Northern Ireland

Lagan launch for currach labour of love

Image caption The volunteers have been building the boat in T13 - a shared cultural space in Belfast's Titanic Quarter

For almost a year, dedicated volunteers have headed to Belfast's Titanic Quarter twice a week to build a boat from scratch.

But this is no ordinary boat. This is a currach - a traditional boat, as capable of sea voyages as it is of sailing on inland waters.

It's an idea that has consumed Niamh Scullion since she helped row one across the Irish Sea.

"In 2012, I was offered a place on a currach going from Iona over to Rathlin," she told BBC News NI.

"I'd never rowed before but I thought I would go, and it was just an amazing experience."

An experience Niamh wanted to share with others, so she set about securing backing from places like the Heritage Lottery Fund.

"So much work has gone into this currach. We expected it to take less time - I mean, you start off with a pile of wood and it goes from there.

"Just very slowly, the boat starts taking shape."

Blood, sweat and tar

Image caption 'Blood, sweat and tears' were all part of the boat-building process

That "shape" is 10m (33ft) long.

It consists of three layers of canvas and tar stretched over oak bars that have been steamed to make them easy to bend into the curved shape.

The wood finishing has been sanded and smoothed and saturated with oil.

"It's been a pretty long and slow process, a lot of craft, a lot of blood sweat and tears as well," said Tim Bloomer, vice-chairman of Lagan Currachs.

"We're looking forward to getting it on the water."

Image caption Niamh Scullion said the Lagan Currachs team posted progress reports on social media

That is the next step, which will happen on Sunday.

For the volunteers, it is the culmination of hours of work: Some made sure the whole family was involved.

"I brought my kids down and we decided to help on the project," said Diana McDowell.

"It's skills that a lot of children aren't being taught anymore and at that stage the boat was at a very early stage, it was tipped the other way round.

"So they had the experience of clamping it and putting the nails in - so it was amazing for them."

Dozens of people were involved - community groups along the river were contacted, while others became interested via social media, which the team used to post regular progress reports.

Under wraps

She mentioned two other currach-sailing groups.

"There's the Causeway Coast Maritime Heritage Group, they have a currach called the Colmcille," said Ms Scullion.

"There's also Row the Erne, they have the Menapian.

"We would hope to go on a trip together, all three groups, which I think would be really special."

Image caption Dozens of volunteers worked on the currach over the past year

The Belfast currach's name is being kept under wraps until it is afloat.

But the sight of it hitting the water on Sunday will not be the end of the journey for the volunteers.

Some are hoping to take part in the journeys planned for the currach in the long term.

"I can't quite believe that this has all come together and it's a functional boat that has such great possibilities for brilliant expeditions as well," said team member Leigh McIlroy.

"I mean, these are expeditions that are larger than life."

But for now, the Lagan will be far enough.

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