Cancer survivors build Donegal
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
And the novel proposal was also met with peals of
laughter from some of the members.
“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,
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
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
“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
And the 'students' also left a big impression on their
“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.