The Iron Age Log-Boat of Comeenatrush

In 1992 when the the then owner Thade Mullane had a digger on his farm at Curragh, an Iron age Log Boat was discovered when landscaping the edge of Comeenatrush Lake. Made from oak, it had been preserved by the acidic bog water.  It was dug out and researched by archaeologists from UCC and dated to 393 AD to 537 AD, it is the earliest boat found on the Blackwater Valley. After inspections, it was re-submerged into the lake to preserve it.
Other artefacts were also found in the lake, and these are now museum pieces [2].

The logboat discovered at Comeenatrush, seen here after it was taken from the water.

 

Thade Mullane (God rest his soul) was very proud of his boat, and loved to show it to visitors. The photo above is from Picture Millstreet, page 14.

 

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The Iron Age Boat at Comeenatrush
(by Bernard O’Donoghue)

If you doubt, you can put your fingers
in the holes where the oar-pegs went.
If you doubt still, look past its deep mooring
to the mountains that enfold the corrie’s
waterfall of lace through which, they say,
you can see out but not in.
If you doubt that, hear the falcon
crying down from Gneeves Bog
cut from the mountain-top. And if you doubt
after all these witnesses, no boat
dredged back from the dead
could make you believe.

Bernard himself reads the poem here [vid]:

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When the log-boat was discovered, an archaeology team from UCC studied and documented the boat. Below is the first report which was published in the Mallow Field Club Journal in 1992, an below that, and overview from 2003:

 

THE CUMEENATRUSH BOAT
by Daphne D.C. Pochln Mould, B.Sc., Ph.D.

In mid-September 1992, Mr. Timothy Mullane of Curragh, Millstreet, Co . Cork, had a JCB in Cumeenatrush, improving the track and clearing rush and scrub along the lake side for the reseeding project. The work included some dredging along the lake shore and the JCB brought up a dug-out canoe imbedded in black peaty mud. Mr. Mullane realised its importance and it was carefully cleaned out and placed on dry land, subsequent weeks saw very large numbers of visitors come to see it, and in many cases, discover for the first time, the beauty of Cumeenatrush. Later, Mr. Mullane was able to fish out missing pieces of the prow of the boat.

Cumeenatrush is an ice cut corrie about 3 miles SSW of Millstreet (Nat. Grid ref. W24 86:6 “Ordnance map, Cork 48: Half inch Ordnance map, sheet 21). A waterfall cascades down from the heathy uplands of the Derrynasaggart mountains to a small lake, on either side of which rise steep rocky slopes covered with mixed woodland. Beyond the present. much silted up lake (now only about 12 feet, 4 metres, deep) is a moraine, marking the point at which the foot of the glacier which cut the corrie, stood and melting, deposited its load of stones and grit. The lake stands at about 736 feet above sea level, with a hillside rising to 1 OOO feet around it. A townland boundary runs through the centre of the lake, Gneeves to the north and Curragh, in which the boat was found, to the south.

The boat is a hollowed out tree trunk of elm, with a rounded stern and more pointed prow. much of the latter being missing. Overall length 4 metres 16 cm., width amidships 65cm narrowing to 45 cm across the bottom. Whilst the sides of the vessel are quite thin, the bottom in places only 1 cm thick, the wood of the prow is up to 20 cm thick and the stem is also massive. Over a metre of the forward starboard (right hand side, facing forward) was missing but this was later recovered to fill the gap – it measures 1 metre 65 cm by 26 cm and is 7 cm thick. Two small pieces of timber which fit on top of this section were also found. they measure 34 x 13 cm and 63 x 15 cm.

A feature of the boat are the series of holes bored in the gunwhales just aft of midships. Those on the starboard side are set between 1 metre 39.5 cm and 1 metre 82 cm from the stern; on the port (left hand when facing forward) from 1 metre 41 cm to 1 metre 86 cm. The series consists of two holes bored vertically down into the vessel’s gunwhale. set on either side of two holes (starboard) and one (port) bored through the vessel’s wall. These holes, round which the wood is recessed. suggest finger grips for m anhandling the boat on shore. The starboard ones are 3 cm to 2 cm in diameter. the port one 4 cm inside enlarging to 4.5 cm outside. The vertical holes are carefully bored straight down to a depth of 7. 5cm, ranging from 2 to 3 cm in diameter. In several. are the remains of wooden pins, Mr. Mullane says that when first brought up, these pins were complete but have been taken; he still has a pointed. well preserved piece of birchwood from one of the holes, which may have served as a wedge if one of the pins was wearing loose. These holes and remains of pins bear a close resemblance to the thole pins on which curragh oars pivot, and are almost certainly for the same purpose.

