The Waterford harbour ‘barrell boat’

For generations in the harbour here a small and awkward looking fishing craft was a constant feature. Called locally a Prong, it had a variety of uses which probably sustained its use for so long, but the origins of the craft are a mystery and almost now extinct, it is still remembered fondly in the villages and along the waterways where it was once renowned.
John Moran (New York) and for’ad John Joe Heffernan RIP both.  1950’s at Ryan’s Shore
The Waterford harbour prong was for generations a versatile and useful boat. Its primary advantage in the area was that because of their barrel shaped bottom (keel-less) she could slide out across the mudbanks in the rivers and as such gave access to the rivers at any stage of tide. Indeed many say the construction of a prong lends itself more to coopering skills than boat building. They could also float in a cup full of water. Brian Walsh of Hi-Lite TV captured a launch as part of an event in Cheekpoint in 2005.
Although no one knows for sure about the origins, the prong is arguably a descendant of the Norwegian Pramm, a seal hunting boat used in the frozen wastes of the Northern seas to traverse ice fields. Timber built with a transom stern and a distinctive sheer, the major difference is that the pramm/praem was generally clinker built.  The Waterford variety is carvel built. (Locally it is said we changed to carvel bottom to reduce the noise while pooching salmon in the dark) My father had a tale when we were growing up of the first prong coming off a Norwegian schooner.  As he told it, the schooner was moored off Cheekpoint, and the sailors came ashore to the pub.  The locals thought it hilarious as the sailors left their boat in the dock as the tide was dropping. When the sailors emerged from the Suir Inn, the locals were at first astonished, and next very envious of their ability to regain the water.  So much so, my father claimed, a plan was hatched to nab the boat and copy the design.  Fact of fiction we may never know, but it was a good yarn.
Brian Walsh’s video was shot as part of a local initiative to celebrate the Ireland Newfoundland connections of 2005. We also hosted an exhibition of local maritime culture and I also set myself the task of trying to research and write up a local history of the Prong. We succeeded in making it locally avaialble at the time but I have now published this as an ebook and it can be downloaded from Amazon. (It will cost 0.99p which is the cheapest I can make. I had planned to make it free of charge, but apparently that is not in the Amazon business model)
One story that does not feature in the booklet however was one my grandmother told me. In the 1920’s when she was just a child (Nanny was born Feb 2nd 1919) her father went off to Waterford one day with fish to sell in the family prong (I’m fairly confident it is the same boat as photographed in the 1950’s). Later that evening he had not returned and the alarm was raised but as it was dark, little could be done except a vigil was kept through the night in the Russianside. At sunrise the next morning the local boats took to the water and the prong, which were always painted to blend in with the shoreline, was finally spotted. It was found having somehow drifted over the Shelbourne Banks and into the grass on the Campile pill. Fearing the worst they came alongside only to find her father sleeping off the effects of a mighty session. He had rowed out into the river and once the tide caught him, fell asleep in the bottom and allowed the prong to take him home!
A prong off Ryan’s Quay Buttermilk and Nuke in Wexford in the background
The prongs are now almost extinct, but a few remain, including my uncle Sonny’s which is in the National museum of Country Life in Turlough House, Castlebar, Co Mayo. The traditional skills building course in Waterford recently refurbished the prong featured in the video above, Paddy Doherty’s prong, which was paid for by his relatives. And Michael Bance with his pals rebuilt one in Woodstown as a project.

For more information see Traditional Boats of Ireland History, Folklore, Construction. pp 372-378

I also wrote about its use in the rivers previously

My book on growing up in a fishing village is now published.
Details of online purchases, local stockists or ebook store avaiable here