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Coracles on The Canal

Coracles on the Canal was a collaboration between visual artist and prolific builder of project boats Andi McGarry, and participants from the senior citizens housing association and the wider community of Rathangan and Duncormick. This ecologically-driven place-making project aimed to engage the intergenerational community with the newly refurbished McColls Community Centre in Rathangan, through woodworking, craft, boat handling, and adventure.

Using locally coppiced willow, the group built a flotilla of light bowl-shaped boats called coracles and explored the flora and fauna of the disused Bridgetown Canal. Initially part of an extensive drainage and reclamation scheme, the five-mile canal was subsequently used as a transport system. It fell out of use in the 1940s.

The boat building began in early September with a team of about 30 casuals and regulars. Over ten days four coracles were built with willow frames, canvas hulls and bitumen paint. The coracles were successfully launched and rowed along the canal in both directions. Opportunities to explore the locality from a different perspective provided fresh insights into the heritage of the landscape and an appreciation of the diversity in local ecology grew. The boaters described seeing the waters ‘full of apples bobbing like a Halloween bowl, lots of green weeds and logs, and huge trees along the banks. There were secret bridges adorned with stalactites, and birds including heron, ducks, and moorhen. The water was bustling with mullet and the hawthorn blossom was sprinkled on the water surface like a frosted bun. An undoubted highlight was spotting a kingfisher flash past’. Participants reported how much they enjoyed getting to know new members of their community especially through team-building and problem solving tasks. The overall feeling was that using creative tasks to build community fosters creative approaches to achieving resilience, whether that is resilience in terms of health and wellbeing, pride of place, or climate change.

The Coracles on the Canal project has inspired another community-based boat building project in the neighbouring parish of Kilmore Quay called Ways of Water. This project aims to build upon the culture of biodiversity, conservation and water management in the area, and will consider how water-movement has been managed there in the past and how sustainable living in the wetlands might be approached in the future. Ways of Water will be delivered in 2024.

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