The boggy land around the lake is full of timber fragments and the JCB brought out some very large timbers and branches, one a massive fence-like post with a roughly pointed end. It seems very likely that the dugout canoe was used to go to and fro from a crannog in the little lake. Even when the lake was less silted, it was still small and would not have needed a vessel for crossing when one could easily walk round it. But to reach a crannog, equally easy to construct in this- shallow water. It would be a necessity. This is not the only wooden boat to be found in the Millstreet area. The land between Millstreet and Rathmore on either side of the river Blackwater, was once very boggy and wet, and in some parts a little dug-out would have been useful to travel it. In the mid-1930’s, digging turf in a bog in Knockagallane Mr. Daniel Healy came on a well preserved wooden paddle about 3 feet down in the cutting. It lay on top of decaying timbers which may well have been those of the boat in which it was used: – the paddle is now in Millstreet Museum. In 1892, in Coolanarney townland in the same district, a dug-out, about 10-12 feet long was found but was not preserved.

Dug-out canoes have been found in many places in Ireland, in bogs, in lakes (with an association with crannogs). in estuaries and in the sea. One of elm was washed ashore at Passage West in Cork Harbour, Another, now preserved at Muckross House, was found at Derryco in the Cashen estuary in Kerry. Nearly six metres long, the boat had ten ledge-like projections along its sides, perhaps for seat planks. It was suggested it could have been a ferry boat across the Cashen. Irish examples seem to come in various sizes. small ones like that in Cumeenatrush and the very large, like one preserved in the National Museum which is 18 metres long and 1.5 metres broad. Some have a cut setting in which a mast could be stepped : – West African dug-outs went on long sea fishing trips under sail.

Until a radio-carbon dating is obtained from the wood of the Cumeenatrush boat. its date must remain quite uncertain. Some of the working at the stem looks done with a fairly sharp tool, and the thole pin holes are neatly drilled. Irish dug-outs date from very early times till apparently the l6th century: — elsewhere in the world dug-outs are still being made and used.

The dug-out is easy to make, even with only fire and stone tools, given the great trees of the ancient forests. With the raft and the curragh, it is one of the most ancient ways of travel on water. Virgil evidently thought it was the first. writing “tune alnos primum fluvii sensere cavatus” (Georgics i, 136) – “then the rivers felt the hallowed alder for the first time”. Adamnan in his Vita of St. Columba mentions the various boats in use at that time, including long boats of hewn pine and oak which they hauled across country to where they wished to use them. (Book ii, eh. 45). The dug-out can take rough handling of this sort, when Mr. Mullane shifted the Cumeenatrush one with a rope hauled by a tractor, it moved readily along very soft ground without further damage. Present day photographs show fleets of dug-outs virtually the same as the old Irish examples, used for fishing on Lake Chad in Africa. They are often called piraguas or piorgues, a word of Caribbean origin for a dug-out. Traditional ones, paddle or pole punted, on West African rivers are of very shallow draught, the more modern version is deeper and (like today’s Irish curraghs) scurries along with a powerful outboard motor.

But the most magnificant examples of the dug-out are those of the Maoris of New Zealand. In these they sailed from Polynesia to discover and settle in new Zealand and tradition still remembers the names of some of the vessels in which they travelled. The Maoris are very expert workers in wood, using originally fire and stone tools for the work and their great canoes are works of art.R.A. Cruise writing in 1820:- “The largest we saw was 84 feet long, 6 feet wide and five deep… it was made of a single cowry tree hollowed out… impelled by the united force of ninety naked men… (it) moved with astonishing rapidity, causing the water to foam on either side of it.” New Zealand still has some of these great war canoes and they take to the water again on special occasions. The dug-out can become an elaborate and sophisticated craft, and its continued use, almost world-wide, indicates that it is a sturdy and serviceable vessel.

Conservation
Wood that has been long immersed in water or wet peat requires specialist treatment if it is to survive in the open air and not crumble away. The Cumeenatrush boat has been placed by Mr. Mullane in a specially dug trench in the peat into which a trickle of water can flow to keep it wet (October 1 6, 1992) and further plans for its preservation have been made.

