Hegarty's Boatyard

Kevin O'Farrell
Hegarty’s Boatyard: Last Surviving Traditional Wooden Boatyard in Ireland
13 May to 10 June 2023
Opening on Saturday 13 May at 2.00pm

‘[This exhibition] is both culturally important and life-affirming.’ Irish Arts Review

The inexpressibly precious and fast-diminishing craft of building wooden boats is celebrated in an exhibition of photographs by Kevin O’Farrell. Hegarty’s Boatyard: Last Surviving Traditional Wooden Boatyard in Ireland runs from 13 May to 10 June at Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre.

Over the past 25 years, West Cork-based photographer Kevin O'Farrell has created a body of work focused on three generations of the same family working in Hegarty’s Boatyard, Oldcourt, Skibbereen, Co. Cork. The yard was established by Paddy Hegarty shortly after World War II, and is now run by his grandson of the same name.

Kevin O'Farrell's approach draws on the traditions of photojournalism and magazine reportage. Documentary photography captures the essence of a process by recording it in a series of images, creating a visual narrative. Kevin's work involves impartially observing how events unfold in front of the camera. The photographs convey the relationship between the boatbuilders, the boats and the environment they occupy and how they interact in scale and place. They highlight the structural and utilitarian beauty of the boats, the skills involved in their building and restoration, the tools and materials of the trade, and the shipwrights and apprentices involved, and celebrate Ireland’s disappearing maritime heritage

Launching at Uillinn to coincide with the publication of Kevin O’Farrell’s latest book Hegarty’s Boatyard – Building Conor O’Brien’s Saoirse, the exhibition includes a new set of photographs of the restoration of the Saoirse, a 42 foot ketch on which Conor O’Brien circumnavigated the world in the 1920s, as well as many photographs of the restoration of the AK Ilen, the last of Ireland’s traditional wooden, ocean-going sailing ships. Both vessels were built in Baltimore, re-built in Hegarty’s of Oldcourt and documented throughout the process by Kevin O’Farrell.

“Watching these boatbuilders at work today offers an insight into previous generations of such craftsmen, as their tools and skills remain unchanged. Unfortunately, however, these traditions are in danger of being lost now as very few young people take up careers in wooden boatbuilding. This would represent a tragedy for our island nation, so I feel honoured to witness and record this extraordinary craftsmanship for future generations. This book is my tribute to the wonderful living maritime heritage that is still practiced daily in Hegarty’s Boatyard.” Kevin O’Farrell

“This strong, classic body of photographic work, which records and preserves an important part of Ireland’s living heritage offers rich interpretations from a variety of perspectives” commented Tanya Kiang, Curator, Photo Museum Ireland. “I believe the exhibition will garner interest from those interested not only in photography and art, but also in maritime culture, as well as archaeologists and cultural historians.”

Hegarty’s Boatyard: Last Surviving Traditional Wooden Boatyard in Ireland, a photographic monograph by Kevin O'Farrell published by Ilen Press in 2019 (176 pages, black & white and colour prints, soft cover with French flaps) and Hegarty’s Boatyard – Building Conor O’Brien’s Saoirse (128 pages, duotone prints, hardback) also published by Ilen River Press (2023) are available to purchase at Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre.






Images: Looking aft inside the Saoirse, John Hegarty, Hegarty's Boatyard. (2019)
Early morning on launch day, Ak Ilen, Hegarty’s Boatyard, 2018.

WCAC acknowledges the financial support of the Arts Council and Cork County Council

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