Saoirse on sea trials in Baltimore Harbour (2023). Photos: Kevin O’Farrell

Exhibition sails into Skibbereen

A photography exhibition on boat building described as “culturally important and life-affirming” will make berth in West Cork this weekend.

Created by photographer Kevin O’Farrell, ‘Hegarty’s Boatyard: Last Surviving Traditional Wooden Boatyard in Ireland’ will open at the Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre in Skibbereen this Saturday.

Forged over the past 25 years, the exhibition explores and celebrates the fast-diminishing craft of building wooden boats in Ireland.

Cork-based photographer Kevin O'Farrell’s body of work focuses on 3 generations of the same family working in Hegarty’s Boatyard, Oldcourt, in Skibbereen.

The yard was established by Paddy Hegarty shortly after World War II and is now run by his grandson of the same name.

O'Farrell's documentarian approach draws on the traditions of photojournalism and magazine reportage, capturing the essence of a process by recording it in a series of images, and thus creating a visual narrative by impartially observing how events unfold in front of the camera.

His photographs look to convey the relationship between the boatbuilders, the boats, the environment they occupy, and how they interact in scale and place, highlighting their structural and utilitarian beauty.

Launching at Uillinn to coincide with the publication of O’Farrell’s latest book ‘Hegarty’s Boatyard: Building Conor O’Brien’s Saoirse’, the exhibition includes a new set of photographs of the restoration of the Saoirse, a 42 foot ketch on which Connor O’Brien circumnavigated the world in the 1920s, as well as many photographs of the restoration of the AK Ilen, the last of Ireland’s traditional wooden, ocean-going sailing ships.

Both vessels were originally built in Baltimore, before being re-built in Hegarty’s of Oldcourt.

“Watching these boatbuilders at work today offers an insight into previous generations of such craftsmen, as their tools and skills remain unchanged,” said O’Farrell.

He continued: “Unfortunately, these traditions are in danger of being lost now as very few young people take up careers in wooden boatbuilding.

“This would represent a tragedy for our island nation, so I feel honoured to witness and record this extraordinary craftsmanship for future generations.

“This book is my tribute to the wonderful living maritime heritage that is still practiced daily in Hegarty’s Boatyard.”

Tanya Kiang, Curator, Photo Museum Ireland, said: “This strong, classic body of photographic work, which records and preserves an important part of Ireland’s living heritage, offers rich interpretations from a variety of perspectives.

“I believe the exhibition will garner interest from those interested not only in photography and art, but also in maritime culture, as well as archaeologists and cultural historians.”