Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Irish Logboats

Callow Logboat, Lough Gara,
County Roscommon
Fifty years ago, while walking along the shore of Lough Gara with some friends, we were fortunate enough to find the remains of a logboat or dug-out canoe. The boat had broken into several pieces but we managed to put it together so that we could at least see what it would have looked like. Sadly, the sides of the vessel had completely disintegrated due to the ravages of time. The logboat had been brought to the attention of the National Museum of Ireland a few years earlier and is known as the Callow logboat. It was radiocarbon dated to the 9th century.

This boat measured 8.3m in length and was just under 1m in width, tapering towards the stern and bow which were inclined upwards. Four pairs of ‘D’-shaped footrests had been carved into the floor of the boat at intervals of approximately 1m. It was not clear whether the boat was propelled by oars or paddles. Interestingly, a 5cm round hole had been cut through the floor 58cm from the bow.

Two other logboats have been recorded from Lough Gara. The Clooncunny 1 logboat was found near the edge of the lake just across the border in Co. Sligo in 1968 and dated to 1026 AD or 11th century. Another logboat, known as Clooncunny 2, found near the River Boyle, Co. Roscommon, was dated to 1686 or 17th century.

Over 450 logboats have been recorded in Ireland mainly in lakes and rivers. They were an everyday means of conveyance as well as acting as ferries to cross unbridged rivers. Logboats were utilised to transport livestock and farm produce and were used for fishing and wildfowling.

A logboat discovered on the foreshore of Greyabbey Bay, Strangford Lough (Co. Down) points to the existence of seafaring logboats in the Neolithic period. The boat, which was 9.35m in length has been dated to 3,499 – 3,032 BC, making it over 5,000 years old.

Small Logboat from
Lough Corrib
Lough Corrib Logboats
A remarkable assortment of 14 logboats has recently been discovered in Lough Corrib, Co. Galway, dating from the early Bronze Age (c. 2,500 BC) to the eleventh century AD. The oldest and largest logboat reported, a 12m-long dugout canoe found near Annaghkeen, was radiocarbon dated to 2,500 BC. Archaeologists believe that it could have been paddled by a crew of ten or twelve, suggesting that it was, perhaps, primarily intended for formal or ceremonial purposes.

A 6m long logboat dated to the eleventh century AD was found near the townland of Carrowmoreknock. Four of the boats seats or thwarts made from planks were still in place. It was rowed rather than paddled as evidenced by the remains of four pairs of thole-pin holes, which would have held the craft’s oars. A selection of weapons found within the boat - three battleaxes, an ironwork axe, two iron spearheads and the remains of what may have been a copper-alloy dagger pommel - suggest that it may have been carrying warriors. 

Another boat from Lough Corrib, known as Lee’s Island 5 logboat, still had two intact roundwood seats or thwarts in place. The overall shape of the 7.3m-long boat is rectangular and tapers slightly towards the bow. The two seats are located near either end which may indicate that it was used to transport cargo or to ferry people, with middle of the boat kept free to carry its load.

This logboat still contained part of its original contents including a 2m-long steering oar or paddle, an iron spearhead and a socketed and loop iron axe which had its wooden handle intact. The iron axe appeared to have been deliberately fixed into the boat with the intention of making it a permanent feature. It has been radiocarbon-dated to 754-409 BC placing it in the early Iron Age.

The use of logboats on Lough Corrib was widespread from at least the early Bronze Age. People living along its shores or on one of the many islands in the lake required boats to fish, exploit the lake’s natural resources, ferry people and goods, travel and to communicate with other parts of the lake or further afield.

The Lurgan Logboat
National Museum of Ireland
The Lurgan Logboat
The Lurgan logboat from Co. Galway is, perhaps, among the best know examples of this type of vessel as it has been on display in the National Museum of Ireland for many years. It tapers from the rounded stern to the bow which is also rounded. This is a flat-bottomed craft with the bow inclined upwards. When it was measured in 1902 it was recorded as 15.24m long.

Although the external hull was finished, the interior was not completed. The average thickness of the floor is 24cm, far in excess of the average floor thickness (7cm) of completed Irish dugout boats. Archaeologists believe that the Lurgan boat was designed for speed and manoeuvrability and unlikely to have been used as a cargo boat. The available evidence suggests that it was paddled and may have had a crew of as many as 35 or 36 people. It would have been a very fast boat.

Must Farm Logboats
Across the water in Britain, eight beautifully preserved prehistoric logboats have recently been found during a major archaeological excavation at Must Farm, near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. The boats survived deep within the waterlogged sediments of a later Bronze Age/earlier Iron Age watercourse (1300-400 BC) in the Flag Fen basin. Radiocarbon dating has indicated that the ages of these boats covered a period of about 1000 years, with the earliest examples dating to around 1,750–1650 BC.

Logboat from Must Farm,
Peterborough, Cambridgeshire
Logboats or dug-out canoes have been used throughout the world for thousands of years and up to the present time in some places. Over 450 logboats have been recorded in Ireland alone mainly in lakes and rivers. They were an everyday means of transport for people living near lakeshores or on islands to fish, exploit the lake’s natural resources, ferry people and goods, and travel to places further afield. Today, logboats provide us with a window on the past and we marvel at the craftsmanship of these ancient peoples.

For further information, please see:

Archaeology Ireland – Winter 2014 (Issue No. 110)

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