Belfast currach team take to River Lagan with the boat they built themselves
An award-winning explorer, historian and author has congratulated a group of 70 people who pulled together to hand craft a 33ft long currach which successfully completed its maiden voyage on the River Lagan yesterday.
Family, friends and well-wishers of Lagan Currachs' members gathered along the Ormeau embankment and sang an old Irish folk song 'The Good Ship Calabar' as the boat was christened with a bottle of Co Antrim poitín.
The 12-seater boat - officially named Mamach Mor, which means big mammal - was then lowered into the water allowing those who have devoted two days a week, over a period of nine months, to at last row their carefully carved creation on the open water.
Lenka Davidikova was one of the rowers on the maiden trip.
The 36-year-old artist, who moved to Belfast from Slovakia 11 years ago, explained that her enthusiasm for new adventures led her to become involved with the Heritage Lottery Funded £15,000 project.
"It's amazing to be able to build something like a boat," she said.
"Being out on the water today is very surreal as it's a totally different experience to be able to go and row something which you have built, we are very pleased with it," she said.
Lagan Currachs was founded by Niamh Scullion in March 2014, after she accepted an invitation the previous year to fill a spare seat on an expedition from Iona in the Western Isles to Rathlin Island.
The amazing experience turned her into a passionate seafarer, as Niamh quickly joined the 'Causeway Coast Maritime Heritage Group' which had organised the trip.
She wanted other people to share similar experiences, and formed a new community group.
"We took on a massive project knowing what was involved, so we tried to stay blind to most of the challenges by dealing only with what was in front of us," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
Various local groups got on board to help out with the ambitious project, including Men's Shed and Women's TEC.
Lough Neagh Boats facilitated the build and the woodwork was finished just before Christmas.
Niamh explained: "Working on a massive project like this you really get to know people and they have become life-long friends now.
"You all have to literally pull together, so it's a massive bonding experience."
Once the group find their sea legs, they plan to venture further on a 'Caminos by sea' trip which will take them on a journey through the Hebrides.
The Camino plans have been inspired by Tim Severin, an award-winning British explorer, historian and writer, who once reconstructed the reputed sixth century sea journey from Ireland to America undertaken by the Irish monk St Brendan the Navigator.
Mr Severin sent a message to the group in which he said: "I have often thought how poignant it must be for shipwrights who have laboured so long to construct vessels launched here, knowing that she will soon disappear from their lives.
"But in this case the Currach-builders will continue to be linked with their creation by becoming the crew as they deserve. Well done."
Niamh described the message as "absolutely amazing" and said it has been an encouragement as the group reflect on their achievement and ponder the possibilities that the future might bring.
Vice chairman of Lagan Currachs, Tim Bloomer, described yesterday's success as "the end of a long process, but the start of a whole new adventure".
He expressed his hope that the group can continue to bring communities together as all are invited to experience the currach.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph after the vessel's triumphant first voyage, he added: "Rowing the boat on the Lagan for the first time was thrilling.
"The boat rows really well, we couldn't believe it - who knows where this boat will take us."