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Cancer survivors build Donegal currach 07.09.09

A GROUP of women living with a cancer diagnosis in North East Inishowen have been describing the uplifting experience they enjoyed when they became boat builders in the old Donegal tradition. The women, members of Éist - a support group for people who have been diagnosed with cancer - started working on the project on a part-time basis at the beginning of July and finished six weeks later. Their teacher was Moville man Dónal MacPolin, currach builder and author of 'The Donegal Currachs'.
The project originated during a discussion between Dónal and a friend, who is also an Éist member, regarding a newspaper article about cancer groups around the world who found solace rowing dragon boats. She asked Dónal if he would consider building a currach with the group members - he agreed, after some thought.
"At first I was sceptical, because I didn’t see how a large group of women might build a currach that seats only two. But, I was also intrigued by the idea of how a group of women who were dealing with cancer in their lives might build a currach, of all things," explained Dónal.
And the novel proposal was also met with peals of laughter from some of the members.
Members of Inishowen cancer group Éist pictured at the launch of their beautiful Dunfanaghy currach in August 2009. Also included in photo is Dónal MacPolin.
“It was beyond our comprehension. I can knit, I can sew but I never thought I could build something like a currach," said one woman. But the idea gained ground. Another Éist member added: “The reason for us building the currach, that became our focus, was to do something special that would challenge us, help us grow, learn new skills, move forward, empower us.”
The currach was built in the Inishowen Maritime Museum in Greencastle and most of the materials were sourced locally. The hazel was cut out in the spring from Aghatubbrid, Gleneely and Trean, Tremone. Everything else, except the cotton and tar, was sourced from McDonald's boat-yard in Greencastle or the Co-op in Moville.
Members of Inishowen cancer Group Éist and boat builder Dónal MacPolin, with the skeleton of their currach before it was finished. Everyone who took part said the experience was a positive and empowering one.
“I found for the time I was there, that it absorbed my whole attention and I forgot everything else. The ‘crowding-in’ in my head was gone," said another participant.
“The building of the currach became a positive way for me to express all the negative feelings of hurt, pain, fear that a cancer diagnosis raises. It helped me ‘come to terms’ with some of these. It helped me prove to myself that I can still do – still be – still learn. I didn’t know I felt like this. Sewing on the laths, I found that I felt at peace. I want more of that feeling.”
And the 'students' also left a big impression on their teacher.
“Frankly, I was amazed at what people, who had never done anything like this, had learned and achieved. My admiration and respect for the group increased as I worked with them.
"They built a beautiful sea-going 
Dunfanaghy currach which each member had the opportunity to row on the evening of the launch.” The currach was launched on the Foyle at Glenburnie Beach near Moville on August 10.
Meanwhile, Dónal and the women extended a big thank you to all the Maritime Museum staff for the warm welcome, the use of the facilities and "the great scones, tea and coffee". They also thanked the Causeway Coast Kayak Association for generously donating the tar and to Norris’s, Tremone, for the harvesting of the hazel rods.
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