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A 200-Year-Old Northumbrian Boating Tradition in West Cork

16th August 2022
Michael Hart alongside Stella Maris in Crosshaven. The vessel is a Northumbrian coble, built in 1971 and one of the last of that 200-year-old tradition of building cobles in Yorkshire and Northumberland
Michael Hart alongside Stella Maris in Crosshaven. The vessel is a Northumbrian coble, built in 1971 and one of the last of that 200-year-old tradition of building cobles in Yorkshire and Northumberland

“Irish people of the sea have called for generations on the Blessed Virgin Mary as a guiding spirit while they are at sea.” That aspect of Irish maritime tradition refers to the use of the name Stella Maris on boats. However, I had not seen the name used before on an English boat, so I was particularly interested in an unusual-looking boat on Crosshaven Boatyard Marina in Cork Harbour. The stern was open as was the bow area. Her midships had a canvas/tarpaulin cover. To me, she seemed very much an open boat.

At the bow and stern and along the hull, she had an appearance reflecting design aspects of Galway Hookers and Irish currachs.

“That’s exactly what I think,” her owner Michael Hart, who likes the ‘open’ concept, told me: “Stella Maris is a Northumbrian coble, built in 1971 and one of the last of that 200-year-old tradition of building cobles in Yorkshire and Northumberland. She fished off the Northumbrian coast for the last 50 years. She is a big open boat at 32 feet LOA, though she does have that quality of indeterminate scale bestowed on certain boats by their designer/builders.”

Michael had brought her from East Anglia along the River Thames, through the Kennet & Avon Canal down to Bristol (the canal is 87 miles long - 140 kilometres - linking London with the Bristol Channel) then along the Welsh Coast, crossing to Kilmore Quay in Wexford and worked his way South to Crosshaven, en route to Rosbrin in West Cork, where she will be laid up. In Suffolk, where he lives, he is involved in running river trips with another boat from the Snape Maltings.

The Stella Maris coble is clinker built – the planks slightly overlap each other. The planking is made of larch timber and the frames of oak. In traditional fishing Northumbrian cobles often used sails and could also be rowed. The Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre says the name ‘coble’ is “thought to be rooted in the Celtic 'Ceubal' or the Breton 'Caubal', both of which meant 'boat'.

Mike told me that he is particularly interested in the relationship of the coble design to the Galway Hookers and the currachs. He has “an abode” in Rosbrin and intends to be back in West Cork in September to do a bit of local cruising and lay Stella Maris up.

The connections between Northumbria and Ireland are interesting. Northumbria was an early medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland. The name derives from the Old English Norþanhymbre language meaning "the people or province north of the Humber.” Those people were once known as the ‘Celtic-Britons’. The area has a strong maritime, fishing tradition and Irish connections. One of the region’s harbours is Whitby, to the south of the Tees and north of the Humber, which will be known to followers of the Heartbeat television series. In 664, King Oswiu called the Synod of Whitby to determine whether to follow Roman or Irish customs. Northumbria had been converted to Christianity by Celtic clergy and the Celtic tradition for determining the date of Easter and Irish tonsure were supported by many clergy, particularly at the Abbey of Lindisfarne. However, Roman practice won out and those who favoured Irish customs refused to conform. Led by the Celtic Bishop Colman of Lindisfarne they moved to the island of Iona in Scotland

More from Michael Harte on my Podcast here

Tom MacSweeney

About The Author

Tom MacSweeney

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Tom MacSweeney writes a weekly column for Afloat.ie. He presents the monthly programme Maritime Ireland on Podcast services and Irish radio stations.

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