January 2014

 

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Boatbuilder’s clamp or tongs for fixing the planks of a clinker-built boat. Catalogue number LISDD:2008.134.1

Saw Pit Salean Jan 14

McIntyre sawpit at Sailean

In 1841, there were three families of carpenters on Lismore making clinker dinghies for inshore work: fishing, collecting seaweed, bringing peat and wood fuel from the mainland and small scale trading.  They left lasting marks on the landscape in the form of saw pits at Sailean, Port Moluag and Port Ramsay.                                                                                    

The Connel boatbuilders, almost certainly descendents of the Clann MacGilleChonnaill, hereditary shipwrights to the Campbells of Glenorchy, were based at Port Moluag (Baileouchdarach).  They continued as general carpenters up to the end of the century.   Donald McIntyre operated from a sea cave at Sailean, later moving to Achnacroish, where delivery of timber and launching boats would have been much easier.

Duncan MacDonald explained to the Napier Commissiuoners in 1883 how his family of ship carpenters had lost their living at Kilcheran  as a result of the clearance of the people from the south-east of the island.  Duncan had moved to Achnacroish by 1851, finally settling in Port Ramsay, where his skills were needed by the expanding fleet of sailing smacks, trading lime and coal.  Around 1875, the MacDonalds started building boats at Port Beag in Oban (next to the Northern Lighthouse Headquarters), eventually succeeded by the Curries, who launched their last traditional wooden boat in 2012.

A pair of tongs (134.1 and 134.2), almost certainly made and used by the MacDonalds on Lismore, were donated to Lismore museum in 2008 by Donald Currie.  They are on permanent display in the museum, as part of a boatbuilding and lime working feature.  After steaming to make the wood more pliable, the strakes or planks of the new boat were held in place by the clamps.  When cold, they were fixed by rivets to the “knees” to give the familiar overlaps on a clinker hull.   Experts could tell who had built the boat from the shape of the knees and the pattern of nailing.

[Detailed information kindly provided by Duncan Black, Margaret Black and Donald Currie]

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Lismore boys playing on a clinker sailing dinghy at Port a Bhata near Achnacroish in the early 20th century (from the Lismore photographic archive).  The boats built on Lismore would generally have been smaller rowing dinghies.