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    Thursday, August 11, 2022

    Currach regatta brings camaraderie, competition to New London’s waterfront

    Philadelphia Celtic Currach Club crew members carry their currach, an Irish wooden boat, to the bottom of the Custom House Pier in New London, Saturday, July 30, 2022 for a regatta. (Daniel Passapera/Special to The Day)
    Philadelphia Celtic Currach Club crew members Sarah Windfelder, left, and Ava Boyle, right, apply a layer of beeswax to their oars Saturday, July 30, 2022, before the start of the Currach Regatta at the Custom House Pier in New London. (Daniel Passapera/Special to The Day)
    The crew of the Albany Irish Rowing Club share smiles after winning the four-woman event Saturday, July 30, 2022, during a Currach Regatta at the Custom House Pier in New London. (Daniel Passapera/Special to The Day)
    Teams move past the start line in the four-man race as the New London Currach Rowers hosts teams from the North American Currach Association to a seven-event regatta Saturday, July 30, 2022, at the Custom House Pier in New London. (Daniel Passapera/Special to The Day)
    Three teams move past the start line in the four-man race Saturday, July 30, 2022, during a Currach Regatta hosted by the New London Currach Rowers at the Custom House Pier in New London. (Daniel Passapera/Special to The Day)

    New London — A crowd of about 50 people on Custom House Pier along the city’s waterfront cheered as rowers began racing Saturday afternoon in traditional Irish boats.

    The currach regatta on Saturday, held by the New London Currach Rowers Club, brought together rowers from the region, Boston, Albany and Philadelphia to compete in the Thames River on the windy afternoon.

    Maureen Plumleigh, an Old Lyme resident and president of the New London Currach Rowers, said the camaraderie among the rowers is one of the reasons she loves participating. She said the camaraderie is not only present among the people on the same team rowing together in unison, but also with the other teams.

    That camaraderie was on display before the regatta, as members of competing teams greeted one another like old friends on the sunny day and talked and laughed together as they got the currachs ready for the regatta.

    Currachs originally were used for transporting goods along the western coast of Ireland, explained Jim Gallagher, a former president of the North American Currach Association. The design of the boats used for racing have been streamlined a little, but are in the same style.

    Plumleigh said the lightweight boats are covered with canvas and then painted for a sealing effect.

    Members of the North American Currach Association, with clubs in Boston; Albany; Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Leetsdale in Pa.; Annapolis, Md.; Milwaukee, Wisc., and New London, each host regattas. Plumleigh said New London hasn’t hosted a regatta in three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the regatta returned to the Thames River on Saturday. The event featured seven races.

    Orla O’Shea, who is originally from Cork, Ireland, and moved to the United States three and a half years ago, got involved in the Boston Currach Rowing Club two years ago.

    “Through this sport, I both learned how to row and it got me out on the water in Boston and I got to meet everyone on all the other teams, and traveling around North America has been fantastic,” O’Shea said. She added it’s been eye-opening meeting Irish Americans and learning about their experience of having a deep-rooted history in Ireland but being raised in the United States.

    She got to return to Cork with the North American Currach Association in June, and show currach rowing to her friends and family.

    “That was amazing to row in my home city,” she said.

    Mindy Welch of East Lyme rows with the Blood Street Sculls in Old Lyme, and recently tried out currach rowing and also loved it.

    “This is great because you have that rustic feeling and you go hard and fast and put all your muscle into it,” she said.

    Welch, whose grandparents were Irish, is planning a trip to Ireland in August. She said she feels like she’s connecting to her Irish roots when currach rowing.

    Colm Coyne, president of the Boston Currach Rowing Club, said the sport offers the enjoyment of competing, traveling and keeping up with tradition, and it’s a nice get together for people.

    Coyne said he was brought up with the tradition. "My father rowed all his life, and we used to go to regattas every weekend in Ireland,“ he said. ”It’s in the blood.“

    The John P. Holland Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish American Catholic fraternal organization, had a booth on the pier where it had Irish cultural books for people to look at and informational handouts, such as on the Irish of New London.

    That group, along with Forty Thieves Irish pub in Groton and the Custom House Maritime Museum in New London, helped sponsor the event. The Custom House Maritime Museum held a showing on Friday afternoon of the National Geographic Society’s video “The Brendan Voyage.”

    There is a legend “that in the sixth century an Irish Monk, St. Brendan the Navigator, and his crew of Irish Monks used a currach to travel from Ireland to North America. St. Brendan’s book about the journey was greeted with disbelief by contemporary scholars, and, doubts about this epic voyage continued for centuries,” according to a news release.

    “The Brendan Voyage,” is about the journey of Tim Severin, a historian, author and scholar, who built a currach with sailors in Ireland in the 1970s and traveled to Newfoundland, the release states. It adds that “Severin’s voyage has shown that an Irish Monk could have made the voyage from Ireland to North America in the sixth century.”


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