Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Ventry Regatta

To American ears, regatta is a curious name for the rowing races that take place around the Dingle Peninsula each summer. The craft are the traditional currachs that have been used here for centuries (millennia?), constructed of wooden laths covered with tarred canvas (greased animal skins in former times). The oars are bladeless. It is the rare currach that is used these days for fishing, but the art of building these boats and racing them remains intact. A decade or so ago, it seemed currach building and racing might pass into oblivion, but as you can see from the photo even very young children are becoming involved. All in all, regatta is a grand day, with currach races in the harbor, foot races on the beach, Irish dancing on the village green, and many a downed pint at the pub.

There are those who suggest that globalization will erase vernacular cultures. The experience here suggest otherwise. It is true, for example, that the art of building with native stone almost died out in the west of Ireland as concrete blocks became ubiquitous. But with the Irish economic boom -- driven by globalization -- more and more people want and can afford the beautiful traditional stone work for their homes and garden walls, and craftsmen can now make a good living reviving the old skills. The same is true for music and currach racing. With economic growth there has been a renewed interest in traditional culture and the leisure to pursue it. Yes, the signs of global homogenization are everywhere, and not altogether a bad thing, I think, for a planet riven by differences. But the best of local traditions will survive, as evidenced by the beautiful craft we saw skimming the smooth waters of Ventry Harbor, and the youngsters who have taken their hands to the oars.