Tag Archives: Achill

A look at the Achill yawl

Achill Island is famous for its marvellous traditional boats. In the old days before roads, the best way to transport goods was by water and so these smart little local boats – the Achill yawls – would sail south past a necklace of tiny islands – Clare Island, Inishturk, Inishbofin, Inishshark –  and round into Galway to pick up goods that had been transported there by the big steamers.

Last time I was on Achill, I took my ease – and a hot whiskey – in Pattens pub:

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And there, I met the two Joyces: Thomas and Tommie, father and son.

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The roads have improved since the old days and so cars and buses have replaced water transport but the yawls remain as a reminder of the skills that went into both the making of them and then the sailing of them.

Nowadays, Tommie Joyce sails them and his father – a fisherman and  a  boatbuilder – makes them to scale.

Here’s a picture of the Mayo Man, made to scale by Thoms Joyce:


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Mayo Man is owned ( and sailed in its full size) by chair of the Achill Yawl Association, Dr. Cowley. Here he is,  on the right:

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And by the way, Dr Cowley’s wife, Teresa, takes the most brilliant photos of yawls, water and light on water I have ever seen.

The whole point about all this sailing activity is that there’s an on-going festival of events and yawl races on Achill throughout the  year:

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The main race in June was won by  Yellow Rose, owned by Micheal  (“The Shore” ) Patten. Michael’s father, also Michael Patten, was another great boatbuilder.

Back in the day, yawls were made of oak and larch and the yard was made of pine though nowadays it’s made of light aluminium. The sails were linen which wasn’t great because linen is very heavy when it gets wet but made of  linen and calico they were – and all handsewn.

Now the sails  come up from  Cork which, in the great days of sail, was the biggest exporter of sailcloth in Europe – but that’s another story.

Early yawls were called double-enders as they had matching pointed ends fore and aft  and though there’s bound to be a sailing term for this  I’m afraid I don’t know it. Later, the transom stern was introduced which had a straight stern, making it easier to load and off load goods.

Sailing a yawl is sailing by the seat of your pants. One sail, few sheets, no traveller and definitely no technology apart from the brain and the hands and the skill and wisdom of the skipper who held a corner of the sail in his hand and conducted things from there. When you changed tack, you walked the sail round the mast to the other side.

The crew – usually about 7 – did what they were told and also acted as ballast so all the business of sailing etc was done in the area of the mast in order to maintain balance. Not easy.

And what about going in to the water? It’s no secret that most fishermen – and that meant most Achill yawl sailors – don’t swim. But now with Brussels not far away,   Health and Safety makes its demands which is why the Achill Yawls have their own safety boat in attendance.

Here are a few more yawls:2014 may achill h boll fest yawls etc 023


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Hang on – where did this boat come from?


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Testing, testing: This isn’t  a yawl but a Galway Hooker.


If you’d like to know more about the Cruinniu Badoiri Acla, you’ll find info on their Face Book site – Yawl Racing Achill





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Two books with connections to Achill Island

  Here are two books I came across on Achill recently. Why was I there? To attend – and take part in – the marvellous Heinrich Boll Weekend. There were talks and titbits to eat – and wine, of course – and a fair bit of socialising. I met up with my old friend, travel writer Dea Birkett. Dea and I had first met in Limerick at a Kate O’Brien weekend. Also there was the marvellous Christina Bielenberg who impressed me by drinking double shots of whiskey…

The last time I’d been to Achill had been to write a piece for The Irish Times about a woman who had the stigmata, that is – she displayed wounds in her hands similar to those Christ had when he was crucified. Annoyingly, the stigmata failed to manifest itself on the day of the interview so I had to take the wounds and the blood as red. ( Geddit?)


 Two people I met on Achill this time were  Marjorie Wallace  and  Patricia Byrne and both were kind enough to give me copies of their books.

Marjorie is a Scot and a retired  anaesthetist. She attended Trinity College, Dublin and when she retired from being a travelling anaesthetist ( to places as distant as Kuala Lumpar, Saigon and Hong Kong) she  went all the way out to the very edge of Ireland, to Achill, where she now lives. Here is her book:


 The other book was given to me by Patricia Byrne. Patricia had come across the  story of a woman on Achill who always went veiled and decided to find out more.

It’s an intriguing story. Here is the book:


 Though very different, both books make fascinating reading.

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The Achill Island Yawl.

  This is a short  blog about the marvellous boats on Achill, a small island on the edge of the west coast of Ireland.


 The blog is short because I have a concert tomorrow at the National Concert Hall and have to do a bt of a practice. And also because there is so much to say about the yawls and the people who make them and sail them.

Sailing a yawl is nothing like sailing an 11 metre yacht. The former is sailing by the seat of your pants.


Here are a few scale models of Achill Island yawls.

Image  This one is Mayo Man, owned and sailed by Dr Cowley who is also chair of the local sailing group.


Here’s another scale model:  These Image All these models ( there are more to come when I do the next blog) are made by Thomas Joyce whose son, Tommy, sails a yawl.

 And Imagehere’s a blow-in, literally. This  is a Galway Hooker. Isn’t she marvellous?


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