Tiree receives £36,000 grant to revive Hebridean isle's boat-building tradition

FOR generations, residents of the most westerly island of the inner Hebrides relied on its fishing industry both for food and a source of income.

Now the maritime trust on Tiree is to be given a grant to help it retain its boat-building culture.

The Tiree Maritime Trust will receive 36,400 from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards building boats and training future boat builders.

In its heyday in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Tiree's fishing fleet consisted of around 30 boats, built and maintained by seven or eight boat builders.

All the traditional boats that remain are between 50 and 100 years old.

Jane Isaacson of the Tiree Maritime Trust, which was founded in 2005, said: "Because the boats are no longer needed for fishing, no one really knows how to look after them anymore. There are virtually no boats left, and the ones that are are falling apart.

"It's a part of Tiree's culture that people want to maintain – the driving force has been the local people. They want to rescue the boats."

The new grant will enable volunteers from the island – although visitors may be able to join in if space permits – to restore three boats during three two-week courses.

Tiree's traditional fishing boats are notable for their diminutive size and unique sails, according to Mark Beese, the trust's chair.

"They use a lug sail (a four-cornered sail, hoisted obliquely to the mast], which is very traditional," he said. "It's not necessarily the best type of sail, but it's very good down-wind.

"As Tiree has no natural harbours, boats have historically had to be quite small – the boats here are mostly between 13 and 16 feet long – so they can be manhandled up the beach.

"Fishing boats on Lewis, for example, are made to a similar style but they tend to be around 25 to 35 feet."

The process of renovating the boats will be recorded for a future exhibition, in the hope of retaining the island's boat-building heritage.

Isaacson said: "It will enrich the tourist experience. Our next project after this will be to build a maritime historical centre, which will also work as a boat shed.

"The island has regatta records dating back to 1911 and the regatta is a well-established part of the social calendar, so in 2011 we're hoping to celebrate its centenary."

Tiree's name derives from Tir Iodh, 'land of the corn', from the days of the sixth-century Celtic missionary and abbot St Columba. The island provided the monastic community on the island of Iona, south-east of the island, with grain.

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