Dug-outs from Irish sites have met various fates, depending on their condition and local interest. At Curragtrasna, Co. Tipperary, part of an oak dug-out (with an age of 3140 years) was recycled to serve as a trough for a fulacht fiadh. More recently, in the 19th century, they have been used as cattle trough or chopped up for firewood!

[from the Mallow Field Journal 1992]

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Note on a Logboat from Comeenatrush Lough, Curragh townland near Millstreet, Co. Cork, by ROSE M. CLEARY (Dept of Archaeology, UCC) [1] (2003)

INTRODUCTION: A logboat (111. 1) was uncovered in 1992 during landscaping works around Comeenatrush Lough, c. 5 km south-west of Millstreet. The lake is located on the north-facing slopes of the Derrynasaggart Mountain range and is surrounded by steep hills, except on the north side. The Comeenatrush River flows northeastwards, cascades into the lake and onwards to the Finnow River, which is a tributary of the Blackwater River. The landscaping included dredging the lake shore, and a mechanical excavator removed the logboat. The find was reported to the Dept of Archaeology, UCC, following which the author inspected the site. The boat was infilled with lacustrin

 

mud. This was removed from the interior and a plan and profile of the boat were recorded. The boat was fresh out of the water, and the measurements were taken prior to any shrinkage or distortion of the timber. The vessel was thereafter replaced in the lake in order to preserve the timber. DESCRIPTION The boat is 4.15 m long, 0.80 m wide and 0.75 m high (Fig. 1; Ills 1 and 2). The vessel wall thickness varies from c. 0.10-0.20 m, being thickest towards the prow and stern. The boat is hollowed out from an oak trunk. The stern is well preserved and the prow is damaged. This damage may have occurred in antiquity when the boat was in use and be due to mechanical wear when the boat was pulled ashore. The profile is rounded, both internally and externally (Fig. 1: a-b; b-c). The boat has two recesses in the internal frame and both are located diametrically opposed, at 1.45 m from the stern. These recesses are cut into the side walls and at depths of 50-60 mm. Perforations through the vessel wall have been drilled at the location of the recesses. The holes are 30-40 mm in diameter (111. 3). A single perforation occurs of the port side of the boat, and a double perforation is located on the opposite or starboard side. These holes may be the location of a thwart or bench, which extended across the boat for the paddler. The bench was probably secured in place by dowels fixed into

these holes or lashed onto the boat sides with rope, although there is no evidence of wear in the holes to suggest that rope was run through them. A third hole exists on the boat stern. This is off- centre, towards the port side. It is drilled into the timber to a depth of 50 mm. Its function is obscure (see McGrail, below), but it appears to have been a deliberate perforation rather than a distortion of the timber or the location of a knot, which had fallen out from the timber. There are some marks and facets on the external sides of the boat, which may have been made during the manufacturing stage by an adze or axe used to dress the timber.
DISCUSSION The boat from Comeenatrush Lough is a dugout canoe and powered by paddle. McGrail (1987) details the method of
manufacture of this type of boat and the boat was hollowed from either a single oak trunk or from a split log. The vessel was formed by reduction of the timber to the required shape. This example was fitted with a bench for the paddler. The boat was recovered beside a small lake. The outflow from this lake is not particularly deep, but was probably of sufficient depth to allow the canoeist to paddle the boat downstream towards the Blackwater River. The logboat is one of five known from the Cork area. Other examples have been recorded in the townlands of Pembroke,2 in Mahon; Derreen Lower,3 near Adrigole; Kilbrennan, near Crookstown (Gillman 1897, Anon 1897), and Killalough,4 near Glanmire. The Kilbrennan and Killalough examples were associated with fulachta fiadh sites and this places them in a Bronze Age time frame.

