The earliest evidence for the use of wooden boats on Lough Neagh is the dugout canoe or log boat (hollowed out tree trunks). While it is possible that skin or reed boats where in use by early settlers on the Lough, none to date have been recovered from an archaeological context. A total 48 dugout canoes have been recovered from Lough Neagh and its hinterland ranging in date from c. 5490BC – AD1666 i.e. from the Mesolithic to the post-medieval period. The longevity of the dugout canoe is attested by the latter date which refers to a boat recovered from the River Blackwater at the Argory, Co. Armagh. It is thought that the Lough Neagh cot, a flat bottomed boat of c. 12ft in length, owe their origin to the dugout canoe. Like the canoe they draw very little water, between 3 and 6 inches, and are ideally suited to the many shallow inlets and indents found along the Lough’s shore. Cots are still used in inshore fishing and for shooting wildfowl and in times of flooding, have proved vital providing access from flooded low-lying ground to the higher ground beyond. (Images:Top, 6th century logboat recovered from Kinnegoe. Bottom, Lough Neagh Cot.)

Pictorial evidence indicates that wooden fishing boats were in use on the Lough from the 18th century. The boats are depicted as clinker built (overlapping plank) with a pointed bow and transom stern. This type of boat was in use on the Lough until 1960’s when fibreglass hulls were introduced. The Lough Neagh fishing boat was 16ft in length and could be sailed or rowed depending on the weather. Originally the timber used was Russian spruce (hull), Oregon pine or Douglas fir (gunwhales) and oak for the stern and stem, but maghogany, iroko and larch were later introduced for planking. Oak was always used for the ribs. The boats were built on the shores by professional builders and it is probable that much of the timber was imported into the area via the canals. (Image: 19th century depiction of fishermen off Ram’s Island.)

The fishing boats were fitted with sails until the 1940’s when the engine was introduced. To accommodate the engine the boats were increased in length and beam and later the rudder was altered. Previously it hung on an iron hanger at the stern but from 1957 it was placed beneath the stern to aid buoyancy and increase speed. During the 1960’s the first fibreglass boats were built and cabins were added to provide shelter from the weather. Despite all these innovations the traditions of the wooden boat continue; the look of clinker planking is retained on the new fibre-glass hulls and most boats are still fitted for oars. (Image: Lough Neagh Fishing Boat.)

As mentioned above the Lough Neagh fishing boat was traditionally clinker built. However in 1993 a boat of carvel construction (planking laid edge to edge) was recovered from the Lough by fishermen from the western shore. The boat was dated to AD1720 and appears to be made by someone with knowledge of boat-building but not a master craftsman as many of the timbers were crudely fashioned. Carvel construction as a boat-building technique is more common on the west coast of Ireland where it reflects the evolution from skin boats, i.e. the currach, to wooden boats. However, here it may reflect an earlier presence of skin boats on Lough Neagh for which we have no direct evidence for.(Image: 18th century carvel built boat recovered from Lough Neagh. Image copyright NIEA.)