Tigh na Cille… the house of hazel is where we began our journey again on Saturday beside the old mill and across the river from where the three abandoned wooden barges lie hidden at the entrance to the canal. The once grand lough gates allowed merchant traffic travel down into one of the most manicured river landscapes of the entire valley. Lord Beaupark was intrusted with overseeing the purse that had iron forged and wooden beams sawn into gates to complete this long and difficult section of waterway. His attempts to civilise the great forested embankments of the River Boyne, forced the engineers to stone face long sections of pathway from lough to lough, while incorporating little mills and folly like houses over re-routed streams for lough keepers and workers. The records talk of bullocks being commissioned to help float lough gates up river and large amounts of whiskey being paid to locals whose job it was to prevent works from being washed away during sudden floods. But the hooded men of the hazel forest seemed the greatest menace to the project, stealing or vandalising at every opportunity to prevent the empire expanding further inland with each and every year. The earliest drawing of a river currach was sketched here on these banks while fishing, and the Reilly family has memories of these ‘tubs’, as they called them, still being used in their day, as a ferry to re-unite brothers and sisters from across the river on Sundays. My favourite perch to stop awhile was curiously carved 5,000 years ago with a spot like the sun and rays of light carved as waves emanating from a stone dropped from outside our world to pulsate over the sky. Who knows what the little doodler was thinking of as he sat by the river each day to carve his mark, simply to say he was there. Passing by Slane Castle, the ocean blue water drew our attention to the new 15ft well that I can only presume is for the new distillery being built there. I wonder will it be as good a whiskey as the whiskey that kept men in payment for digging the trench of the Boyne canal. We finished beneath Newgrange between two fly fishing tourists, whose virtual presence in the river seemed but for a sudden moment to overlap ours.
I was privileged, this year, to have my 11 year old daughter as co-pilot. It was her first time to travel from the boundary of the pale towards the sea with us in our little leather currachs. With a method I learnt had years earlier from her brother, Ruarcan, when he perched himself on the rim of the boat and paddled from the rear like an open canoe, while I on the other end, sculled happily and easily down the Boyne. As he got older and stronger I found it harder to keep up with his energy and strength and in a relentless battle of wills to keep the boat straight he would spin me like a cork if I said the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Caer found a far simpler method to temper my resolve and with a lot less energy involved she simply ducked me by lifting her weight forward and with a tip of her paddle from behind when I tried to remind her to paddle. After a few unexpected ducks I learnt to find other, more diplomatic ways to say the same thing. 15kms, 26kms and 18kms for three days, camping beneath some of the most magical locations I’ve ever known. To journey the Boyne in a vehicle is like changing channels on TV, dipping in and out of other people’s lives and experiences. But to travel the river in a leather wicker craft is the same as having hitched a ride with a time traveller.
Getting ready for the next part of our Newgrange Currach Project
William Wilde’s old map was quickly unfolded from the back of his book to find where we were on the river, by the bridges we climbed onto or rated its echo qualities from beneath. On reading his descriptions of brutal battles by men, long forgotten by history your respect for the rivers heritage becomes heightened by every mile.
Collecting river rush to attempt to weave a sail over the winter months
We have it easy, in comparison to the well laboured shoulders we now find ourselves standing upon. Snaking through the dredged remains of the upper Boyne, the south west winds and crossing sun are the only implements available to alert us of the direction we are pointing towards, the river constantly throwing us an event from its past to ponder as we paddle; Gaelic lords and Norman alliances, fairy God battles or great voyages yet unspoken of. The river turns and a new century unfolds, back and forth like mist filled layers of important notes to be held in trust for the ones who have not yet come to pass.
The river sucks you away from the present noise filled world, to see it as it was, and for the few of us, still is, when consumed by the rhythmic noise, that of your paddle, your companions and the river poets’ ripples, that Wilde captured so elegantly in stories. The apple falls not far from the tree, as Oscar Wilde was a progeny of a well-seasoned oak whose roots began their immersion by the grassy banks of the Boyne.
Source to Sea.... Yes! It is happening again - three currachs set off from the Beautiful Ballyboggan yesterday morning on what was a perfect August morning, warm, not too sunny and a gentle tail breeze. The first hour or two proved a bit difficult but as the river widened and the water began to gain momentum, so two did the six brave voyagers! The beautiful Donore Castle was their first stop, where they set up camp and rested for the night. Enjoy the photos below - and keep an eye out for an update tomorrow!