A Cl4 date of 1605±35 BP was obtained from a sliver of wood that had become detached from the boat at Comeenatrush Lough. This is calibrated5 to two sigma at 393 CAL a d -537 CAL a d , and this places the boat in the late Iron Age/beginnings of the Early Christian period. Settlement evidence for this period in Munster is scarce, and this apparent dearth of material may be a matter of archaeological visibility rather than an absence of population. Enclosed settlements or ringforts are clearly visible in the landscape, but the construction of ringforts is a later phenomenon. Unenclosed settlements are difficult to locate except where there is large-scale ground disturbance, and the publication of many recent archaeological excavations in advance of developments may elucidate the settlement and burial types of this dark age in Irish prehistory. Some sites present little surface indication and are only visible as crop marks. Recent excavations of a site6 at Conna, near Fermoy, produced a seventh-century date for the site. This site is a ditched enclosure settlement only detected by aerial photography. These site types are perceived as atypical of the period, but in time and with on-going excavations, sites that are now seen as anomalous may in fact be more typical of Late Iron Age/Early Christian period settlements. The dating of the logboats is generally broad and extends up to the late seventeenth or early eighteenth centuries AD (Lanting and Brindley 1996). A recent radiocarbon dating programme has produced a series of logboat dates with a distinct peak in the period 1450-1700 AD and with a range extending back to the Bronze Age {ibid.). The association of some logboats with fulachta fiadh at Kilbrennan and Killalough in Co. Cork and at other sites in Ireland {ibid., Table 1) places them in a Bronze Age context.

NOTES AND REFERENCES 1 Exact location: townland boundary of Gneeves and Curragh; barony: West Muskery; parish: Drishane; O. S. 6” scale sheet No. 47, 0.10 cm from east margin, 26.5 cm from north margin, c. 760’ above O. D.
2 National Museum files; Professor O’Kelly recorded this boat in 1965.
3 National Museum files; this was uncovered during land reclamation and was discovered during drain excavation.
4 This logboat was excavated from a fulacht fiadh site during the constmction stage of the Glanmire-Watergrasshill bypass.
5 Calibration programme = Carl 25 Stuiver et al. 1998.
6 Enclosure 2 (Doody 1995).
NOTE ON THE BOAT MECHANICS by Professor Seán McGrail Institute of Archaeology, Oxford
It is unlikely that a boat of this size had a rudder. Oars are just possible, but unlikely, in view of the breadth of the boat, which is c. 2 ft. This would not allow for much leverage on an oar with only about fifteen inches inboard, even if rowing with crossed handles, as is sometimes done in a currach. If oars were to be used, a bench or thwart at the appropriate position relative to the oar pivots would be necessary for the oarsman to sit in, and there is no sign of this in the boat. The boat was probably paddled, and holes 1-2 are probably where the bench or thwart was lashed to the boat for the paddler. Hole 3 might be where a steering oar (rather than a rudder) was pivoted, but I doubt that, as a steering device is unnecessary when paddling. A steering oar may be useful in an oared boat, but, in this particular case, there would not be much space between an oarsman using oars at holes 1 and 2 and a steersman using a steering oar at hole 3. Furthermore, two people in the boat would not only make the boat trim by the stern, but also take up much of the useful space in it. Hole 3 could be due to accidental damage or deformation.
REFERENCES Anon. 1897 ‘Canoe find in Co. Cork’ Journal Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. 27. 431. Doody, M. 1995 ‘Ballyhoura Hills Project’ Discovery Programme Reports. 2. 24-38.
Gillman, H. 1897 ‘Ancient canoe find in Co. Cork’ Journal Cork Historical and Archaeological Society. 3- 385-6. Lanting, J. N. and Brindley, A. L. 1996 ‘Irish logboats and their European context’ Journal of Irish Archaeology. 7. 85-95. McGrail, S. 1987 Ancient boats in N. W. Europe. The archaeology o f water transport to AD 1500. London: Longman. Stuiver M., P. J. Reimer, E. Bard, J. W. Beck, G. S. Burr, K. A. Hughen, B. Kromer, G. McCormac, J. van der Plicht & M. Spurk, 1998, ‘INTCAL98 Radiocarbon Age Calibration, 24000-0 cal BP’. Radiocarbon 40 (3). 1041-83.

 

[2] Note: I can’t remember where the artefacts were moved to, or where exactly where I read this to give a reference. Maybe it is in Broker’s book of Millstreet.

 

 

1 thought on “The Iron Age Log-Boat of Comeenatrush”

  1. I first saw this amazing Log-Boat in 1992. I had the pleasure of meeting Thade during a subsequent visit. Thade told me about the circumstances of the find. Some of his sheep had drowned after falling into the lake. Thade was landscaping the lake edge so that any sheep that fell into the lake could get ashore. It was dusk and Thade saw something and told the digger operator to stop. That something was the Log-Boat. Thades quick thinking and subsequent involvement of UCC’s Archaeology department ensured the preservation of this priceless artefact.

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