The centrality of the Galway hooker to dwelling in the island and coastal communities of south west Conamara
Ó Sabhain, Pádraig Seosamh
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Abstract This research explores the relational nature of the Galway hooker, a traditional carvel-built wooden sail-boat described by Scott (2004) as “The Workhorse of Galway Bay” (Scott, 2004, p.22). It focuses on the integral part played by the hooker in enabling the isolated communities of South West Conamara to dwell in the outer regions of Galway Bay in West Connacht. The Galway Hooker provided these communities with the opportunity to travel, trade and to ferry into the region all of the provisions that were necessary to live there. Using a grounded theory approach, this study is based on the narratives of thirty-three hooker sailors (bádóirí) and builders (saoir), along with documentary evidence to provide a rich empirical account and theoretical conceptualisation on the centrality of the hooker in the lived reality of families and communities within the region. The narratives of those whose biographies have revolved around the hooker over a long period of time allow us to trace the historical and present day significance of the hooker to the constitution of place and community in South West Conamara. The research is located within a ‘dwelling’ perspective and applies it to the working bádóirí of old and their communities. From this perspective, we gain insights to understandings of space, place, landscape/seascape and taskscape within the bádóir’s ‘domain’ (Peace, 2001). It investigates a lifetime of engagement through his lived body (Merleau-Ponty, cited in Wylie, 2007) and his inter-animation (Basso, 1996) with all the other non-human elements within the same taskscape. The bádóir accounts allow a collective narrative to emerge about the assembly of economic and social life and livelihoods enabled by the hooker over time. It charts how the regional economy and everyday family/community life revolved around the craft. The study investigates in particular the nature of the bádóir’s knowledge(s) that enabled the sailing of the craft, along with the practices and knowledge(s) of the saoir that built the hooker. Analysis of the findings reveals that the bádóirí of old were viewed ‘as one’ with the seascape/taskscape within which they travelled and worked. They shared sentient relations with the sea and held a considerable stock of knowledge(s) gained through their senses and from the elder boatmen before them. The natural elements utilised in constructing and sailing the hooker required a deep ‘readiness-at-hand’ (Carolan, 2008) and intimacy between the bádóir and the hooker. This dissertation begins with a wider regional perspective on the economic significance of the hooker before delving into its meaning to everyday family/community life over generations. It then explores the meaning of the hooker at the more intimate, personal level of those sailing the craft. Finally, it identifies the collective efforts to revive and maintain the hooker as a vital part of the living culture of South West Conamara. The dissertation argues that the Galway hooker was integral to enabling dwelling within a region where the sea once played a highly significant role in the assembly of life there and that it continues to play a significant role in the lived material culture of this ‘gifted place’ (Bennett, 2014).
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