleoiteog

[Gloach-ogue]

The Gleoiteog measures 20-28 foot and has a fixed boom and stays.

The Púcán

[Poo-kawn]

The Púcán measures 23-28 foot and has no boom or stays.

Image credits: Galway Hooker Association – http://www.huiceiri.ie/

The Sails

Within the different classes of Hooker, each vessel had three sails – mainsail, foresail and jib.

The sails were made of a heavy textile called calico, which is an unbleached and often not fully processed form of cotton. The sails were proofed and cut locally. They were then covered in a solution made from tree bark or from a tar and butter mix.

The fishermen applied to the sails in order to weatherproof and protect them. This process is known as ‘barking the sails’ and it is the reason why Galway Hookers have their distinctive dark red or rusty brown sails.

The sails were treated with this solution every year to protect and stiffen them and the more they were barked, the darker they became.

In the Claddagh, the King would have white sails to mark his boat out from the others in the fleet.

*Images are courtesy of Joe O’Shaughnessy, The Connacht Tribune

History

The Galway Hooker is an overall term for four different styles of fishing vessel.

The term ‘hooker’ is associated with ‘hook and line’ fishing, where long lines of baited hooks were drawn through the water and individual fish were caught when they went for the bait on each hook. This method of fishing, adopted by Galway fishermen, was referred to as ‘long-lining’. It influenced the labelling of the fishermen as ‘hookers’ and their boats became known as the Galway Hookers.

Native Irish speakers in Connemara had their own distinctive terminology for the different varieties of boat and didn’t use the term ‘Galway Hooker’ until English speakers brought it from outside. Through repetition the word became commonplace. There is some speculation that the term originated in Spain and Britain but the most common theory suggests a Dutch origin. It is believed that the Galway Hooker was based on a boat that developed in The Netherlands in the 17th century called the ‘Hoeker’, also based on the hook and line fishing. The diversity of local, vernacular boats is dictated by function, environment and local tradition.

*Illustrated London News, 1882

O’Tooles

© National Folklore Collection, UCD

Michael O’Toole

Born in the Claddagh c.1864, Michael O’Toole worked as a fisherman and also sailed emigrant ships to North America. He was 29 when he was introduced to Anne Conneely (Nan O’Toole) from Rope Walk, Claddagh, who later became his wife; she was about thirteen years his junior. He died in 1934. “My Grandfather is in his 70s in this photograph, he didn’t want the photo to be taken at the time and so was annoyed when it was. He spoke mainly Irish but also had good English from his travels abroad. He and many more Claddagh men crewed over to North America on emigrant ships, fished long-line cod off the Grand Banks in Newfoundland and made the return journeys to Galway on the emigrant ships again. Like the Navy men, my grandfather wore the blue crew neck geansaí and had a ring in his ear. At home, Michael fished from a Galway Hooker boat called An Bonnán Buí and was also involved in the poaching of salmon at the ‘black hole’ near Galway Cathedral”.

© Musée Albert Kahn, Paris

Nan O’Toole

Born in the Claddagh in 1877, Anne (Nan) Conneely married local fisherman, Michael O’Toole. They had six daughters, one son and twins who died in infancy. In 1913, two French ladies, Marguerite Mespoulet and Madeleine Mignon-Alba, photographed Nan with her daughter Mary Kelly as part of a project funded by Albert Kahn to document disappearing cultures around the world and to create an Archive of the Planet. These photographs were among the first ever colour images of life in Ireland. Nan O’ Toole who regularly sold fish on Eglington street, Galway, was also known to have cures for many ailments. For infants suffering with bowel problems Nan prescribed the dust from burnt turf and holy water to be added to their bottle at feeding time. Babies who were born prematurely were often hung in a fishing net over a basin of warm water -this was said to replicate the womb, providing the greatest comfort for the child. Nan was also renowned for her cure of eye infections which involved licking the eye. She died in 1952. “The French ladies first encountered my Grandmother, Nan Ó Toole and Mrs. Mary Jordan while they were cleaning fish for sale in 1913. My Grandmother, Nan Ó Toole, sold her fish from the corner of Eglington St., directly across from Moon’s corner. The photographs were taken over a couple of days and from what my mother told me they were given around 5 shillings between them for their trouble. This photograph was taken at Pól’s Gable, Ropewalk, Claddagh ”.

