Each July the quiet Connemara village of Roundstone erupts in spectacular celebration of a maritime festival that dates back to the 1890s. Sail and oar propel traditional boats in two days of racing that showcase athletic skill as well as keeping alive the important role these craft have played in the islands and coastal communities over the centuries.
The distinctive profile and sail colour of Galway Hookers racing across Roundstone Bay recreates a sight not so different from how it might have appeared (apart from the clothes of those sailing) a century or two ago.
With its shallow draught, the boat is well-suited to the waters of Galway and South Connemara, and has been used for hundreds of years primarily for fishing and transporting cargo.
Men and women, as well as boys and girls, take their turn at the oars of a timber or canvas currach or naomhoga, racing in a variety of categories. Competitors come from across Ireland, from across the Atlantic, and occasionaly from the crowds of onlookers, intending only to watch, but suddenly caught up in the regatta’s spirit.
The flat-bottom currach, well-suited to the sea and rivers of West Ireland, first appeared in written history around the time of Julius Caesar. They have been used for transporting fish, fishermen, sheep, cattle, and allegedly even a boatload of monks under Saint Brendan to America in the 6th century.
As well as excitement on the water, the Roundstone Regatta offers traditional music and dancing ashore, and includes a noontime mass on the pier with the customary blessing of the boats.