John Reney: the Boatbuilder

“John Reney’s boats” – that means something

To those who know the strength of the sea and its unrelenting cruelty it has always meant safety. Because they were good boats and blessed with good luck.”

Quote: Connaught Tribune, 1954.

galway hooker
© Galway City Museum Collection

All tools displayed were used by Claddagh boat-builder, John Reney in the 1920s. They were donated to Galway City Museum by the Reney family. John Reney was the last boat-builder to supply vessels to the Claddagh fleet. He was born in Clarinbridge and served his apprenticeship with his father Michael, also a boatbuilder. He then emigrated to Boston where he worked for the celebrated Lawley shipbuilding company. Returning to Galway, Reney built a boatyard at the back of the Spanish Arch adjacent to the present museum. Among the boats built by Reney was
The Truelight, last of the old-style Claddagh hookers. Built in 1922, The Truelight was owned by the Oliver family until 1961, when it was purchased by Irish poet Richard Murphy. Renowned for its speed and safety, it survived 1927’s Cleggan Disaster (in which 44 fishermen drowned during a fierce north-westerly gale) and 1961’s Hurricane Debbie. The hooker in the museum’s atrium is based on the lines of The Truelight.

Cargo

Hookers, often referred to as the ‘Workhorses of the West’, played an important role in the economy of the coastal communities in and around Galway Bay. They were used for fishing and carrying cargoes of turf, livestock, general supplies, lime, poitín(an illegal whiskey) and seaweed.

From the late 1940s the seaweed was brought to the Arramara factory in Connemara where it was converted into fertiliser and chemicals. The Hookers also carried passengers on routes that traversed the Bay and brought people in and out of small and large piers, markets and pilgrim sites. Long before the development of a reasonable road network, turf was transported from Connemara on Hooker boats across the bay to Aran and North Clare where bogland was scarce; livestock, limestone and general supplies made the return journey. A donkey and cart was then used to transport the materials to the local distributors.

The trade began to dwindle when turf was replaced by other fuels such as bottled gas and electricity.

Image source is unknown
Image source unknown
galway-hooker
Image courtesy of Tommy Holohan

Revival

Image courtesy of Joe O’Shaughnessy, The Connacht Tribune

Carageen, shore food and the juice of limpets, put in your stomach and you will be strong. (old saying)

In 1966, only six large hookers were in active service in Galway Bay. By 1970, only two remained and a whole chapter in west of Ireland boat building, sailing, fishing and transportation looked set to close.

However, the restoration of The Morning Star, a Bád Mór built around 1890 in Kinvara, Co. Galway, sparked renewed interest in hookers. It was purchased and restored by John Healion in 1976 and in July of that year, took part in the Saint MacDara festival. In 1978 the Galway Hooker Association was founded. The season that year saw regattas at Kilkieran, Oileán MacDara, Lettermullan, Callaheigue and Roundstone.

In 1979 the revival movement was well established and that August the first three-day festival, Cruinniú na mBád(Gathering of the boats), took place in Kinvara.

The reawakening of interest in traditional boat building, not just of Hookers but of smaller craft also, has halted the decline and possible extinction of these crafts. Short and long-term courses in boat building have sprung up around the west. Conferences and seminars have taken place and a number of excellent books documenting these traditional skills, their history and heritage have been published.

Galway Hooker

galway hooker

Galway Hooker

Galway Hooker

Galway Hooker

Galway Hooker

Galway Hooker

Galway Hooker

Galway Hooker

Galway Hooker

Galway Hooker 

Experience it yourself

Galway City Museum welcomes you to come and experience the exhibitions in person.

PLAN A VISIT